Review: Mac Miller’s “Circles”

The first, and perhaps last, posthumous album from the late rapper sheds a beautiful light on Miller’s progression as an artist.

Illustrated by Hailee Schievelbein

Illustrated by Hailee Schievelbein

by Alex Strangman

When Mac Miller released “Swimming” in August 2018, it seemed like the Pittsburgh MC had finally turned a creative corner.

On “Swimming” tracks like “Come Back to Earth” and “Hurt Feelings,” Miller reached new heights of vulnerability and self-reflection without sacrificing any of the quick-witted lyricism he’d become known for.

When Miller passed away from an accidental overdose slightly over a month after the release of “Swimming,” it seemed like people would never get a full glimpse of the promising, inter-genre artist he was becoming.

With the release of his first posthumous album “Circles,” fans everywhere can finally gain some closure around a more than promising career cut far too short.

The new project comes off as a “Swimming” part two, with the late MC mastering melodies, vocals and instrumentals he had only toyed with on previous albums. “Circles” proves to be Miller’s most artistically diverse and least “hip-hoppy” project yet. To even classify “Circles” as a hip-hop album is a bit of a stretch. Other than the track “Hands,” Miller does more singing than rapping on virtually every track.

Early on in his career, Miller became known for his playful and sometimes outlandish bars. On “Circles,” he takes a different lyrical approach. On the album’s first track, “Circles,” Miller gets reflective about his life, singing, “And I cannot be changed, I cannot be changed, no. Trust me I’ve tried, I just end up right at the start of the line. Drawin’ circles.”

For Miller’s fans, the hardest reality to accept is how the album paints Miller in a light of optimism. He sees his weaknesses, but remains hopeful to advance his life beyond them. 

On “Surf,” Miller sings about his own flaws, only to realize that growth can occur regardless. “Ayy, and I know we try. Days, they go by, until we get old. There’s water in the flowers, let’s grow,” he sings over dreamy guitar riffs. 

Similar dreamy guitar riffs are sprinkled throughout the album. The entire project is far more low-key than much of Miller’s past discography. Warm beats with a jazzy twist dominate “Circles.”

Although this album is devoid of bangers, unlike many of Miller’s previous offerings such as “GO:OD AM” or “Watching Movies with the Sound Off,” it shows maturity from the artist. 

Rather than making drug references about “getting high and breaking laws” on the track “Good News,” Miller talks about the pressures associated with his drug-induced persona. “No, they don’t like it when I’m down. But when I’m flying, oh. It make ‘em so uncomfortable. So different, what’s the difference?” he sings.

At the end of the day, “Circles” is a well-rounded project. It’s hard for any album to truly fill the hole in fans’ hearts left by the death of such a beloved artist. Yet, as far as capstone projects go, “Circles” is a damned good note to end on.

Rating: A-