Live From Space - Mac Miller Featuring The Internet
by Josh Kinnear
THE ARTIST: A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE ARTIST-
Mac Miller (legally Malcolm James McCormick), is a rapper from Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. He is also an accomplished music producer (under the name Larry Fisherman), and has used several alternate names for music releases such as Larry Lovestein and Delusional Thomas. He is also a moderately proficient pianist, guitarist, drummer, and bassist (reportedly all self-taught). He began rapping at age 14 in 2006, and began releasing music by 2007. He has been one of the most successful independent-label musicians ever, his first studio album “Blue Slide Park” being only the second ever independently distributed debut hip-hop record to hold number one on the Billboard 200 upon release. On his first ever tour he sold out every venue along the way, a highly commendable feat for any performer. Mac Miller is notable for his extensive use of mixtapes and EP’s to release music as opposed to studio albums, having released 12 of the former and only 2 of the latter. Mac Miller initially found success as mostly popular amount teenager, crazy party life style described in his music and carved his niche in mainstream radio music despite his independent musician status. However, a change occurred that was hinted at in his 2012 mixtape “Macadelic”, and came to fruition in his 2013 album “Watching Movies With The Sound Off”. It marked a highly noticeable change in the artist’s lyrical content, with it starting to lean much more heavily towards deep philosophical life analysis, and brutally honest introspection, as well as experimentation musically and in the realm of production. This theme of change has been continued by his recent close collaboration with fringe artists such as the hip-hip collective Odd Future, and in his subsequent releases “Delusional Thomas” (mixtape, 2013), “Live From Space” (live album, 2013), and “Faces”(mixtape, 2014). In recent interviews Mac has made clear that he is currently working on a wide array of different projects, so we have a lot to look forward to in the near future from this young talented artist.
THE ALBUM: BACKROUND ON THE ALBUM-
“Live From Space”, is a live concert album that was mostly recorded over the course of his 2013 tour, The Space Migration. It was released December 7th, 2013 on Rostrum Records. It features mostly live renditions of songs from his album “Watching Movies With The Sound Off”, 5 previously unreleased tracks from the same era as “Watching Movies With The Sound Off”(but that didn’t make it on the album), and one live version of a track from a former release. The main factor of interest and curiosity in this album being that in all the live recording from the tour he is backed by the Odd Future affiliated band The Internet playing all his songs live on instruments, as opposed to the single DJ musical backing that is standard for a live rap concert, which he usually utilized in the past. The Internet is a free-form neo-jazz/funk/soul group created by Syd the Kyd and Matt Martians of Odd Future, including a touring bassist, drummer, and keyboardist. They participated in the tour due to Mac Miller’s request and the musician’s mutual friendship and past collaborations.
TRACKLIST: SELECTED NOTABLE TRACKS-
*I have decided not to review any of the 5 tracks at the end of this record, that are of songs that didn’t make in onto the album “Watching Movies With the Sound Off”, because I believe the focus of this album is meant to be on the live and jazz-band-backing aspects of the record. Having said that, these 5 songs are still incredible and all interesting in their own right and I highly recommend them, as they all have something interesting of their own to offer. These songs I believe were only left off as a result of too much material for one album, not on any basis of lack of quality, as these are all just as good as any. I completely agree with his decision to release them, these are not filler and are worthy of review, I simply haven’t the room in this article.*
1. The Star Room/Killin’ Time- The song “The Star Room” is how the album “Watching Movies With The Sound Off” opens. Mac Miller tells the crowd here that this song is the moment you stop lying to yourself. Emphasizing the self and truth searching themes so prevalent in the lyrics. Including admissions of lies to others, les to self, drugs, pressure from fame and wealth, and apologies, this song is an all out confession, and cleaning out of the closet. This opening to set the tone for the content of the material of the album is a perfect choice. This song then smoothly transitions into a high energy sped up version of “Killin’ Time” off the same album. Its shows the bands fluidity with each other and comfort with the material and improving off each other’s energy. Also including some rocking back and forth with the crowd to amp them up, and some singing by The Internet.
