Every great artist evolves. While he began as a rapper, Mac Miller ultimately transformed himself into an extremely well-rounded musician by the time his final projects (Swimming and eventually Circles) released. If you paid close attention back in 2012, you would have heard a preview of Mac Miller’s evolution.
Around the same time that he was being classified by many as simply a “backpack rapper,” Mac was already taking large steps outside his creative comfort zone. It was during fall of 2012, shortly after the release of his mixtape Macadelic, that he released his experimental, jazz-infused EP, titled You, under the alias Larry Lovestein & The Velvet Revival. Little did we know at the time that this release would be a glimpse into his forthcoming musical prowess.
You was a massive departure from the sound that Mac was championing in 2012. So how did he get there? If we look back at his career at the time, Mac had just delivered his most star-studded project to date. Macadelic featured Kendrick Lamar, Juicy J, Cam’ron, Lil Wayne, Joey Bada$$, Sir Michael Rocks, and more. It was only a few months later (and still only as a 20-year-old) that he would link up with one of the biggest industry talents, Pharrell Williams.
Mac and Pharrell were embarking on a collaborative project together titled Pink Slime. Pharrell, being one of the most versatile producers in the biz, may have rubbed off on a young Mac Miller. Although, speaking to MTV, Pharrell mentioned that it was really Mac who was in the driver’s seat:
Mac’s a super-creative guy. I’m just being his Steven Spielberg for his vision.
Pink Slime was never fully released, and according to Mac, the two had almost a dozen tracks recorded. Only two were released, “Onaroll” and “Glow.” Could this project have been catalyst for Mac to expand his musical scope? After collaborating with some of the biggest rappers and producers in the game, perhaps he was looking to take his talents in a new direction. All we know for sure is that just three months later, Mac Miller would transform himself into Larry Lovestein and drop You.
The EP itself ran for just over 22 minutes, and featured five distinct tracks. Keep in mind that this was still during a phase where Mac was not necessarily hailed as a songwriter. He of course had earned his credentials as a rapper, but the two don’t always go hand in hand. His raps during this phase in time were much more focused on rhymes and wordplay.
After a very busy few years releasing dozens upon dozens of raps (as well as performing them), it could be that Mac was looking to get back to his musical roots. We know from this feature with Complex in 2013 that his taste went far beyond hip-hop. His favorite albums of all time included projects from Prince, D’Angelo, Fugees, Erykah Badu, Modest Mouse, Thundercat, and many more that some might find surprising.
These selections become less surprising, however, as you track the evolution of Mac Miller’s sound throughout his career. It really hits home with the release of Circles, where he was delivering arguably his most soulful work. In fact, a listen to track likes “Complicated” and “Once A Day” ring eerily similar to some of the songs on You. It is utterly fascinating to hear Mac Miller singing as Larry Lovestein back in 2012, considering he wouldn’t start consistently singing like that again until much later on in his career.
The production on these Larry Lovestein tracks can be compared to that of Circles as well. Things really start to click when you hear the electric piano sounds that are very reminiscent of the melodies that Circles co-producer Jon Brion brought out of Mac during the album’s creation. In an interview with Zane Lowe, Brion talks about how he would leave the room so that Mac wouldn’t feel self-conscious about playing. The melodies that he would come up on his own in those moments, according to Brion, were the most magical and genuine.
Even though Mac Miller only began to dip his toes into this contemporary sound with You, it ultimately may have served as a launchpad for his creativity. The next project he would go on to release was his second studio album, Watching Movies With The Sound Off, six months later. This album was his most forward thinking of his career thus far, and was met with generally positive reviews, something he had really yet to gain from most music critics. From then on we would hear a generally steady evolution from Mac over the course of his next few albums: Faces, GO:OD AM, The Divine Feminine, Swimming, and finally, Circles.
You can stream Mac Miller’s You, under his 2012 alias Larry Lovestein & The Velvet Revival below. Enjoy!