One year ago, Mac Miller’s first posthumous album, Circles, was released just a year and a half after his death in September 2018. Although he did not live long enough to complete the album, producer John Brion finished the project as an ode to Mac’s vision, Mac’s family, and most importantly, Mac’s Legacy. It is not certain how far along Mac was with the project before his untimely passing but what is clear is that Mac wanted the world to hear it. “This is a complicated process that has no right answer. No clear path,” his family wrote in a letter on his Instagram. “We simply know that it was important to Malcolm for the world to hear it.”
Although Mac was not around for the finishing touches, his vision comes across clear and vibrant as a complete piece of work. Brion, who produced half of the songs on Swimming, completed the album based on ideas and conversations he shared with Mac. The notion of Circles was to be a companion album to Swimming. Swimming in Circles was the concept. Life, emotions, struggles, and happiness move like a loop and always comes back around.
“My God, it go on, and on/Just like a circle, I go back to where I’m from,” Mac rapped on the last verse of Swimming. The perfect precursor to the opening of Circles. “Well, this is what it look like right before you fall Stumblin’ around; you’ve been guessin’ your direction. Next step you can’t see at all.” Mac sings before the chorus, “And I cannot be changed, I cannot be changed, no Trust me, I’ve tried I just end up right at the start of the line. Drawin’ circles.”
If Swimming was about Mac hiding his anxieties, insecurities, and depression on the inside while appearing fine on the surface, then Circles is about Mac attempting to do something about it even though he knows everything will just come back full circle in the end.
As he was with Swimming, Mac is introspective, honest, and vulnerable, as the listener becomes a witness to the demons that haunt Mac’s mind as he struggles to find a cure or a way out. On the other hand, unlike Swimming, Mac seems more optimistic about the troubles he faces. He understands that he has these insecurities, and instead of pushing them down further inside, he brings them to light and acknowledges that he is his own worst enemy. “Can I get a break? I wish that I could just get out my goddamn way. What is there to say? There ain’t a better time than today.” He raps on Good News.
Mac comes to terms with how he feels, and instead of attempting to fix his issues overnight, he understands it’s a process. “Some people say they want to live forever. That’s way too long; I’ll just get through today. Without any complications.” Mac sings on Complicated. Mac takes us on his journey inward, and although it’s a daunting ride, he displays a beautiful act of self-reflection and shows just how far he has grown as an artist.
Circles is one of the most personal projects in Mac’s repertoire, if not the most personal, and serves as a heavy reminder of where his career could have gone if his life hadn’t tragically come to an end. Regardless, Circles answers any unfinished ideas and concepts that he displayed on Swimming. A perfect balance of the two projects. The yin and the yang of Mac’s conscience mixed with the polarity of his self-depreciation and reformation. Although tragic, Circles serves as the ideal ending for an artist who gave his heart and soul to the world and asked for nothing in return.