Seattle rapper Macklemore’s third studio album and first without producer Ryan Lewis sees him largely abandon the maudlin and misguided political exploits that colored his 2015 effort This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, falling instead into a cycle of trend-hopping that is so specific I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t wind up with a few lawsuits on his hands. Macklemore’s brand of bombastic, stadium-sized rap tracks still has its fair share of thrilling moments, as he demonstrates how capable and technically skilled of a rapper he is at points on Gemini, but far too often the project falls into lyrical oblivion and painful unoriginality. The Heist seems like a distant memory.
The album actually opens in promising fashion, as Macklemore recruits “Downtown” collaborator Eric Nally for a pump-up anthem on “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight”. No matter how often Macklemore uses one of these bouncy piano beats with a trademark horn section, he can carry a track with his charisma when he wants to. The added funk bassline, stadium-sized chorus and self-confident lyrics make it a track to throw on for any occasion.
Macklemore’s reliance on slower, introspective tracks is pretty disappointing given how great of a technical rapper he actually is. Remember “Jimmy Iovine”? He demonstrates some quite impressive speedy flows briefly on “Willy Wonka”, but he combines it with some legitimate star power on goofy dance track “Levitate”.
Gemini feels like parody much too often, either of another artist or of himself. Macklemore is seemingly completely unable to latch onto any particular thing that makes him special as an artist in any way, as the project boasts a featured artist on every single song but one and nary an original idea. Macklemore has clearly been studying the rap charts recently, as you can easily match about half of the tracks here to a better executed rap hit counterpart.
“Marmalade” has not only the exact same piano chord progression as D.R.A.M.’s “Broccoli”, but THE SAME FEATURE ARTIST in Lil Yachty. You could probably tell from the title, but “How To Play The Flute” sounds like a bootleg “Mask Off” made by a YouTube DJ. “Corner Store” recruits fellow Seattle rapper Dave B, who does his best Chance the Rapper impression as the Social Experiment-emulating horns blare, while “Willy Wonka” sees Macklemore try his hand at Migos’ trademark style of trap with Offset, awkwardly yelling his own ad-libs after every line in the way only the Migos can.
Lead single “Glorious” feels like an outsider checking all the boxes of a typical Macklemore song but not putting as much effort into it. The incredibly general “inspirational” lyrical content, stadium chant backing vocals and piano beat just bring to mind a watered-down “Can’t Hold Us”. Macklemore attempting to blend into the modern rap scene and aping what everyone else is doing is such an antithesis to the sound he presented on The Heist, which blew up because there was nothing like it at the time. When he tries to put a Travis Scott-style effect on his voice on a track like “Ten Million”, it just doesn’t fit him at all.
Macklemore’s lyrics on this project are frankly embarrassing and almost make me wish he tried to say something of consequence again. Tracks like “Marmalade” make me wonder what kind of a mindstate he was in when he wrote these bars down. A couplet sees his criticizing Tinder users before immediately admitting he’d use it too if he were single, and bellows “Watching Toy Story 3, that’s a great f*ckin moooovie” with absolutely no context.
“Intentions” is easily one of the worst tracks of the year, as Macklemore offers some sleepy rhymes over a repetitive acoustic guitar loop while doing what he does best – whining about his first world problems. Oh no everyone, Macklemore wants to read a book but all he can do is watch TV. “I wanna be a feminist, but I’m still watching porno” is a real line on a recorded album this year. But it’s fine, as the chorus repeatedly asserts, Macklemore is “Okay with who [he] is today”. His striving to be relatable continues on Kesha collaboration “Good Old Days”, which sounds exactly how you think it does as the two play on the ever-popular theme of nostalgia without actually saying anything of interest.
Macklemore opens misguided rock venture “Firebreather” by saying “Got a Guns N Roses T-shirt, and never listened to the band. Just being honest, I just thought that sh*t looked cool”. I couldn’t have put it better myself. Macklemore tries on everybody else’s style like an outfit to discard later on Gemini. I wish he went back to the thrift shop.
Favourite Tracks: Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight, Levitate, Corner Store
Least Favourite Track: Intentions