An Excerpt From “The Book of Mac” On The 10th Anniversary of “Watching Movies With the Sound Off”

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A decade removed from Mac Miller’s sophomore album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, I’ve come to understand the album as a fitful and necessary moment of evolution. From Mac stepping into the role of a competent producer, to his connecting across the spectrum of Los Angeles-based artists—some of which play the role of sonic heroes—Watching Movies completed the turning point Mac began with 2012’s Macadelic. Yes, there is the battle of the big albums that took place on June 18, 2013. Yes, there is the resolve of standing up to a Kanye West release day. But more importantly, there is the sense Mac refused to stand down to himself. After Blue Slide Park was panned by critics, there was an immediate and resolute course-correction in his mixtapes. It was a wonder to his inner circle how, exactly, the next album would reflect his rapid maturation.

Ten years on, I listen to Watching Movies and still discover new tricks and twists from Mac and his impressive cast of characters. This was the moment where The Sanctuary established itself as a creative haven for “alternative rap” in LA. The album is a key inflection point in Mac Miller’s career. In casual conversation with early skeptics, Watching Movies is often cited to me as “the one where I started to take him seriously.” It was an explosion of growth. Watching Movies With the Sound Off proved, without question, that above all else, Malcolm loved to play. – Donna-Claire

The following is an excerpt from Donna-Claire‘s 2021 book, The Book of Mac, courtesy of Permuted Press, in honor of the 10th anniversary of Mac Miller’s sophomore album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off, which served as a pivotal turning point in his artistic evolution.

“You gotta pretend that no one listens. You gotta pretend that you’re just making music for yourself, because when you do something for yourself and only for yourself and it translates to everybody else, that’s like what I think true genius takes its form.”
—Mac Miller
. Mac Miller, “Mac Miller – Interview!” interview by OFIVE, OFIVE TV, June 21, 2013,

Big Jerm: Macadelic opened his eyes to what he could do, and showed people what he could do. With Watching Movies, he was trying to follow that direction. He had a decent amount of production on there himself. I had co-production on a couple [songs]: “Matches,” that was one I started with a sample. It was our project, we had like twenty-one tracks, and they just kept getting cut as he progressed. “Youforia” was definitely done on the tour bus for the Macadelic Tour. So it was old to me by the time the album came out. Most of these other [songs], he did in LA.

Benjy Grinberg: Watching Movies took the longest to make of the records up to that time. There was a fast string of records between Best Day Ever and Macadelic. Watching Movies didn’t come out for another year and some change from when Macadelic came out. There’s a bunch of reasons for that. One, of course, is that he’s touring and other things were taking up his time, [like] the TV show. There was a lot going on. Also, this album went through even more iterations than most Mac albums at that time. I have: “Watching Movies 3,” “Watching Movies 4,” “Watching Movies 5,” “Watching Movies All,” “Watching Movies Benjy,” “Watching Movies Final,” “Watching Movies Live,” “Watching Movies Mac Most Recent Version,” “Watching Movies Mac Most Recent Version 2,” “Watching Movies Mac Most Recent Version 3,” “Watching” . . . It just goes on and on.

E. Dan: When they recorded It was the always-moving target of what songs are gonna be on the final cut. Like everything, there’s a whole companion album sitting on a hard drive.

Big Jerm: On the Macadelic Tour, we were talking about doing a project together—just me and him. I even tweeted something, “Listening to Macadelic and watching Robocop on mute.” I tweeted that before Watching Movies [on March 24, 2012]. Then we started working on a project together on the Macadelic Tour. He moved to LA right after that tour, in the spring, almost summer of 2012. That’s when he got more into producing himself. He started working on a lot of stuff himself, but [the tweet] is kind of where the name came from. Over time, the project me and him had evolved into his project, and he had other producers on there.

E. Dan: They had started on tour, he and Jerm, and a lot of that was Mac picking samples for Jerm to chop up and flip into beats. After they got off tour, Mac got the bug to produce. It was this moving target, more so than it was on a per-song basis. It was the playlist evolving. There [were] a couple songs we went way in on. The one that stands out in my mind the most—we had some crazy number of versions to it—didn’t even end up making the album.

Big Jerm: This is when he moved to LA; I was still in Pittsburgh. He just went straight from tour to LA—[he moved into] that first mansion that was on the TV show.

Quentin Cuff: ScHoolboy Q became a real homie. Ab-Soul, Vince Staples became a real-real friend. Him and Mac were doing the Stolen Youth project around the same time. Vince was one of the shadowy figures in the “Watching Movies” video. It was a time where we had a TV show going; Mac was a full-on celebrity. People probably look at that studio really fondly. That’s how Mac was able to build his rapport with people. Tyler [The Creator] started f*cking with Mac because all of Tyler’s homies f*cked with Mac. He came to grow in respect for Mac’s musical acumen, and Mac was a big fan of Tyler. He was a big fan of Earl [Sweatshirt]. We were fans of our peers!

Big Jerm: We went to Guitar Center and got the studio setup started. I don’t know when it went from our thing to a concept album. I think it was: I wasn’t around and he started working with Josh [Berg] as an engineer, and he started adding songs [to Watching Movies] over the course of that year, and it changed from there.

E. Dan: The big thing with Watching Movies was the fact that this was the album where Mac decided he wanted to explore producing. That was post-tour. Whatever [he] and Jerm started on tour, sort of got abandoned for, “Wait, I wanna just produce this album.” Everything I thought was gonna be the album, got pulled back at that point. Some of that stuff survived, but mostly it ended up going in this entirely different direction.

Chuck Inglish: When he first got really deep into making beats, is when he moved out to LA after we did a tour together. Mac just knew . . . I’m not hella domesticated but my house and the things I do are really clean and tranquil. One of the best days I had was when Mac is like, “I’mma get you my credit card, and I want you to go to Bed Bath & Beyond and help me put my studio together.” At that time, I’m thinking, “I would never do that shit; I wouldn’t give nobody my credit card for nothing,” but at that time he trusted me.

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