“I just need a way out of my head”. When hearing words like this, one can’t help but wonder if the subject of their listening desire is in trouble or not. It’s internalized and not asked immediately because it is being gauged by you, the listener. But after that moment is over, your second question arises from the statement. It’s the natural question that is poised to the subject when they are your friend. It’s simply, “are you okay?” – and the answer isn’t yes or not. It’s “I’m getting there”.
26 year old Pittsburgh native, Mac Miller is making the case for his own emotional and mental health on his fifth studio album Swimming. With each project Mac is working through something either as a rapper, a producer, or just a man. This is the first project where he’s doing attempting to do all of it, although not at once. A spiritual successor to his mixtape Faces, the whole record has the tone of someone struggling through problems that are on the surface but have the danger of reaching the heart. He’s fighting himself off from infection and it’s a lonely road he’s taking to do so. He doesn’t sound like he is rejecting help. It’s more like he’s doing it to prove to himself that he can do it alone.
As one of the first few openings lines suggest, the beats sound like they are being played out in his head. Even tracks led by bass strings and funk flavor like “What’s the Use?” and “Ladders” have a hard time turning the frown upside down in Mac’s voice. The lyrics aren’t that of someone crying for help. The sadness isn’t all that there is it to it. It is someone fighting the silent fight. The point of them is that he is trying to get on top of problems. He’s trying to find his “Wings” to fly above all the problems and self-doubt. Every now and then he’s going to need his “Jet Fuel” but Mac never stops. It’s the greater point he’s trying to get across to himself.
Mac is someone who dwells. Even when he’s winning, he’s looking looking back on who he was. Simultaneously, he is building bricks to the path behind him. All the while he tries to take a peek on what he has done. Coming in the form of “Doubt”, he raps his way back rather than actually going back to it. But once he stops peeking, he’s looking forward and always striving for better. More so than anyone else, he doesn’t want to let himself down. He’s giving himself “Self Care” and figuring out what’s best for him.
This is the essential theme of the album and probably the reason for this song being the lead single. Many artists wouldn’t choose such a sobering song would as their lead, but it was the taste the audience needed – a warning label for what was to come. The listener is jumping into a man’s mind where he isn’t fighting his demons. He’s talking to them. Almost coming to an agreement. Realizing if he doesn’t do it himself, no one will do it for him. He’s trying to move on and he isn’t making a big deal out of it, it’s done quietly.
At the beginning of this album, Mac doesn’t sound like he is swimming. He’s undoubtedly drowning. As the project progresses, he sounds like he’s learning to kick and paddle and by the end of it, he still isn’t swimming. He’s floating, content in oneself. At least to a certain degree. He’s making progress. He can finally take a few strokes and not go under. The last few moments on the LP sound like he’s breaking apart, but instead of it ending in complete static, he’s just more a glitch. A temporary moment of corrupted memory. But the best part of it is knowing that it is temporary. Things will be okay and can get better. They just have to get there.