Culture of Pop

Mac Miller – Faces Review

Courtesy the estate of Mac Miller.

Over seven years after its official release, Mac Miller’s legendary mixtape Faces hit streaming services on October 15th, 2021. Sitting at a whopping 91 minutes in length (Miller’s longest project on streaming services by a good margin), Faces was made at a time where Miller was dealing with heavy drug use, which Miller himself confirmed in interviews and with his tweet, “I was not on planet earth when I made Faces. Nowhere close.” This mixtape is filled to the brim with some of Miller’s best rapping and a wide range of guest features, from frequent collaborators like Earl Sweatshirt (twice) and ScHoolboy Q to new faces like Rick Ross and Mike Jones. Mac Miller also produces 14 of the 25 tracks under his production alias, Larry Fisherman, and this project feels like an extension of themes and ideas explored in his 2013 release, Watching Movies with the Sound Off.

Faces begins with the song “Inside Outside,” and features one of the most powerful opening lines I’ve ever heard on an album, “Shoulda died already, I shoulda died already.” Over an instrumental featuring a saxophone sample and many different vocal samples throughout, as well as what sounds like ScHoolboy Q repeating “Faces” over and over, Miller delivers a solid verse setting the dark tones that will continue to pop up throughout the album. However, the next track, “Here We Go,” is a direct contrast to “Inside Outside,” as Miller spits triumphant bars over another jazzy instrumental. With lines like “I did it all without a Drake feature,” and “If I ain’t in your top ten, then you a racist,” this track sees Miller trade these braggadocious bars with sentiments about the kids who he grew up getting murdered. Even with an upbeat track, these dark themes on Faces are still present throughout.

The third track on Faces, “Friends,” shows Miller at his rapping peak. Rapping for the majority of this six-and-a-half-minute track, Miller calmly throws ad-lib after ad-lib at the listener, while still delivering some of his best punchlines and rhymes that he’s released. This track also contains a ScHoolboy Q feature that is used in the strangest but best way possible, as Q spends the hook for this song repeating the phrase “Miller, Mac” over and over, and doesn’t have a guest verse. Everything about this track is perfect to me, and it still is one of my favorite Mac Miller tracks of all time. Following “Friends,” we see Miller heavily reference his drug usage on the track appropriately titled “Angel Dust,” and even hilariously take shots at Stuart Little with the line “You know little Stuart hasn’t been in any movies lately, He’s spent his paychecks on cocaine and latex.” One thing that is present throughout this album is Miller’s ability to go from talking about serious things like his drug usage and his mortality to suddenly saying hilarious lines like the one mentioned above.

“Malibu” continues the dark and drug usage themes immediately, as the first words Miller utters are “Check myself into rehab, I might die before I detox.” Miller continues rapping at a high level on this track, as he dives into his drug issues over a soft, slow instrumental that feels like a man opening himself up fully to the world. The mixtape’s next track, “What Do You Do,” has Miller and guest Sir Michael Rocks trading verses over another slow, dark instrumental with punchlines galore. Even as the project gets more serious, Miller and his guests never fail to deliver some grin-inducing lines like “Me and Mikey go back like Bron-Bron’s (LeBron James) headbands,” and “I love you more than Kanye love Kanye.”

“It Just Doesn’t Matter” starts with a Bill Murray vocal sample, and while this track has a faster-paced beat than the last couple of tracks, the dark, moody vibe of the tape continues as Miller delivers just a single verse. The track “Therapy” shifts the album’s emotional state abruptly, as the horns on the instrumental help create one of the few upbeat tracks. Throughout the song, Miller repeatedly asks the listener “How’s it feel to hang around a mo********er like me?” with so much swagger in his voice. After this song, the vibe of the mixtape shifts darker again with “Polo Jeans.” Aided by guest Earl Sweatshirt, this track sees both artists describing their drug usage and its place in their lives over a dreary instrumental, sliding perfectly into the themes of Faces.

The tenth song on Faces, “Happy Birthday,” has an almost ironic name, since the track contains Miller describing a birthday party where everyone seems to have just gathered to party, and not celebrate the person’s birthday. This meaning directly contradicts the production, which seems to make this song seem happier than it really is, and this contradiction plays cleverly into what Miller is saying throughout. After this track ends, “Wedding” features a slow, beautiful piano melody played over a melancholy beat. Miller discusses a girl and whether they are worthy of each other despite their flaws, which highlights another major theme throughout Faces: love. “Funeral” continues the production themes of “Wedding,” but this time, Miller dives into the topic of death and mortality, which creates a chilling and emotional track.

