What marked a drastic change in the late Mac Miller’s career and creative direction was the release of his 2014 mixtape Faces (re-released in October 2021 on streaming services), which was released for free (before the omnipresence of streaming services) on Mother’s Day. The change in subject matter and soundscape of the mixtape had been foreshadowed in his 2013 album Watching Movies With The Sound Off, a project that served as a polar opposite to his previous ‘Frat-Rap’ style of music and instead was a record filled with tender songs about broken relationships and addiction that helped Mac redefine himself as a serious artist.
Faces, then, is like its coked-up, cranky counterpart. The film-length collection of drug-infused, angry, and lyrically compelling songs are some of the most moving in his career. The mixtape is charismatic, with Mac showing more of himself than ever before, opening up about drugs, love, and loss, all whilst innovating within his own soundscape. In the aftermath of Miller’s fatal drug overdose in September 2018, some of the lyrical content on Faces is particularly gutting to hear back. “I shoulda died already/Came in, I was high already,” he raps on its very first verse on the catchy opener ‘Inside Out’. The wild ‘Angel Dust’ embodies all that is Faces, not least purely by song name. This is followed by the energetic ‘Therapy’, and then shortly after, ‘Wedding’ and ‘Funeral’, two rather sombre songs which sit next to each other on the tracklisting, perhaps juxtaposing one another illustrating the high before the low, the exultation before the decline, much like the highs and lows of addiction that Mac yearns for us to understand here. These are followed by ‘Diablo’ in which Mac boasts of being the rap diablo and is seen donning a sailor captain’s hat in the music video, playing the character of his alter-ego Larry Fisherman. The album comes to an end with the funky ‘Thumbalina’, the ethereal and floaty ‘New Faces V2’ featuring Earl Sweatshirt and Da$h, and finally ‘Grand Finale’. The hook and the title of this song can be seen as a double entendre. It is the last song of the mixtape Faces, which would constitute the idea of this being its “Grand Finale”. Meanwhile, the title also refers to Mac’s death. He wonders what it would be like when he dies and hopes he’ll leave in style.
Amongst his fans, Faces is beloved for its expertly executed sampling (the musical process of taking and repurposing a certain sound from somewhere else), for example, actor Bill Murray’s speech from the film ‘Meatballs’ which is sampled on the song ‘It Just Doesn’t Matter’. Whilst some of these samples on certain tracks were removed due to non-clearance from labels, the streaming version of the mixtape is resurrected in very much the same shape as the original, as well as a bonus-track, ‘Yeah’, which pleasantly surprised fans. The release was also accompanied by ‘Making Faces: A Short Film’ on YouTube, including previously unseen footage of Mac from the same era.
Mac’s music was always autobiographic and was therapeutic for him, something he touched upon in numerous interviews. Close friend, producer, artist and frequent collaborator of Mac’s, Thundercat said that Faces “was more of a journey than an album…it didn’t have a bookend”. It was merely a form of expression to Mac. Some of the most important and instrumental people in Mac’s career were present during the majority of the recording sessions in LA and have their own respective features on the mixtape; Schoolboy Q, Vince Staples, Earl Sweatshirt, Rick Ross, to name a few. Interestingly, there was no promotion around the album. Instead, rather comically, the way to unlock your free Faces download was to make Mac a virtual sandwich on ‘Oldjewish.com’.
Though Faces may play like more of a traditional rap record, with its looped samples and sequenced drums, it is intricately layered with the foundations for Mac’s later work, which would be later explored more deeply on records like ‘GO:OD AM’ and ‘Swimming’. Retrospectively, the mixtape fits perfectly into his discography and is arguably one of the greatest rap mixtapes of the century.
Faces by Mac Miller on Spotify