More than a year after his death from a drug overdose, a new album by Mac Miller, Circles, was released on January 17, 2020. This is Miller’s sixth and final studio album. Since his passing, his producers have released a handful of singles and features with Miller’s pre-recorded tracks.
Miller was far into recording Circles, with producer Jon Brion, at the time of his death. He intended this album to be paired with Swimming, the album he released in 2018. “Two different styles complementing each other completing a circle – Swimming in Circles was the concept,” read a note from Miller’s family prior to the album’s release. After Miller’s death, Brion promised to “dedicate my time to finishing the album based on my time and conversations with Malcolm,” according to the same statement from the Miller family.
It’s difficult to listen to Circles without thinking about the context of the rapper’s untimely death. The other difficulty connected with Circles is that Miller finally sounds at peace with everything. Throughout the album, Miller tackles hooks and choruses that he previously would have left to a guest artist. The opening song and title track sets the tone for the listen–Circles is not a rap album. Miller is known for his unpredictable career, experimenting within the genre of rap and outside of it. From his 2010 K.I.D.S’ frat-rap anthems, to the psychedelic self-analysis in 2014’s Faces and 2012’s Macadelic. He released some jazz music under the alias Larry Fisherman and remixed his own discography on his 2013 Live From Space album. Over the course of his previous two releases, Miller showed his affection for R&B and focused on a more lyrical and diverse sound.
Circles is Mac Miller’s most intimate and vulnerable project. The album itself is a lesson in acceptance. On past projects, Miller has most commonly addressed his mental health, struggles with addiction, and heartbreak, but never seemed to find comfort. However, on Circles, he is working on facing his problems head-on and accepting his demons for what they are. “One of these days we’ll all get by,” he raps on “Blue World,” the most traditional rap song in the album. On the sixth track, “Everybody,” Miller comes to a possible acceptance of his own mortality: “Everybody’s gotta live, everybody’s gotta die. Everybody’s gonna try to have a good, good time, I think you know the reason why.” Still struggling with his mental health, Miller sings on Hand Me Downs, “All I ever needed was somebody with some reason who could keep me sane,” while on “I Can See,” he rhymes: “I need somebody to save me before I drive myself crazy.”
There is no way to know what changes Miller would have made to Circles prior to its release, but the album we have feels like the natural end of his chapter. It’s an optimistic farewell, a glimpse into the world that Miller was just beginning to fully absorb. In Circles, Mac Miller is content as he says goodbye.