Mac Miller has taken an unconventional path as an artist. He gained notoriety as pseudo-frat rapper after a couple mixtapes as a late teen, then released an independent that was number 1 on Billboard. With a style that appealed to the mainstream, and a debut album that was panned and looked at as cheesy, a legitimate future in the rap game is something that didn’t seem to be in the stars for Mac.

And yet here we are, Mac’s almost a year removed from a critically acclaimed album and on the cusp of a critically acclaimed mixtape. He has scored collaborations with the likes of UGK legend Bun B, kind of-legend/anomaly Jay Electronica, and consensus top 2 rapper on the planet Kendrick Lamar. He’s befriended Kendrick, has a significant friendship with ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, frequently collaborates with rap messiah Earl Sweatshirt, and is becoming one of the most reliable producers in the business. Mother’s Day saw the release of Faces, a 24 track mixtape that has already garnered buzz as one of the best hip hop releases of the year, with features from Earl, Rick Ross, and Mike Jones (Who?) among others, and several ad-libs courtesy of Soulo and Q.

The second track, “Here We Go,” serves as Mac’s assertion that he is and will continue to be a force on the rap scene. After an opening verse talking about his rap accomplishments, relative to other up and comers, he declares “I did it all without a Drake feature!” and follows that with the chorus “So many things that I’ve created, but this right here might be my favorite.” Back in Pittsburgh, Mac was signed to Rostrum Records, the same label as Wiz Khalifa, but their rises were independent of each other. Although not necessarily confined to Drake, making the leap into rap industry sometimes is just all about getting that big feature, and that’s something Mac never really had or needed. It is pretty noteworthy that this random white kid who was once a joke is now getting buzz as one of the premier new rap powers.

A common theme we’ve seen in this new Mac is his fascination with drugs and his perpetual use of them, and entire songs on this project serve as a look into his at times abusive and self-loathing life. The fifth track, “Malibu,” is a particularly startling look into Mac’s mindset. Lines like “I’m the only suicidal motherfucker with a smile on,” coupled with others like “At the rate I’m getting high it’ll be hard to find tomorrow, I just pray that I’ll survive tomorrow,” and “They was all laughing, it wasn’t that funny, I started fucking with drugs, and now I’m a junky.”paint the portrait of a young artist, turning to substance to counter the pressures of their new life.

We’ve seen this plenty of times before, and unfortunately, it oftentimes leads to great music. Recent reports are that Mac became a lean addict following criticism of his debut album Blue Slide Park, and very recently, Mac said that he turned to harder drugs like coke and heroin in his depression. His emotional and psychological state has fingerprints all over this project and his recent ones before it.

With Mac though, there is a balance between the ultra depressing and humorously happy. On “What Do You Do,” featuring swag-king Sir Michael Rock,  he compares his drug habit to Phillip Seymour Hoffman’s, and a couple of lines later, he talks about doing drive-bys on razor scooters. He’s morbidly mature yet blissfully immature at the same time, and it keeps his at-times depressing lyrics from getting stale.

“New Faces,” featuring Earl Sweatshirt and frequent collaborator Da$h is one of the best big-time rap tracks I’ve heard this year. Earl, under his production moniker RandomBlackDude, stirs up a fantastic beat that is organ based and sounds so uniquely Odd-Future-ish. Earl goes in first on it, with an aggressive flow unlike what we’re used to with him, as he talks about his come up and his place in the game. His trademark assonance and crisp rhymes provide for on of the most pleasing 16s I’ve heard from him in a minute. The least known feature on the project, Da$h, follows up Earl with a similarly themed verse. His flow is like a combination of Earl and Vince Staples (who also appears on the mixtape) with a little bit of added nastiness. He really does impress here, and I’ve heard him before on other songs with these guys and this is the first time he’s stood out. Mac closes out the song with one of his best verses on the project, maybe even in his career. It’s a depiction of his drug use, which is where he seems to display his best artistry. “Isn’t he dizzy off them ups and downs, got a little Whitney put it in the blunt for now, she’s supposed to get me high, why the fuck I wanna die now?” Mac opens the verse. He’s honed his figurative language craft over the years, and this line is just an instance.

The great tracks on this project are great, but there is 24 tracks on it so all of them aren’t gonna be of the highest quality. A song like “Wedding,” while having a pretty cool beat, is a love song that I don’t really have aspirations of hearing again. It’s okay, but why listen to that when I could listen to the first relevant Mike Jones feature in 8 years on “Uber.” On this song, Mike Jones catches Mac Miller’s girl sneaking around on him, and lets Mac know what the deal is. We always knew Mike Jones was a bro.

It’s got a lot of great production from Mac, who handles most of the tracks on here. He gets jazzy with some songs and experimental with others, but is constantly showing off his versatility behind the boards. Somehow, the same artist who had hit songs with names like “Kool Aid and Frozen Pizza” and “Senior Skip Day,” put out his second straight deep, layered, thought-provoking project. With Faces, the highs are very high, and the lows aren’t that low. For a project with 24 songs, that’s quite the feat, and it’s resulted in one of the most impressive big-name rap projects of the year thus far.

Grade: A-