On January 17th 2020, Mac Miller’s family released his first posthumous album “Circles.” Since his untimely death back in September of 2018, the hip hop and music world has suffered his loss. “Circles” delves even deeper into the complexities of Miller’s life and psyche.
I wanted to write this because Miller meant so much to me due to his honesty and vulnerability, so I wanted to take a chance to examine “Circles” a year later. Since its release, it’s made its way into my frequent rotation of albums and it has the depth needed to survive the tests of longevity.
For the most part, this album remained untouched by the hands of anyone besides Miller himself. The project was largely finished during the time of his death. Some further instrumentals and embellishments were added by producer Jon Brion, who did an exemplary job of ensuring that the album stayed true to Miller’s vision and kept the rawness of the material.
The single “Good News,” released a few weeks before the album dropped, showed a more tranquil Miller – one aware of the darkness that plagued him yet still optimistic of what was to come in life.
Despite the darker themes on his later music however, “Good News,” was a beacon of light. He sings “haven’t seen the sun in a while but I heard that the sky’s still blue.”
I remember where I was and what the weather looked like outside when I heard these lyrics for the first time. I was walking down California after I got off work, back when Cal Poly was still open, and the light was warm and illuminated the trees and mountains in the way it only does when the sun sets. Few songs still grab my attention like that.
This song came at a time when I really needed to hear it. I still hold on to those lyrics now, especially given the state of the world today. To me, those words meant that, despite the bad days, even if you’re stuck in a cycle of them, there are good parts about the day and better ones to come, even if you can’t fathom that. While that is rather a juvenile way of putting such well spoken lyrics, I think it’s remarkable Miller was able to put into words that specific feeling.
Hearing him so self-aware throughout is one of the reasons the album is so heartbreaking to listen to. His acknowledgment of his struggles with addiction and predictions of his death, especially amongst other albums like “Faces,” makes it all the more painful.
While “Good News” sings of the silver linings we can look for, the album itself remained darkly introspective, which is evident on the songs “Once a Day” and “Floating.” On these tracks, Miller speaks of his battles with depression and mortality.
“Don’t keep it all in your head/ The only place that you know nobody ever can see/ You’re running low on regret,” he sings on “Once a Day.”
Miller speaks of the importance of not hiding from the fights that people cannot always see and understands the detriments of keeping those emotions bottled up – emotions that ate away at him through much of his career.
On the last track of the song “Floating,” Miller eerily foreshadows his death.
“There’s a place right up above the clouds/ Somewhere in between later and right now, right now/ And you don’t have to be scared, no/ I’ll be there when I can finally get away,” he sings.
It appears he alludes to death and being able to get away from the mental health and addiction battles that plagued him in his life.
To me, this album is incredibly difficult to get through without crying. If you’ve made it all the way through, the last track is always the hardest due to Miller’s sharp self-awareness.
Miller beautifully juxtaposes the pain that comes with life, but also the joy and love that he exhibited all throughout his musical journey. He was an artist that grew exponentially. He maintained his free spirited and infectious energy despite the personal struggles he battled.
“Circles” is a culmination of his talents and staying true to himself, while simultaneously pushing genres and creating a new sound of hip hop.
This is my thank you letter to Mac, one that I wish I wrote sooner. I don’t think there will be a day when I don’t listen to his music and think about the loss that music suffered. I turn to his music as I would a friend. Though his physical being is gone, his music is a vessel through which his spirit remains, comforts me and will continue to do so throughout my life.