Aug. 6, 2018 | Bobby Carter -- There was a shift in Mac Miller's boisterous demeanor as he started the third of his three-song Tiny Desk set. It's the first time he's performed tracks from his new album, Swimming, in front of an audience. On "2009," he rubbed his chin with clinched eyes, looking like a young man who's beginning to crack the code. Backed by a piano loop and a string quartet, he reflected on his journey's peaks and valleys thus far.
I ain't asking why no more
I know I'll take it if it's mine
I don't stay inside the lines
It ain't 2009 no more
Yeah, I know what's behind that door
With nearly a decade under his belt at 26 years old, these words ring like an artist twice his age.
We were introduced to Mac Miller via 2011's XXL Freshman Class, which featured a special crop of MCs such as Kendrick Lamar, Meek Mill and YG, all of whom are now considered in the upper echelon of hip-hop. After his big splash, he's been able to find a groove and consistently release quality rap records, ultimately keeping his name in the conversation with the other young greats. His 2011 album, Blue Slide Park, reached No. 1 on the Billboard 200, the first independently distributed debut album to do so since 1995's Dogg Food by Tha Dogg Pound. These consecutive triumphs amassed plenty of fame, fortune and insurmountable obstacles, causing a stumble here and there. Throughout the years, however, Mac has brushed himself off and put it in the music.
For this performance, Mac Miller invited frequent collaborator Thundercat, who graced the Tiny Desk last year and will join Mac on tour this fall. Thundercat put on a dazzling shaker routine and played the deep centerpiece bass line on "What's The Use?" These Swimming iterations don't veer far away from the recorded versions, but here, his lyrics seem easier to interpret under live instrumentation.
"What's the Use? (Feat. Thundercat)"
Mac Miller (Vocals), Thundercat (Bass), Justus West (Guitar), Klynik (Keys), Joe Cleveland (Bass), Kendall Lewis (Drums), Robin Fay-Massie (Violin), YaShauna Swan (2nd Violin), Lelia Walker (Viola), Melanie Hsu (Cello)
Producers: Bobby Carter, Morgan Noelle Smith; Creative Director: Bob Boilen; Audio Engineer: Josh Rogosin; Videographers: Morgan Noelle Smith, CJ Riculan, Beck Harlan, Khun Minn Ohn; Production Assistants: Catherine Zhang, Téa Mottolese; Photo: Eslah Attar/NPR.