2. BDE (Best Day Ever) - Two songs into the record we hear him thank the musicians for coming on this tour with him, to add the live music aspect to his show. He then requests to them that they play some old shit for the fans, and after a little comical back-and-forth they being what is a unique song on the album in that is the only track on the live album that’s not off of “Watching Movies with the Sound Off.” The song “BDE (Best Day Ever)” is off of his fifth mixtape from 2011 of the same name. The lyrics, well sung from practice, but in a new style, tell a story of being happy with life, thankful for success and blessings, and that he’ll keep doing what he loves because it’s what he needs. The song is interesting in that it’s our only look at this new live jazz platform being applied to one of his old classics. The instrumentation retains the old catchy head-bopping rhythm of the anthem and the crowd clearly loves it. They scream out the chorus with the band, and sing along to all the words. A nice nod to his past style.
3. Bird Call- This track starts with Mac telling the crowd, and the band, that he’s about to really rap, and the band jumps in to a hard grooving on-point rhythm and starts to go hard. You have to tap your foot and nod when Mac jumps in with a hard assertive flow. Very clear and enunciated so we can hear the words especially well for a live show. The band starting and stopping perfectly in order to not cover up his voice. In addition, on this track the band is defiantly the most supportive of the DJ’s contributions, and their bringing him to the forefront of the band on this one makes it feel like the most classic rap/hip-hop style track on the album with sliding back of the record to make the rhythm and the display of quality live turntable scratching. It ends with an interesting high energy jam, that’s not on the album version, and is a great showcase of back and forth between the DJ and the guitar. While the album version is relatively low key in tone and nature, Mac Miller totally reinvents the song’s mood for the live performance with a very intense and motivating energy in his voice as he raps with authority, and often escalates to speeding up and yelling, It shows great musical talent to perform your own material in a totally different style and manor while making the new version great in its own right.
4. The Question- At this point Miller tells us that they’re about to play what is his favorite song to perform. The song is honest, introspective, deep, and it defiantly draws you into the vibe of the tune. This song is defiantly a perfect example of an artist recording a snapshot of himself right in middle of a personal soul-searching crisis, and learning more about who he wants to be as a man and as an artist. Sharing about pressure, hardships, and drug abuse he makes you feel for the struggle of fame, and puts success in perspective. The highlight of this song is defiantly the words, singing, and Mac’s story, however, the guitarist defiantly deserves recognition on the instrumental side of things. His amazing guitar work complimented the vibe of the song perfectly, and skillfully made a strongly noticeable and recognizable addition to the song without taking attention away from Mac Miller’s performance. And in the sections without Mac speaking, he infused guitar solos that added valuable dimensions of emotion to the composition that culminated in an over a minute and a half guitar solo at the end that blew me away and transitioned the song and audience perfectly to the climax of the emotional quality of it all, and back down again.
5. Youforia- This is the final song from “Watching Movies With The Sound Off” and also the final live track on this record, and there could’ve been simply no other option for either, as this song perfectly brings his album and performance to a close with its beauty and sincerity. He starts by telling the venue that he’s not as good at singing as some of the other guys on stage, but that he likes to do it, and so he’s gonna try. Which is all anyone can ask of themselves. This song is a beautiful ballad, and the nature of the song and its style is proof of Mac Miller’s expanding artistic vision and his desire and ability to successful experiment with styles and genres, so as to express himself more fully in a wide range of ways. Mac Miller put a lot of effort into being able to sing in the way you have to in order to pull off singing a slow, melodic, and emotional song like this. And the result is no disappointment, as Mac Miller delivers a rendition live, that amazingly does vocal justice to the album version, and is hopefully an indication of his continuing to diversify his skill-set, and to conquer more areas of musical expression in the future.
In the end this isn’t necessarily the catchiest of his musical releases. However, it is the most ambitious. It took alot of guts for someone who was aware that his fan base still consisted of mostly party music loving teenagers at the time, to go out on a tour of (and release an album of) him reciting his raps over a free-form jazz/funk platform. It is a definite sign of positive growth and artistic integrity on his part. Not to mention the level of desire, interest, and willingness to experiment it shows, which is often what distinguishes artists that fade away from the spotlight from those that remain relevant. This album is a perfect example of Mac Miller’s recent growth as an artist since the release of “Macadelic” and “Watching Movies With The Sound Off.” All in all, Mac Miller is defiantly a continuously rising and changing star in the world of rap, and I suggest you keep an eye on him, because if he continues as he is, then this young artist will almost certainly leave his mark on the world of rap music in the future.