If the posthumously released album Circles is Mac Miller’s remarkable epilogue, the reissued mixtape Faces, originally released in 2014, relaunches him into the spotlight with its full-blown confidence and outstanding artistry of a 22-year-old rising rapper. Although its 24 tracks span across more than an hour, none of them feels excessive. Veteran listeners of Miller’s music get to appreciate his effortless rap and skilled production once again, whereas new audiences have the opportunity to experience music made when he was growing exponentially as an ambitious, uncompromising young artist.
Clearly jazz-influenced, Faces shines with masterful production that transcends his young age. Smooth saxophone forms the backbone of the first track “Inside Outside.” He blurs the line between the “outside” lucid reality and his “inside” frantic mind. With unassertive rap and exquisite jazz production, Miller skillfully creates an indulging auditory experience that helps listeners descend into his private self.
The following track “Here We Go” celebrates his past achievements as a young artist, looking into his future with confidence and optimism. Miller uses jazz instruments even more clearly and cleverly on this track. With unhurried drums, trumpets and saxophones, Miller proudly declares, “I’m underrated,” and “I did it all without a Jay feature.” Balancing silky jazz instruments with self-glorifying lyrics, he turns what might have been an imprudent boast into a modest celebration.
With only the first two tracks, he successfully separates himself from other young, often mediocre rappers who mindlessly brag about their fame. Miller’s artistry bears distinct edges, distinguishing talents, and most importantly, a humble self-awareness toward his predecessors and his own career.
What follows “Here We Go” is not an ascent into ever more celebration, but instead, an unsettling descent into Miller’s private mind, which is often dizzy, hallucinatory and insecure. As the mixtape progresses, Miller reduces his use of instrumentals from loud, layered saxophones to stripped-down beats. For example, “Happy Birthday,” “Wedding” and “Funeral” are three consecutive tracks that form an autobiographical trilogy. “Happy Birthday” starts the trilogy with rushed, escalating drum beats, but “Funeral” ends with more slow-paced drums and depressed murmurings.
“Diablo” features a cold, monotonous piano tremolo that accompanies his ghostly raps, “Everybody got dead homies.” The optimism and cheerfulness at the start of the mixtape are gone, replaced by a sobering message about substance abuse and its resulting half-lucidness. In “San Francisco,” he reflects “I inherited the thirst of self-destruction.” Although such dark emotional confessions might be overwhelming, it testifies to the autobiographical honesty of his music. His exquisite production and skillful rap always help him accurately reflect his mental state, which makes his private emotions more accessible and empathetic for his listeners.
The constant descent finally, fittingly ends with “Grand Finale.” The opening electric guitar seems to wake up the audience from a bad dream. His return to reality first leads to his abandonment of religious faith (“Jesus was a poor sport”), but confronted with a reality too bleak and too depressing to be faced, he ultimately resorts to self-abandonment. The track culminates in an apocalyptic vision in which the world explodes like a firework. Although Miller playfully inquires, “are you ready for the fireworks?”, they’re already ringing in our ears. The global apocalypse that he prophesizes is near.
Faces begins with optimistic celebration but ends with devastation and destruction. As a young and rising artist back in 2014, Faces is his ambitious, signature work that testifies his excellence in rap and production. At the same time, however, it is also his unreserved confession about his public highs and private lows. Either for his musical talents or his unyielding honesty, the reissued Faces is worth the listen.
Contact William Xu at [email protected].