Mac Miller's darkest project reveals an intriguing layer of his genius.
Last year, we lost Mac Miller to a fatal overdose. Speaking personally, I remember seeing the news break on TMZ. It had the air of a surreal, feverish nightmare, difficult to fully comprehend. Despite having never met the man, his music spent many summers on rotation. Watching Movies With The Sound Off was a brilliant foray into the previously unexplored corners of his psyche. Faces revealed a self-assured young artist at the top of his game, technically speaking. Swimming, an album I reviewed a little over one month prior to his passing, drove home how invested in the man’s story I had become. I’m but one of many left moved by Mac’s music, and it goes without saying that he will be missed. Today, in honor of his one year death anniversary, it seems fitting to examine one of the more unsung -and darkest- chapters of his expansive story.
On Halloween of 2013, sporting an ominous, uncanny valley depiction of self, Mac Miller unleashed the demonic Delusional Thomas upon us. “Tattoos of baby Jesus burned in my foreskin, I fuck with God!” raps Mac, on the tape’s devilish opener “Larry.” With a voice squeezed castrati-esque, Mac’s alter ego feels impish in nature, prone to engaging in whatever murderous urge happens to strike. The vocal alteration seems to be the musical equivalent to The Purge; for whatever reason, Miller’s altered cadence gives him the freedom to unleash the full extent of his baser urges. Lyrically, he’s on par with Eminem’s Relapse, the closest conceptual cousin that comes to mind. Themes of murder, torture, rape, pedophilia, and the blood-filled kitchen sink are fair game, each twisted fantasy steered by Mac’s extremely capable hand.
Technically speaking, Delusional Thomas may be the most accomplished project of Mac’s career. The way he strings (literally) insane bars with brilliant imagery is something to behold, and it’s intriguing to see Mac’s whimsical sensibilities turn pitch black. With a cadence stripped of any emotion, Thomas casually recounts some of his antics over chilling sample-based production, the likes of which Mac would reserve for his Halloween surprise. “These serial killer fantasies, You mention something sick and twisted, everybody panicky,” he raps, on “Halo.” “Reading Hamlet out loud in a room by myself, give different characters different voices, I guess it helps.” All this, after explaining how he pimped out his youngest cousin to a toy-store perusing Michael Jackson. As far as alter-egos go, Delusional Thomas is as demented as they come.
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At its core, the project remains grounded by a sardonic sense of gallows humor, the only tangible tether between Thomas and Mac himself. On that note, an appearance from Earl Sweatshirt ensures that Delusional Thomas is not simply a figment of our own collective imagination. By Sweatshirt’s own admission, that sense of mischief was present in the recording sessions as well, leading to a hilarious bit of behind-the-scenes trivia on “Bill.” Citing Bill’s third verse from Mac’s titular homie, Earl explained to Sway how track four came to manifest. “We was doing stupid shit over it, fucking around,” explains Earl, to Sway. “His homie went in from Pittsburgh, just some random-ass n****, and just went in. We were like 'it's your turn, you gotta go in. And that n***a WENT IN, like very seriously."
What makes Delusional Thomas all the more special is the fact that Mac Miller handled the production in its entirety. Shaking off his expected musical instincts, Larry Fisherman (an appropriately solid serial killer name) fully commits to the murky world of horrorcore haze, drawing samples skewing closer to worlds of Necro and Ill Bill. It’s no secret that Mac was nice on the beats, but the admittedly niche subject matter presented on Delusional Thomas ensured it would fly, for the most part, beneath the radar. A shame, because Larry Fisherman’s work here is incredible, dully impressive through its dedication to the theme. It’s clear that this was a passion project for the self-admitted studio rat, and as he tells it, the product of a vision manifested. And while some found the voice alterations to be a bridge too far, it remained an integral part of Mac’s master plan, an additional layer to a surprisingly complex character.
Where Delusional Thomas stands in Mac’s discography remains entirely up to you. A guessing man might venture that those predisposed to horror fiction might respond more favorably to its macabre stylings. It’s certainly amusing to hear Mac’s backpacker sensibilities unleashed in the form of gruesome multisyllabic bars. At once evil and dryly hilarious, Mac’s deformed attic-bound baby holds a special place in my heart, a forever welcome reminder of his visionary status. Considering where his career left off on Swimming, it’s tempting to spin the narrative that Mac ultimately found a peaceful resolution. Yet the mere existence of Delusional Thomas suggests a different sort of peace. The inner peace of an artist living comfortably in his domain, confident in his assessment of self, trekking ever forward in an uncharted and increasingly perilous direction.