Relying on his individuality yields his greatest results, but the album’s more passable moments too.
Mac Miller is, without a doubt, in contention for the most improved rapper of all time when examining careers arcs. Who could’ve imagined that the sophomoric, unlistenable Blue Slide Park was just a precursor to some of hip-hop’s most interesting releases? What clairvoyant saw the kid actually using the rhyme scheme “hat/that” as capable of Cam’ronian internal rhymes and flows that could extend multiple lines? From seemingly emerging as marijuana mastermind Wiz Khalifa’s similarly weed-loving sidekick to holding his own with friends and highly-respected MCs Ab-Soul and Schoolboy Q, Mac is acutely aware of his musical growth, and, continuing from his previous, sometimes great album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, he nods towards substantial personal growth, too.
The music he made whilst under the influence of drugs, most notably manifested on his 2014 mixtape Faces, on which he showcased substantial technical progress as a rapper, relied too heavily on the drug talk for a mixtape that spanned over twenty songs. He hasn’t exactly toned down his output with the album coming at a meaty 17 songs and an hour-and-ten-minutes runtime. He uses this length to showcase his celebrated ear for production, with intricate beats weaving his narratives better than the faux-gloss of Blue Slide Park ever could. On “Celebration”, for example, he follows up a smooth Miguel-assisted track with an extremely involved beat that comes off as an effortless production. Little bells glisten amongst paranoid synths, accompanying a standard fare of hi-hats and snare claps while pitch-edited vocals flow through the background suggesting that anybody who tries to “bring [him] down”, as the song says, would err in trying. This optimistic outlook leads many of GO:OD AM’s best tracks.
Take, for instance, lead single “100 Grandkids”. Backed by a big band sound that switches to a twangy guitar for the song’s second part, Miller riffs on the euphoria that comes with making the hidden titular 100 grand. Like on Watching Movies, he refers to his old Easy Mac persona, laughing off his youthful efforts with the flourish that could only come from an artist’s maturity. He sounds his most excited when working with collaborators, proving that he’s not just a rapper, but a devoted rap fan as well. When Lil B blesses “Time Flies” with koans about our relationship with time over a characteristically spacey Flying Lotus beat, Mac finds the pocket of the track’s intended philosophizing while also declaring his ego to be “as big as Texas”; he’s truly enjoying himself on these songs, and it has an effect.
Unfortunately, consistency drags on many of the tracks he mans alone. The leap from good to great rapper is determined not just by how they stack up versus collaborators, but by how songs can be commanded by a singular voice. Though he’s progressed exponentially in this regard, Miller still falls flat at times. That’s not to discount the intentional weirdness of GO:OD AM and his previous works; their successes are due to his vision instead of suffering from it. When he uses the now-trite voicemail on “Perfect Circle / God Speed”, it lessens the effect of his passionate rapping done on the latter song. Such is the line he walks on this album. Relying on his individuality yields his greatest results, but the album’s most passable moments too.