Twee, maddeningly joyful, and kicked in a clumsy vernacular from a pedestal of privilege, Mac Miller’s Blue Slide Park suggests what would happen if the cast of Glee tried to make a rap album. The young MC is signed to fellow Pittsburgh native Wiz Khalifa’s indie Rostrum label, but while Khalifa recasts his hometown as grimy “Pistolvania,” Miller raps unabashedly about his wholesome,suburban upbringing. “Sometimes I just wanna go / Back to Blue Slide Park / The only place I call home / I hope it’s never gone / Forever long,” he opines on curt opener “English Lane.” Obviously, he’s hoping to invoke the poignant image of a newly pubescent young talent going for his in a brightly colored municipal park at dusk. But instead, all you can picture is some guy dressed up in dungarees and prancing around on a sickly sweet kiddie TV show.
This callowness defines his debut. As an MC, Miller’s flow is passable: He mostly raps on point and with confidence. But the actual words coming out of his mouth sound like they were brainstormed by a bunch of kids idling in an eighth-grade English class. On the critic-addressing “Smile Back,” he musters only blunt barbs like, “Spend a day as me, boy / You couldn’t get the shoes to fit.” And the clangers don’t stop: “Diamonds and Gold” features the line, “Tough bitch / Probably would have thought she played lacrosse.” “Loitering” boasts that he’s a “young’un on his grind working harder than your dad.” But pride of place goes to “P.A. Nights,” home of the truly bizarre couplet, “It kinda wake me up like a coffee shop / Thinking ’bout my people who was murdered in the Holocaust.” Ick.These putative witticisms are all recited over Prozac-type beats, largely provided by Khalifa’s Taylor Gang production unit ID Labs. They shoot for a happy, uplifting vibe, but there’s an underlying falseness, like they’re covering up some confusion or anxiety. Miller clearly understands what his fanbase desires — non-threatening, campus-friendly, hacky-sack hip-hop — but he also takes plenty of opportunities to distance himself from that clichéd image. On “Of the Soul,” he insists, “A little soul like De La do / They say I’m new / It’s nothing but some deja vu.” He’s right on the latter point, but his true lineage is Asher Roth, Snow, and Vanilla Ice.