Graphic by Billy Kirchgessner / North by Northwestern

In Mac Miller’s entire rap career, he released a total of six studio albums, including the posthumously-released Circles. Most of these albums received accolades and had several hits, but what some rap fans might not know is that Miller also released a whopping 13 mixtapes. Now, three years after his untimely passing, his estate decided to officially re-release one of those mixtapes onto streaming platforms for the first time. Faces is Miller’s magnum opus, detailing his struggles with substance abuse and love through heavy jazz influences and old-school samples, and I believe it is one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

Faces dropped in 2014, following the success of Miller’s sophomore album Watching Movies with the Sound Off. Notable producing credits on the album go to Larry Fisherman – Miller’s jazz pseudonym – as well as Thundercat, and many of Miller’s rapper friends feature on tracks: Rick Ross, Earl Sweatshirt, and Schoolboy Q, to name a few. Outside influences aside, Faces is one of Miller’s most honest and raw albums.

The album, which originally featured 24 songs (25 with the bonus track on the re-release) and runs for about an hour and a half, does not shy away from difficult topics. It is also rumored that during the two weeks Miller spent creating the mixtape, he was heavily using many drugs and at an extremely low point in his life, so he touches on many dark themes with heartbreaking earnestness. In “Funeral,” Miller demonstrates almost eerie self-awareness with the line “A shame that my tragedy my masterpiece.”

The first track, “Inside Outside,” features a chorus of Miller repeating, “I should’ve died already.” There’s a certain candidness with which Miller discusses his own struggles with drug use that had not been seen on his previous albums.

He dives deeper into this subject on “Angel Dust,” with an especially haunting verse: “My brain fried, always chasing the same high/ I’m too f***ed up to function, do nothin’ but waste time.” These lines reflect his struggles with cocaine and other substances in his life, and his frankness about the subject is something rarely seen in the industry at all –  rap is notorious for the glamorization of drug use even as it continues to lose contributors to overdoses.

The album also covers his struggle for love. My favorite stretch of the album, which features “Happy Birthday,” “Wedding” and “Funeral” back-to-back, tells three parts of a tragic story. In “Happy Birthday” Miller reflects on his childhood, in “Wedding” he discusses relationships, and in “Funeral” he ponders death and the meaning of life. Given today’s listeners' knowledge of his eventual overdose, the lyrics are especially unnerving, but Miller’s friends insisted that fans not interpret Faces as an omen but a masterpiece in spite of his issues.

In an interview with GQ, Miller’s collaborators “pushed back on the commonly held notion that the substances were an essential component of Mac’s creative spree.” Fellow producer Berg was quoted in the same article as believing that people make works of art despite drugs, not because of them. Therefore it is essential to appreciate Mac Miller’s artistry without considering the drug use, but to also respect his openness about his issues surrounding the subject.

The re-release of the album also brought a bonus track titled “Yeah” that was not originally included in Faces’ initial release. The lyrics to “Yeah” are mostly existentialist questions, such as “Am I alive?/ Am I aware?” followed by the repetition of the title “yeah.” It comes across almost as Miller attempting to reassure himself he is real while battling drug abuse. He asserts that when we all die, “no one will care,” but this refrain seems to bring him some semblance of solace.

Lyricism aside, the production quality of the album is spectacular. With the help of Thundercat, the entire album takes on a dreamy, jazzy feel. Miller had always taken an interest in jazz, especially under his alter ego Larry Fisherman, and Faces was one of his first attempts to fuse it with rap. These jazz influences can later be found in his studio albums The Divine Feminine, Swimming and of course, his final album Circles.

Although his other albums may be more critically acclaimed, Mac Miller’s Faces is a dreamy, candid exploration of his fullest potential lyrically, rhythmically, and thematically. It is certainly worth a listen, especially now that it is officially on streaming platforms. With renewed accessibility, it will hopefully become recognized for its spot as not only one of Miller’s greatest projects but also one of the greatest rap projects of all time.