Editor’s note: this review was written by Bryan Dupont Grey in cooperation with The Daily Cougar.
During his up-and-coming rise to fame, Mac Miller had often been viewed as a Pittsburgh rapper whose mixtape and commercial material stayed centered around money, weed and women. It was charming at first, but after a while, the recycled rhymes grew stale.
Miller’s new commercial album “Watching Movies With the Sound Off” is aesthetically and materialistically better. With the undertaking of a structured, underground hip-hop vibe, a reworked approach to lyricism and the choice in feature acts, the album is the best that “Easy Mac with the Cheesy Raps” has put out so far. Through this release, he has grown into an artist who brings flair and creative thought in showcasing a somewhat comical yet personal world.
Right off the bat, the biggest improvement lies in production quality. Followers of Flying Lotus and Clams Casino will be pleased to hear their hands-on album as well as Odd Future emcee Earl Sweatshirt. Jay Electronica, The Alchemist and Pharrell are also big name producers on this album, each providing different genres of experimental, trap and R&B flavor.
“Avian” and “Matches” are the best produced tracks of the album, the former of which was produced by Miller and the latter of which includes a clever Black Moth Super Rainbow sample.
The feature verses on the album are satisfying, too. “Watching Movies with the Sound Off” might be the only album that harbors some witty, groundbreaking bars from Sweatshirt, Action Bronson, Schooboy Q, Ab-Soul and Jay Electronica. Bronson also has some highlight lines in “Red Dot Music,” which he contributes some matter-of-fact reasons why he’s invested his time in rapping.
Lyrically, Miller has matured. Throughout the album are bits of his introverted, conscious feelings scattered about the 16-track project. Song topics range from a delving reaction to the criticism of his rapping style (“Suplexes”) to paying homage to his friend who died last year because of brain hemorrhage (“REMember”).
Perhaps the most impressive track delves into his R&B side of his character with the song “Objects in the Mirror,” an ode to admitting mistakes made in the past and finding the courage to leave those things behind as if looking at them through a rear-view car mirror. Miller has a passable singing ability that warrants some credit. He hits the notes pretty evenly, and the song is quite an emotional one, making it the best song on the album.
Of course, the downside of this album is his rapping voice. It’s disappointingly monotone, which makes Miller sound as if he has no real energy when he’s up against the microphone during recording sessions. There are times when he tries to hide this fallacy by adding pitching effects in his voice, but this only makes it worse.
Miller has benefited from his association with artists like Sweatshirt and Bronson. The switch from the poppy, weed rapping to the underground, dark and moody monologues has greatly sharpened his skills. You can feel it in his rhyme schemes. The fact that he composed some of these tracks without mentioning the usual stuff that he’s known for is a giant step forward in his artistry.
Listeners looking for something introspective and groovy should pick up “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.” It has no explicit concept allocated to it. However, fans and haters of Miller will be highly impressed with this mainstream release. Even those who had shunned him for his pop-rap style should also give this one a go.
This article was originally published by The Daily Cougar and written by Bryan Dupont-Gray, who is also a DJ for Coog Radio.