Mac Miller was one of the most influential artists of his generation. Following his sudden passing in late 2018, a roll-call of artists—Thundercat, SZA, Earl Sweatshirt, Schoolboy Q, and Anderson Paak, to name a few—shared stories of their experiences with him. The common thread running through each of these stories? Mac’s kindness, his selfless nature, and the indelible mark he left on the hip-hop community.
I was lucky enough to be invited to a very intimate listening event for his posthumous album Circles in New York City back in October last year, held at the iconic Electric Lady Studios in Greenwich Village. The studio was famously built by Jimi Hendrix in 1970 and some of the original psychedelic murals still decorate its walls. I arrived unfashionably early, checked my phone at the door, and took my seat. While waiting for other guests to arrive, I found myself scanning a painting of two space girls navigating their ship down a rainbow path towards Earth.
As the seats began to fill up I realised I was surrounded by a who’s who of hip-hop journalism, including Hot 97’s Peter Rosenberg, Genius’s head of artist relations Rob Markman, and Brandon “Jinx” Jenkins. The energy in the room was heavy. Mac was one of the most well-liked artists in the industry and many of us in attendance had fond memories of him, so what would usually be an exciting experience fueled by free drinks and chit-chat was tinged with an air of melancholy that was hard to ignore.
Once the studio had been filled with friends, family, and media, Mac’s long-time manager Christian Clancy briefly spoke about the process of finishing Circles. He warned us that the record we were about to hear was deeply personal and by no means a party. The album’s producer Jonn Brion told us about the process of co-producing Circles with Mac and being tasked with its completion after his passing. While he was initially taken aback that Mac had been so eager to work with him—or even knew of his work—he quickly found himself enamoured with the late musician, sharing anecdotes from their time in the studio together and reminiscing about Mac’s musicianship, particularly his undisciplined yet natural guitar playing.
Listening to Circles, the progression from Mac’s earlier work is undeniable. It’s the final chapter in Mac’s journey of self-acceptance, and one that doesn’t sugarcoat the reality of his struggles. Circles isn’t a typical hip-hop record, but Mac Miller wasn’t a typical hip-hop artist. There’s more piano and guitar on it than there are samples or drum machines, more crooning than rapping.
Tracks like ‘Good News’ and ‘Hand Me Downs’ (which features guest vocals from Melbourne’s own Baro Sura) are drenched in sincerity and made all the more solemn by the circumstances of the album’s release. ‘Blue World’ feels like classic Mac, with his tongue-in-cheek aptitude for finding the good amongst the bad peppered throughout: “Think I lost my mind, reality’s so hard to find / When the devil’s trying to call your line / But shit, I always shine.” Circles is introspective and honest—at times it feels like you’re reading an excerpt from Mac’s journal—but most importantly, it showcases Mac at the top of his game, delivering an album that one can only hope he’d be proud to share with the world.
Listen to Circles below.