Out of the ordinary lyrically and sonically
In hip-hop years, 20-year-old Malcolm ‘Mac Miller’ McCormick is practically old school. He’s released one album and seven mixtapes since 2007. Then he was featured as part of a wet dream of hip-hop hopefuls alongside Yelawolf and Lil B on hip-hop magazine XXL’s Freshman list of 2011, certifying him as a baby-faced one to watch. He’s come a long way since he released ‘But My Mackin’ Ain’t Easy’ at just 16 years old.
It’s unsurprising, therefore, that ‘Blue Slide Park’ (named after a favourite childhood hangout of Miller’s in Pittsburgh) is undercut with reflections on where Mac’s been. Strangely this running theme forms one of the album’s weaknesses, as he labours the suggestion that he’s entering a new phase of life, a point clunkily illustrated on ‘Loitering’: “[i]I’m too old to be chilling at the playground[/i]”. The album’s second weakness is Miller’s ‘frat rap’, a style that occasionally rears its ugly, snapback cap-adorned head. His choice of cultural references – “[i]Donkey Kong[/i]”, “[i]Scott Pilgrim[/i]”, “[i]hashtags[/i]” and the like – hint at horizons that have remained so far unbroadened, as does ‘Party On 5th Ave’, which includes the obligatory anthemic ‘fun’ sample from Marva Whitney’s ‘Unwind Yourself’.
Negatives aside, ‘Blue Slide Park’ is full of surprises, mostly in the production (helmed in the main by ID Labs, but also by A$AP Rocky favourite Clams Casino on ‘One Last Thing’). It’s layered with interesting sonic textures throughout, be they jolting injections of electronica or stoned-sounding, warped beats that lay the foundation for Miller’s drawl. He raps lazily to laidback hooks, then attacks the bassier, sped-up moments with cocky wordplay.
There are a few questionable deviations along the way – namely ‘Up All Night’ which sounds like a bad Ramones cover – but generally the production is so good you rarely notice Miller’s exhausting overuse of the words “[i]dope[/i]” and “[i]ill[/i]”. Alongside this, his ability to disorientate the listener is admirable, as he tackles important and playful subjects. Take his upfront reference to his Jewish heritage in ‘PA Nights’: “[i]We just tryna work so we can blow up like a Molotov/Thinkin’ bout my people who was murdered in the Holocaust[/i]”. Or the ‘did he just say that?’ line on ‘Of The Soul’, one of the prettiest songs on the album, where fused with a lulling piano line, we hear his delightful take on oral sex: “[i]Put it in her mouth/Orthodontist[/i]”.
It’s the contrast of the serious and the funny that lifts ‘Blue Slide Park’ from the tedious American Pie humour for which Mac Miller is often criticised, and the album as a whole saunters and bounces along. Miller has real talent beneath his spring break soundtrack, and with some life experience and some dictionary time, he could yet step up out of the park and start playing with the big boys.