Mac Miller’s Swimming: Is It Worth the High?

Published on August 16, 2018 · Last updated July 28, 2020
Mac Miller album Swimming
(Photo by Amy Harris: Invision/AP)

Ever since his amateur, and occasionally cringe-worthy, debut LP Blue Slide Park in 2011, the Pittsburgh MC Mac Miller has made a point of embracing a more sophisticated style of hip-hop; his new fifth album Swimming features some of the dreamiest soundscapes and warmest funk grooves of his career.

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Yet the album, centered around his brutal breakup with superstar Ariana Grande in May, also emphasizes his depression and loneliness: shortly after they split, he was charged with a DUI when he drove his truck into a utility pole and fled the scene of the crash. (Grande’s recent engagement to SNL’s goofy Pete Davidson probably hasn’t lightened his mood). The album is held together by the friction Miller creates between these sensual vibes and his raw heartbreak; it’s what makes Swimming such an interesting and complex listen.

Mac Miller album Swimming
Consequentially, Swimming also presents a sort of “Choose Your Own Adventure” for anyone interested in hearing it under the influence: are you looking to sink into those pastel-colored synth lines and cushy string arrangements with an indica-leaning hybrid, or do you want to really empathize with Mac’s wounded state with a spritely sativa? Either way, if you’re wondering if Swimming is worth the high, the answer is 100% yes.

If you want to really savor those sumptuous instrumentals, we suggest sending yourself off with some Sunset Sherbert. Miller used to “sell shitty ass weed” in his hometown – why don’t we mix things up with something classier? There are so many dusky sounds to relish here: the jazzy opening track “Come Back to Earth,” for instance, floats on a sea of gentle keys and guitars – take a puff of that Sherbert and they might swell up like hot air balloons. Later, the Sherbert’s hints of sativa add an extra bounce to the sexy bass lines threaded through “What’s the Use” and lead single “Small Worlds” (which also features contributions from John Mayer).

On Swimming, Miller sings nearly as much as he raps. He’s no Luciano Pavarotti, but it’s immediately clear that he loves wringing out every last wistful syllable of tracks like “Come Back to Earth” and “Wings” (a dead ringer for Frank Ocean’s “Thinkin Bout You).” Throughout the album, his drawling cadences become even more languid when you’re a few tokes deep.

But as soon as you start paying attention to what Mac’s singing, you might as well roll up something a little lighter like Fruit Spirit. More than anything else, Mac sounds like he needs someone to hear him out; one of cannabis’ most astounding traits is its ability to trigger empathy, and this cheery strain will help you focus and connect with him without getting dragged down his sad boy rabbit hole. “Party ain’t over until they’re kickin’ me out,” he announces on “2009,” laying bare his own loneliness and addictive tendencies. On the bruised “Self Care,” he makes the prospect of downing his cocktail of pain-numbing substances sound like the least fun thing ever.

Mac Miller has come a long way since his doofy days of “Donald Trump” and the corny “Frick Park Market.” On Swimming he’s as vulnerable as he is sexy; while it’s easy to separate the album’s vibe from its message, what makes it so exciting is how the two fit together. And that alone is worth the high.Music + Cannabis = Yassss

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Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson
Max Savage Levenson likely has the lowest cannabis tolerance of any writer on the cannabis beat. He also writes about music for Pitchfork, Bandcamp and other bespectacled folk. He co-hosts The Hash podcast. His dream interview is Tyler the Creator.
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