If you have Mac Miller pegged as nothing more than a highly-skilled weed-rapper — a more lyrical but equally vapid version of fellow Pittsburgher Wiz Khalifa — you might be largely right. However, consider the following. Watching Movies With the Sound Off is only the 21 year old Miller's second actual LP. It's a follow up to 2011's Blue Slide Park which, despite earning him dubious labels like frat-rap, demonstrates an MC with a curious side, every bit as amused by his smallness as he is enamored with his hugeness. On this release — working with a near-perfect roster of producers including Pharrell, Alchemist, Flying Lotus, and Clams Casino — Miller reveals a creative diversity he's only played at before. Songs like “The Star Room,” “I'm Not Real” featuring Earl Sweatshirt, “Objects in the Mirror,” and “Aquarium” are the frank and surreal mind-circles of a young man finding his way through addiction, fame, and self-doubt. If Miller fails to make a coherent statement or frequently defaults to the self-conscious defense mechanisms of a rich young asshole, we can hardly blame him. We live in a world that is paradoxically seen as more unified due to its infinite fragmentation and specialization, a world that demands your powers first and your histories second. Besides, he knows he's nowhere — “I'm just trying to make it all make sense,” he explains in the I-Tunes bonus track “Goosebumpz.” What I hear, even in the occasionally hokey auto-tuned evanescence of “Youforia” or the mindless misogynistic hyperbole of “Matches” featuring Ab-Soul, is a suburban kid mastering his own gift for wordplay in the hood vernacular and trusting himself enough to be an unabashed work-in-progress. He sounds like he belongs at the top of our thankfully lengthening lists of amazing young contemporary MCs.
At sixteen songs, nineteen on the iTunes Deluxe Edition, Watching Movies With the Sound Off is all over the place in the most enjoyable way. There are sonic and lyrical nuggets here that will move anybody who's down to listen close enough. The production is among the most refreshingly adventurous and diversified on any major hip-hop release in a while. This album, if you approach it with a heart full of happiness in uncertainty and the flippant tide of summer washing up at the back of your mind, will reward you time and time again — whether you're head-bobbing with your eyes closed or idly pondering the middle distance. Fuck it, you can rock this shit at your pool parties and bang it in the hooptie.
"I'm Not Real" featuring Earl Sweatshirt