Rapper Mac Miller emerged in 2011 like a weeded fratboy frosh looking for the best party, and came out of 2013 like a depressive college radio MC laboring over his best rhymes. Now, as the 23-year-old says on his third studio album, it’s time to “man up.” He calls GO:OD A.M. “the first album I recorded while being happy in a long time,” an opportunity for him to face addiction, insomnia and his tortured insides with clarity on songs like “Weekend.” It’s easily his most mature work – but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s his most entertaining.
Without the lure of parties or the agoraphobic agony of drugs, Miller’s first album for Warner Bros. has him turning into the most boring type of major label rapper: a J. Cole or Big Sean disciple, habitually counting his many blessings. Beyond the vivid OD vision of “Perfect Circle/God Speed,” Miller’s tales of overcoming drugs don’t have the gut-wrenching confessional feel of great 12-stepper rap like Eminem’s Recovery or even Macklemore’s “Starting Over.” Instead, he’s looking forward, treating his formidable rap skills (still on ample display, though dialed down from his showy peak of 2013’s Watching Movies with the Sound Off) like his 401k plan. He wants to “grow up old and rich” and give his mom “some grandkids, she can spoil them.” When he looks back, it’s about the STDs he didn’t get or the money he made in 11th grade. It’s hard to get a clear sense of what the Mac Miller of 2015 feels beyond grateful, a little apologetic and — in the album’s most powerful moments — lonely at the top.
While he has no trouble being honest, Miller has yet to find a rap style that’s truly his own, with his flows seemingly deeply influenced by tourmates like Chance the Rapper (“Doors”), Action Bronson (“Brand Names”) and Earl Sweatshirt (“Perfect Circle/God Speed”) — or just going rogue and sounding awkward over a heavy trap beat (“When in Rome”). The adult Mac Miller has no shortage of insight and courage, detailing his conflicts and wrestling his ego with aplomb, but this “brand new me” seems like one who’s still finding his footing. GO:OD A.M. is a 70-minute studio album that would have been better served as two mixtape diary entries until the sober Miller discovered a smarter way to channel his newfound enthusiasm.