Macklemore’s first solo album since splitting with Ryan Lewis is what we should have expected
Hip-hop’s most prominent Gemini would be Kendrick Lamar, the Compton lyricist who Macklemore’s career will always be intertwined with. Five years after releasing the album that topped Kendrick for Album of the Year at the 2014 Grammys, Macklemore delves into his own zodiac sign on Gemini, coming out with mixed results.
Unlike The Heist, the Seattle rapper’s longtime producer Ryan Lewis doesn’t lend his talents to the album. Macklemore produces much of the album on his own, while also calling on Budo and Dopps to contribute to several songs. He tries to fill the void left by his counterpart with a slew of features, ranging from Kesha to Offset to Dave B. while leaving only one song entirely to himself.
On Gemini, Macklemore’s at his best when the other vocalist is able to shoulder the weight of the song. On “Corner Store,” Macklemore sandwiches his verse between Travis Thompson and Dave B., both of whom outshine their gracious host over bouncing production. The Offset-assisted “Willy Wonka” is another standout, though Macklemore’s cheesy flow makes the song somewhat hard to take seriously until the Migos member comes through.
There’s plenty of diversity with regards to the subject matter Macklemore speaks on in the 60 minutes of run time. True to the title of the album, there’s an apparent duality in his personality, balancing serious career and life reflection with light-hearted, jestful bars and sounds. “How to Play the Flute” transitions from typical rapper boasts to literal sneezes, sure to put a goofy smile on the faces those too young to catch the euphamisms lodged in the title.
Critical introspection was a major theme on his previous album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made; while it’s less overt on this project, it’s still a piece of the puzzle. Macklemore struggles with self-doubt throughout, and though he does take time to reflect on his blessings, songs like “Miracle” see him praying for an escape from his troubles. Instances like this certainly make the rapper more relateable, although he does come across as more whiny than thoughtful on “Intentions.”
Music critic Anthony Fantano and several others questioned the inspiration behind “Marmalade,” finding similarities between that and D.R.A.M.’s summer smash “Broccoli” (both of which include a Lil Yachty feature). In reality they’re not that sonically similar, and in fact Macklemore cranks up the cotton candy sweetness to a much higher level than the soulful crooner did earlier in the year.
Musically, Gemini is truly all over the board. Macklemore raps over trap beats, hard rock guitars, and even dainty piano keys that are straight out of a musical. When he goes into the funky b-boy mentality on “Levitate” his flow is at it’s best, floating over the rattling drums with precision. Otieno Terry’s passionate vocals do much to add to the track as well, adding a little Seattle soul to the dance floor.
Mainstream fame is a fast-moving beast that is truly understood by few. Macklemore achieved it for a time thanks to his unassuming, easily enjoyable raps on The Heist, but quickly turned into a pariah for many hip-hop heads when the committee handed him the wrong award in their eyes. Chances he’ll ever reach the pinnacle of “Thrift Shop” again are slim to none, but the rapper’s early grind has given him a loyal fanbase that’s stuck with him through thick and thin.
On Gemini, those fans will enjoy seeing Mack doing what he does best: not taking himself or his music too seriously. His straightforward, plain delivery isn’t for everyone and his place in hip-hop will always be as conflicting as his zodiac sign, but he knows what his audience wants and knows how to come through.