With his debut, Blue Slide Park, Mac Miller this month became the first independent artist in more than 15 years to top the Billboard albums chart. That’s an impressive feat for a 19-year-old rapper with no guest appearances or hit singles on his record, and it feels even more significant because Blue Slide Park is the kind of old-school-at-heart rap album that hasn’t been part of the commercial conversation since Miller was a toddler. A good-natured Pittsburgh kid who raps in a slight rasp that does little to disguise his boyish voice, Miller delights in the boom-bap drums, chilled-out horns, and warm organ tones of golden-age hip-hop, and he peppers his verses with Yo! MTV Raps-isms like “fly” and “ill.” He’s probably the only rapper under 20 who has name-checked Sinbad.
As fixated as it is with rap’s past, though, Blue Slide Park prefers homage to straight throwback. Save for “Party On Fifth Ave.,” which flips the iconic grunting saxophone from The 45 King’s “The 900 Number” and DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” primary producer I.D. Labs eschews obvious samples, instead updating the golden-age aesthetic with smoother, less rigidly looped beats that still retain the unmistakable feel of the era.
In the spirit of classic summertime hip-hop singles, Miller keeps the mood light as he rhymes about drinking, partying, and girls. The last white rapper who made such an overt grab for the college crowd was Asher Roth, a flash in the pan whose slacker frat-boy routine quickly became a shtick. Miller doesn’t fall into that trap. He so fully inhabits his laidback persona that he never seems to be playing a character. The only track that overreaches is “Up All Night,” a goofy rock romp that hits his party mindset too hard. Miller exhausts his narrow subject matter pretty thoroughly over Blue Slide Park, but his life is so joyously carefree—a haven from all adult responsibilities and commitments, where red plastic cups never go long without a refill—that it’s hard to blame him for wanting to bask in it.