“Diablo” finds Mac Miller at arguably his peak, as some of his best verses of all time are on this track. Over more jazzy piano production, Miller delivers two technically sound verses, featuring iconic line after iconic line like the second verse opener, “My mind is on Yoda, I’m on Ayatollah, These other rappers just a diet soda.” The mixtape’s next song, “Ave Maria,” highlights more of what has been heard throughout Faces: gloomy production, fantastic rapping from Miller, and themes of darkness and drug usage. This is followed by a slow, short instrumental interlude titled “55,” before “San Francisco” furthers the album’s themes of dark production and drug references from Miller.

The 17th track on Faces, “Colors and Shapes,” has a slow, otherworldly instrumental with slight vocal samples in the background, and also highlights Miller’s singing abilities, something we would see more of on later releases like Swimming and Circles. Miller’s singing, combined with the transcendent instrumental, tries to take the listener into another place, and it is executed to perfection. Following this, the upbeat, energy-filled banger “Insomniak” features Miller and guest Rick Ross arrogantly flexing their lifestyles and wealth. One line that never fails to make me laugh is the Ross bar “Paranoid, I’m walkin’ round, I’m butt naked with my chopper.” The vibe of the tape shifts back on the song “Uber,” as even though the subject matter is not dark and drug-filled, the instrumental is another jazzy, laid-back beat that fits many of the previous instrumentals.

The Vince Staples-assisted track “Rain” contains another laid-back beat, with one of the best samples I’ve ever heard (produced by the legend 9th Wonder). This track sees Staples and Miller both discussing death, as Miller talks about his issues and mortality, while Staples ponders the deaths that occur from gang violence. “Apparition,” the project’s next track, has an instrumental similar to “Colors and Shapes,” and finds Miller rapping at another high level, with bars like “He just left me with an ocean and a bad religion, While Mary Magdalene laughin’, smokin’ a pack of Winstons.” Another upbeat track follows “Apparition,” as “Thumbalina” finds Miller confident and floating over the instrumental whenever he sings the hook. This track uses a fantastic, chopped-up Beastie Boys sample, which helps elevate this track into one of the best on the tape.

“New Faces v2” highlights the talent that Miller, guest Da$h, and return guest Earl Sweatshirt have when it comes to rapping. Over a somber instrumental produced by Sweatshirt, each rapper delivers fantastic bar after fantastic bar, touching on themes of drug usage and their respective upbringings. Faces “ends” with the track “Grand Finale,” which fittingly contains another somber, low energy instrumental, as well as some solid rapping from Miller, and a great guitar solo. However, the re-release of Faces was packaged with a bonus track. Titled “Yeah,” this track features a vibe and instrumental similar to “Colors and Shapes,” as well as Miller singing about death and drugs.

Throughout Faces, we are treated to some of Mac Miller’s best rapping performances in his career, as well as an extension of some of the darker themes we’ve seen in Miller’s previous works. I think that Miller does a great job of making these themes present in every aspect of this mixtape, from the production to the feature verses to his rapping, and he also mixes in some more upbeat tracks like “Therapy” and “Thumbalina.” We also are treated to some great Miller vocals on tracks like the aforementioned “Thumbalina” and “Colors and Shapes,” as well as the bonus track “Yeah.” I love the versatility on this mixtape, as we see Miller go from creating high energy, upbeat tracks, to singing his heart out, to rapping at a high level about his issues with drug abuse. 

When I heard this mixtape was going to be re-released on streaming services, I was elated and jumped at the opportunity to review it. Miller’s family and estate have done a tremendous job with his posthumous work, as the release of Circles and the re-release of Faces were put together extremely well, and clearly had Miller’s best interests at heart. This is Mac Miller’s magnum opus in my opinion, and has some of my favorite Miller songs of all time, like “Friends” and “Diablo.” Mac Miller’s legacy is tremendous, and this mixtape showcases how much of a generational talent he was; I’d give this mixtape a 9.8/10. I feel like this is one of the best projects of the 2010s and a perfect mix of everything I love about Mac Miller. I could go on for hours about how much I love this project, but I am just glad that everyone will have an opportunity to hear this masterpiece now that it is on streaming. If you haven’t heard this, I HIGHLY recommend checking out this mixtape, as it is a beautiful work of art created by a man who is dearly missed and remembered.

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