Review: ‘Swimming’

Swimming may drown in similarity, though is an admirable attempt at a consistent supply of gentle, alternative rap.

Mac Miller is a name in hip hop that never truly matched his predicted trajectory. He was Macklemore before Macklemore was Macklemore, emerging as an independent artist with a loyal fanbase who loved his playful ‘frat rap’ style, although it was always hard to pinpoint him into a particular lane. Over the years, the rap community’s interest in Miller’s music has drastically diminished despite his artistic growth, switching to mature content and jazz production on 2016’s The Divine Feminine. Immersed in a busy August for hip hop, dropping on the same day Travis Scott’s Astroworld and YG’s Stay Dangerous, Miller must prove he’s worthy of listeners’ time.

If Swimming could be converted into colours, the production would be yellow and Mac Miller would be grey. Across its 13 tracks, Miller blurs the lines between jazz rap and funk as he cruises through imprecise self-reflection. It is difficult to pinpoint Miller’s purpose with Swimming, though it’s clear he is dealing with multiple insecurities.

With no standout ear-worms, Swimming relies entirely on a total album experience from beginning to end. This may work for some, though Miller lacks any diversity both vocally and sonically to steer the ship. Neither has Mac been an interesting rapper, in relation to both lyrical skill and subject matter. Despite the lack of rapping on Swimming, Miller’s alternate course of singing is not a breakthrough either. The singing is often dry and lacks any melody, which is why there are no memorable hooks on the album either. What you can draw from Swimming is that Mac has grown as a person, though cannot provide enough detail for the listener to understand his imperfections.

What keeps Swimming afloat is its smooth production. The consistently mellow essence of tracks like “Dunno” and “Self Care” brings warmth to Miller’s skeletal performances. The former track is a comfy ballad led by the minimal bopping synths, emphasising all the strengths of Swimming in one song. “2009” is another highlight in similar vein, opening up with grand strings before transitioning into twinkling piano keys as Mac expresses his desire to move forward. Lead single “Self Care” taps into necessary melody, while “Hurt Feelings” drowns in wavy reverb, epitomising the nauseating vibe of Swimming.

As smooth as it may be, Swimming can easily play in the background without the realisation that the next track has come on, maintaining a mellow listening experience across the hour. The aesthetic is commendable, although is the reason for Swimming drowning in similarity.

Without any single-worthy material to extract into a playlist, Swimming is a pleasantly consistent album to listen in its entirety. On the surface, Swimming is an exploration of self-worth, though never dives into the deep end, kept afloat by the production and flashes of acceptable vocal performances.

Rating: 7 / 10

Favourite tracks: “Dunno”, “2009”, “Jet Fuel”, “Self Care”

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