Mac Miller’s “Circles” Review


The cover of Mac Miller's final album "Circles." Released posthumously, "Circles" remains a testament to Miller's legacy and talent.

Oscar Gralnick, Staff Writer

Mac Miller’s posthumous album Circles was a beautiful testimony to his life and career as an artist. This album is yet another example of Miller’s intrepid lyricism and innovative sound design. Though Miller passed away in September of 2018, he lives on through his music and will constantly be a force in the music and hip hop industry. Circles reignite the flame and appreciation for Miller. This magnificent album wraps and gives a deep and appreciated sense of closure while still leaving his loyal fan base wanting more. 

Miller was working on this album prior to his passing and had intended it to be part two in a trilogy of albums, the first being his 2018 Album Swimming, the second being Circles, and the third will unfortunately never be produced due to his passing. Producer Jon Brown, who finished Circles after Miller’s death, stated this in his New York Times interview: “There were supposed to be three albums: the first, Swimming, was sort of the hybridization of going between hip-hop and song form, the second, which he’d already decided would be called Circles, would be song-based. And I believe the third one would have been just a pure hip-hop record. I think he wanted to tell people, ‘I still love this, I still do this.’” However, millions of fans still hold hope that there will be more songs released by his production team and family in the coming years.

Though we can’t predict what the future holds, we do have Circles, which is wonderful, despite being part of an unfinished trilogy. Every song on this album features a live band, which is a refreshing take on the classic digital production that is so common for rap. He is accompanied by a variety of musicians and instruments:

  • Jon Brion – guitar (tracks 1, 2, 4, 8, 9, 11), cymbals (track 1), vibraphone (track 1), synthesizer (tracks 2, 5), keyboards (tracks 4, 5, 7), drums (tracks 6, 8, 9, 11), bass (tracks 7, 9, 11, 12), piano (track 9), Hammond organ (track 10), reed organ (track 10), percussion (tracks 10, 12)
  • MonoNeon – bass (track 2)
  • Wendy Melvoin – bass (track 4), guitar (tracks 4, 7, 9)
  • Matt Chamberlain – drums (tracks 4, 10)
  • Shea Taylor – drums, horns, strings, synthesizer (track 5)
  • Ariana Grande – uncredited vocals (track 5)
  • Tony Royster Jr. – drums (track 6)
  • Baro Sura – additional vocals (track 8), drums (track 8)

Though similar to songs from swimming such as “Self-care” and “Wings” This refreshing authentic sound brings Miller into a new life and separates him from the played-out “trap” style and mumble rap that has become the norm in hip hop. In these two albums specifically, Miller speakers on important issues such as depression, drug abuse, heartbreak and death. While these themes seem inherently dark, Miller is able to use these themes as a tool for motivation and as a way to empathize with his audience and them with him. Miller said this in his 2015 interview with Larry King: “I had a drug problem for a long time. It wasn’t just in music, but I definitely was going through a drug problem and I think it was more my state of mind. I was just pretty depressed.” “I think it started [with success],” he continued.  “It’s funny because you talk to people, and they say, ‘What do you have to be depressed about? You have money.”… Fame is tricky because you read what’s said about you, and you know what you know to be true, and the lines start to blur.” Miller seemed to live in constant limbo with this addiction, but he was always open about it in his music. Miller said this in his 2015 interview with Billboard magazine: “I’m not as depressed anymore. Making music when you’re depressed is great therapy.” If you read between the lines, his lyrics are a clear reflection of this ongoing battle with depression and drug abuse. Here are a few excerpts from this new album that I think represent this reflection as well as Miller’s emotions through his journey.

Outside is cloudy, but I like that better (Better, better)

Behind the wheel, but still ain’t on my way

Some people say they want to live forever

That’s way too long, I’ll just get through today

-Mac Miller, Complicated


Well, so tired of being so tired

Why I gotta build something beautiful just to go set it on fire?

I’m no liar, but

Sometimes the truth don’t sound like the truth

Maybe ’cause it ain’t

I just love the way it sounds when I say it

Yeah, it’s what I do

If you know me, it ain’t anything new

Wake up to the moon, haven’t seen the sun in a while

But I heard that the sky’s still blue, yeah

-Mac Miller, Good News


Everybody’s gotta live

And everybody’s gonna die

Everybody’s gotta live

I think you know the reason why

Yeah, sometimes the going gets so good, yeah

But then again it gets pretty rough, yeah

But when I have you in my arms, baby

You know I just can’t, I just can’t get enough

-Mac Miller, Everybody

These lines show very clearly Millers feeling about death, 

It is clear though songs like these that Millers was struggling but used his music as a way out. Circles is a refreshing and authentic take on rap music as a genre. Miller’s sound comes straight from the soul and offers a great sense of connection to his audience. I interviewed Boulderhigh senior Evelyn Domingues, a fan of Millers from the beginning said this about the album: “I like how the album is chill and mellow. I think that his use of themes such as drug abuse and depression are used to inform about these issues and help his audience who may be struggling. I think that this album shouldn’t necessarily be put into the “Rap” Genre as it was more just Miller expressing himself, regardless if he raps or not and that the live band and instrument use make this album extremely unique and heartfelt.”

This album was a beautiful way to continue his legacy, and Miller’s unique sound and vision will always be remembered.