Recording information: Paramount Recording Studios, Hollywood, CA; Rap Camp Action; South Beach Studios; The New ID Labs; The Sanctuary.
Photographers: Eric Altenburger; Ashley Rose; Karen Meyers; Jim Murton.
After lighting up the suburban weekend night with his fun 2011 debut Blue Slide Park, Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller returns with another fun and somewhat filling release, but this light and breezy sophomore effort is more "one to listen to" than "one to party with." Key cut "S.D.S." is the album's magic in a nutshell as cloudy indie electro Flying Lotus production meets Miller's Eminem-minus-the-mania style, and if "I ain't nobody, and neither are you/I'm contemplating if I even believe in truth" is much mumbling about nothing, that's cool, because Miller bases his hotness on how much he looks like David Duchovny during the cut; plus there's plenty of other charming moments like this throughout the album, all of them working to dismantle the tag "frat rap." By the time "Gees" rolls around with ScHoolboy Q, raw electro from producer Chuck Inglish, and some ultra misogynistic "guy talk," it seems the tag of "pop-rap" is bound to be dismantled too, but if the musically adventurous album doesn't give up much for the radio, it is still frivolous, and for some tastes, frivolous to a fault. When indie darling Action Bronson guests on "Red Dot Music," it's a six-minute trip on light drugs with a surprise vision at the end, plus "Suplexes Inside of Complexes and Duplexes" is like frolicking in the Beatles' "Strawberry Fields" while boasting "I raw bust inside a vagina like I want kids" and insulting the players with "You and your girlfriend live inside of a duplex." Consider if the worlds of Odd Future and De La Soul collided and everyone was cool that those socially conscious, Daisy Age lyrics flew out the window, but when Earl Sweatshirt joins and offers "Think my bitch don't know me no more/Because every time she sad I can't console her no more," the album gets its anchor as "I'm Not Real" captures the mindset of the heartbroken and the insular. Still, without the hooks or the lofty lyrics, the album seems made exclusively for Miller's fans or those who right-click indie rap mixtape links on the daily. Those audiences should find it an interesting trip, admirable artistic growth, and an attractive, entertaining step in the right direction. Others will likely be flummoxed. ~ David Jeffries