BOTTOM LINE Delivering a gold-medal hip-hop performance in tough times.
Mac Miller’s fifth studio album, “Swimming” (Warner Bros.), will undoubtedly be the most-talked-about of the 26-year-old rapper’s career so far. Unfortunately, it’s not for the reasons he wants.
Miller has had a tough few months. His nearly two-year relationship to Ariana Grande came to a very public end in May, followed by Miller’s arrest for DUI after he drove his car into a utility pole. A few weeks later, Grande announced her engagement to “Saturday Night Live” star Pete Davidson.
Because of that backdrop, people will parse his new album for clues about what went wrong, rather than focus on how good it is and how far Miller has come as a rapper and a lyricist. But Miller, who built his fan base mostly through social media, is savvy enough to know that and give the people what they want.
In “Self Care,” he addresses the DUI arrest head on, rapping, “That Mercedes drove me crazy. I was speedin’. Somebody save me from myself.” He also may be addressing his breakup with Grande, declaring, “Can’t trust no one . . . ‘I love you, I don’t love nobody else.’ Yeah, tell them they can take that [expletive] elsewhere.”
From a musical standpoint, what is far more interesting in “Self Care” is how well Miller navigates the mopey provinces of chart-toppers like Post Malone and Drake without getting bogged down in self-pity.
And he uses the smooth groove of the single “What’s the Use?” to show the artistic growth he showed on his 2016 album “The Divine Feminine” remains intact.
Miller is a player on hip-hop’s more artistic side, as he shows on the jazzy opener “Come Back to Earth” and the ambitious “2009,” with its lengthy orchestral opening. But he can also attack with street savvy, as he does on the gritty “Jet Fuel” and the throwback “Hurt Feelings.” It will be those tracks that make “Swimming” stand as one of Miller’s best.