Not long after the hazy sounds of children laughing and playing fills your speakers, Mac’s similarly-hazy voice comes on, broadcasting the message that a person shouldn’t let his external circumstances change his character. It is the most recurrent theme on Blue Slide Park, the idea that Mac is still Mac, despite his new-found money and fame. And while some tracks dip into far less sentimental subjects, Mac’s desire to still be that kid hanging out at Blue Slide Park keeps popping up again and again.
The problem for Mac, though, is that change often means maturity and improvement. So while he may want to protect his inner-self from corruption, he also needs to evolve as an artist. Blue Slide Park is an excellent example of this struggle: It is a genuine album, and still a decent soundtrack for a good time, but it is not as great as it could have been.
Continuing in the same vein as the opener “English Lane” are songs like “My Team,” in which Mac talks about how he’s basically Vince from Entourage, staying loyal to his boys, and “PA Nights,” in which Mac proclaims, “The type to change because of fame / I’m just not that guy.” In these tracks, Mac tries to illuminate the difficulties of following your dreams of making music and traveling the world while still staying true to those who helped you get there: your family, your friends, your girl; he’s having the time of his life, but it sometimes comes at the expense of those he loves most. While not a terribly original concept, Mac comes off authentically in showing that it’s a difficult balance, and that he is still trying to figure it all out.
But while “English Lane” and a few others convey Mac’s message about not losing yourself in the excess, “Party on Fifth Ave.” is a far better example of what this album really is: a party album through and through. Unfortunately, many of the other tracks fail to live up to the quality, especially production-wise, of “Party on Fifth Ave.,” which samples DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” as well as The 45 King’s “The 900 Number.” It’s jazzy, it’s old-school, it’s catchy. But songs like “Smile Back” and “Up All Night” drop the ball. “Smile Back” is the biggest “fuck the haters” song on the album. And while Mac goes hard, the beat is reminiscent of a creepy Christmas song laid over a Lil Wayne track. And “Up All Night” just isn’t good. It’s like a bad Blink-182 song (so a Good Charlotte song). The bangers aren’t all misses, though. The title track “Blue Slide Park,” as well as the first single “Frick Park Market,” are both lyrically strong with decent, although somewhat unremarkable, beats.
Other high points include “Under the Weather” and “Missed Calls,” two tracks which sound as though they came from the On and On and Beyond EP, the most cohesive Mac project to date (also among the shortest, at only six songs). The chilled-out, pop-rap-hybrid style really works for Mac. But when he diverges from what he has done in the past with K.I.D.S., Best Day Ever, and On and On and Beyond, it is less successful. In that way, his difficulty moving forward as a rapper mirrors his difficulties expressed on this album: He needs to figure out a way to balance his past with his future, his roots with his evolution.
Is Mac Miller the best rapper out there? No, but he does have skills on the mic, and his real skill lies in his ability to market himself, and to grow and retain his fan base, as evidenced by his Twitter presence and already-solid album sales. So while this album may not have been the classic that many hoped for, given all of the respect people like Talib Kweli have shown the kid, it is still a solid album. Mac isn’t pulling any punches, he’s just being himself. And who is he is a 19-year-old kid who still has a lot of growing up to do. Luckily, dude’s got plenty of time. And plenty of support.