When Mac Miller released Watching Movies With the Sound Off in 2013, he'd turned a corner personally and creatively. The bright, chipper style that marked the earlier part of his career pivoted to darker moods. Its follow-up Faces, released the following year, continued down that path, with the Pittsburgh rapper both basking in his growing profile and respect—“did it all without a Drake feature” and “did it all without a Jay feature,” he quips on the triumphant “Here We Go”—and grappling with his mortality. The declaration that he “might die before [he] detox[es]” on “Malibu” is haunting in hindsight, but in the moment, it was precisely that kind of rawness that made him so compelling.
Faces captures Miller in transition. It's a collage of contrasting realities, a mind as capable of creation as it is annihilation. The woozy anxiety of “Friends” captures the pride of winning with the people who've been there all along and the demons that have been there, too: “My grandma probably slap me for the drugs I got/I'm a crackhead but I bought her diamonds, we love rocks.” Such clever turns of phrase make the project a kind of choose-your-own-adventure odyssey. Do you want to hear Miller as an agile wordsmith and producer fine-tuning the intricacies of his craft, as a blossoming artist defining success on his terms, or as a troubled young adult already beginning to see the writing on the wall? (“I inherited a thirst for self-destruction and I'm scared of it,” he admits on the spaced-out “San Francisco.” “I'm a bigger illusion than good marriages or what it means to be American.”) All would be true, and all are the bedrock and brilliance of Faces. Miller's generosity and willingness to evolve in front of an audience—a commitment to searching that extended from his beats and lyrics to his lived experiences—remains one of his greatest gifts to the world.