It’s been two years since Mac Miller released his debut album Blue Slide Park. The Pittsburgh rapper first burst on the scene as a teenager with boom-bap aspirations, only to be written off as a tween favorite and the white boy rapper du jour — a far cry from the “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza” Mac Miller who rocked Lord Finesse’s “Hip 2 Da Game.” That stigma didn’t sit too well with Mac, who used his sophomore efforts Watching Movies With The Sound Off to eschew that image for a more mature and self assured sound.
From the album’s opener “The Star Room,” it’s clear Mac’s looking to shatter the perceptions tied to his debut. “Haven’t picked a major label, think I’m black balled/ I still don’t got the heart to pick my phone up when my dad calls/ Will he recognize his song when he hears my voice?” he raps—a brutally honest reflection from the now 21-year-old who came into fame under the skeptical gaze of the industry. Songs like “Bird Call” and “Gees” show a polished penmanship, where Mac adopts a more freely associative style of wordplay that melds the oddball antics of a DOOM and the pointed barbs of an Eminem. He even proves to have enough verbal gumption to go toe-to-toe with lyrical powerhouses Jay Electronica, Action Bronson and TDE’s Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q on their respective collaborations. He’s still no revelatory lyricist – much of the subject matter still revolves around weed and sex – but he’s convincing enough to dispel notions that he’s the suburban crossover gimmick.
Sonically speaking, Watching Movies With The Sound Off falls somewhere between Pharell and Madlib, deeply rooted in the sounds of Stones Throw that manages to bridge the gap to contemporary mainstream hip-hop. Cuts like the Flying Lotus-produced single “S.D.S.,” “Bird Call” and “Red Dot Music” veer towards his backpacker leanings while “Objects In The Mirror” and “Youforia” have R&B tendencies. Despite the disparity of styles, the album’s sequencing affords it a greater sense of cohesion. Listeners will have little trouble transition between the booming “Watching Movies” and more subdued affairs like “Suplexes Inside of Complexes And Duplexes”. This is due to Mac’s excellent production throughout as Larry Fisherman. Despite a few lacking moments (“Avian” and “Somebody Like You” the sonic template here is what makes Watching Movies such an engrossing listen.
Mac Miller’s sophomore effort is a surprising and focused album from an artist fed up with his public perception. He does enough here to prove his point.—Sean Ryon (@WallySean)