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Mac Miller’s ‘Circles’: What Posthumous Albums Should Aspire To Be

In recent memory, an alarming number of young and famous artists have passed away, especially within the genre of hip-hop. Artists such as Juice WRLD, Pop Smoke, Lil Peep and XXXTentacion are some of the most notable people who unfortunately fit this description. All had strong influences in their specific subgenres of hip-hop and had a very large amount of commercial success while alive, however, their popularity in all of their cases significantly increased once they passed. It is a common phenomenon that artists’ popularities increase dramatically once they pass, this could even be said for pop stars such as Amy Whinehouse. With that in mind, the manner in which an artist’s reputation and discography is handled postmortem requires much maturity to maintain its authenticity as it very strongly influences how the artist will be remembered for generations to come.

XXXTentacion’s “Bad Vibes Forever'' is his fourth posthumous album within the span of 1 year and a half of his death. It was largely criticized for sounding generic, void of originality, bloated, inauthentic to the artist’s style and containing way too little of the artist himself (with too many artists being featured). It did not feel like something that the artist himself would release, but more of a simple and easy way to earn money, which is horrible from an ethical standpoint, to say the least. But the focus of this article isn’t this album which was done incorrectly, it’s about the album posthumous releases should strive to be.

Mac Miller was a 26-year-old American rapper, singer, songwriter, and record producer who sadly passed away on September 7th 2018. A little over a year after his death, on January 8th 2020, his family announced that “Circles”, an album he was working on as a companion album to his last record prior to his passing, “Swimming”, would be released on the 17th of the same month. The concept for the companionship of the albums was because together, they would be “Swimming in Circles”.

Jon Brion was the man responsible for completing the additional production and development of the record, utilizing all the material and ideas Mac had given him, just so it remains as authentic as possible. The production inside Circles is amazing, the instrumentals used are able to bring to life the musical aesthetics that Mac quite clearly was aiming for. Some tracks sound energetic such as “Blue World”, some have more psychedelic qualities like “I Can See”, some have a chilled-out aesthetic such as “Woods” and some are heart wrenching ballads such as “Everybody”. Despite having different energies, all tracks are able to convey emotion very well, and sound like are a part of a cohesive project.

Unlike posthumous releases from the artists previously mentioned, Circles sounds complete, it sounds like the art Mac Miller had envisioned, simply brought to reality by a team of people who care and have respect for him.

The final song on Circles, “Once A Day” ends on a chord that brings tension, which is an A-augmented 7 chord, and it brings dissonance and a cadence that does not sound complete. It makes the listener crave for a resolution, a sense of completion. This is interesting because if you play the first song of the album right after the final one, it begins on an E-major chord, giving a perfect resolution to the final chord of “Once A Day” which was unresolved, and looping the album once again.

“Circles” is a musical circle, and it is beautiful.

It turns out that we truly are “Swimming in Circles”.

In conclusion, this all demonstrates the level of artistry and attention to detail coming from both Mac Miller while he was alive, and the team behind finalizing and bringing his creative vision to life. Hopefully, moving forward, more posthumous releases from other artists can have the same level of respect for their identities, maintaining their visions and not straying away from what they themselves would have done so that they can be forever remembered for who they truly were.


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