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‘Watching Movies With the Sound Off’ by Mac Miller Ten Years Later

This article was originally published on Respect My Region

When the dust finally settles and the smoke clears, the true merit of Mac Miller’s catalog will come into focus.

The Pittsburgh native never had to trick people into thinking he was talented because his vision extended past his lifetime. His ability to realize the most delicate ideas made him trustworthy very early in his career and the concepts he brought to life serve as monuments of his luminosity. His timeline, however, does exhibit a steep climb.

After getting his initial boost from the frat-rap scene of the late 2000s, Mac jumped ship and began actively distancing himself from an ethic centered on entertainment value. His debut album was panned for being shallow and one-dimensional despite its critical success, which in turn nudged him to choose between cultivating his artistry or molding it per mass appeal. By spending the final years of his life obsessively cooking inside the studio, he found a way to have both.

On June 18, 2013, 21-year-old Malcom McCormick dropped his sophomore studio record, Watching Movies With the Sound Off.

The package didn’t only fulfill his departure from douchey, white-boy rap but also from Rostrum Records, a force that reshaped the business during the onset of the digital era. By stressing fan engagement via cyberspace virality and busy touring schedules, the label elevated Wiz Khalifa and Mac Miller to a level of popularity independent artists weren’t used to enjoying at the time.

This was a turning point in the music circuit because it demonstrated how the internet’s reach trumped the power most major labels held over their artists. Through Rostrum, Mac’s debut album, Blue Slide Park, became the first independent album to top the US Billboard 200 since 1995. With Watching Movies, however, he leveraged his commercial success to test the limits of his newfound freedom.

Though Mac did go on to sign with Warner after leaving Rostrum, he played a major role in changing the landscape. Major labels began putting out the type of music their independent counterparts were known for and vice versa, allowing aspirants far more flexibility in return.

There was a noticeable shift in his approach that first became apparent in the 2012 mixtape, Macadelic. By the following year, he had fully grown into a new body — regardless of the cosmetic changes, he managed to retain his voice while exploring the inner workings of a mind that was as gifted as it was cursed. The album he subsequently put out was fun, but the imagery it triggered was a few shades darker than the palpably radiant material he was known for up until then.

2013–15 gave us the career-defining works of Schoolboy Q, Childish Gambino, Earl Sweatshirt, Tyler, the Creator, Chance the Rapper, and A$AP Rocky, just to name a few. Mac’s second studio album encapsulated the creative spirit of the early-to-mid 2010s and helped usher in one of the most animated and colorful periods of modern hip-hop.

Watching Movies has some of the most memorable features from the brightest and dirtiest minds of the time. Think Earl boasting the sexiest voice in hip-hop with the hook on “I’m Not Real.” A few tracks down, you had Ab-Soulcompeting with an ID Labs beat, with both constantly trying to overtake the other. Then there was Action Bronsonkeeping it shameless and tight with the point-game assist on “Red Dot Music.” Midway, Schoolboy went full hyena mode with the out-of-pocket bars, “Make a nun throw it back while I pull her scarf / She gave me head, my nuts touched her cross.” Then, of course, there was the crossover absolutely no one anticipated — the mystery man himself, Jay Electronica, came through with a swift 16 about the Wizard of Oz!? And for those who stayed on for the encore, Tyler, the Creator even showed up on one of the bonus joints!

Lyrically, Mac hadn’t fully developed yet, but this was around the time he started exploring the inward-looking themes that have since become a defining trait of his legacy. Furthermore, his sound was getting a lot weirder, encouraging listeners to adjust their sensibilities. The beat on “S.D.S,” for instance, simply didn’t make sense coming from the same guy who made “Up All Night,” but the song possessed an amicable temper that people had already grown fond of.

More importantly, though, Mac was at the forefront of a movement that ultimately made the output of independent and mainstream establishments indistinguishable from one another, broadening everyone’s scope and not just his.

Blue Slide Park established that you could be independent and make pop music at the same time, but its follow-up proved something even bigger: you could release unorthodox music through an independent label and still be major.

Watching Movies With the Sound Off was the beginning of Mac Miller’s growth spurt as an artist. In addition to opening the portal to one of the most innovative phases of 21st-century music, the album also kickstarted his gradual ascension into the cosmos.


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