Macklemore abandons his famous sound, copies everyone else on ‘Gemini’
If I had to sum up the problems with “Gemini,” Macklemore’s most recent solo album, with only two lines, I could probably do it fairly easily.
At the exact halfway point of the album, Macklemore serves up “Firebreather,” in which he briefly lambastes critics, saying, “The same writers criticizing my rhymes/Are the same writers that I gentrify in Bed-Stuy.”
What Mack seems to be saying here is that he’s an integral part of hip-hop culture right now, and that any criticism to the contrary is akin to gentrification, akin to being unaware of the culture.
But the truth is that, prior to this album, Mack did inhabit a unique place in the hip-hop culture. On “Gemini,” though, he squanders away everything that made him at all unique.
If you’ve been listening to Top 40 radio for the past six years or so, you’ve undoubtedly come across Macklemore and his producer buddy Ryan Lewis. He’s that quirky white dude who can rap about goofy things like shopping at a thrift shop or buying a moped, but also raps about more serious topics like marriage equality and white privilege.
But the weirdest thing that Macklemore does on his first release without Lewis in some time is that he just, sort of … stops doing all of that stuff.
Instead, Mack seems more concerned with sounding like a pop star than anything else on “Gemini.” And he does this by blatantly ripping off seemingly every popular style in pop-rap right now.
“Gemini” plays host to only a handful of featured rappers and, almost without fail, the featured rappers manage to upstage Mack. Lil Yachty is as sticky sweet as he ever is on “Marmalade,” while Offset lays down probably the strongest verse of the project on the absolutely ridiculous track “Willy Wonka.”
Meanwhile, Mack seems to just try to play catch up with these rappers by trying to copy their style. He adapts to Yachty’s sing-song flow on “Marmalade,” but does it in a way that’s simply boring.
Then, on “Willy Wonka,” he tries to use the triplet flow that Offset and the rest of the Migos made famous, but he just ends up proving why Offset is so good at it. It’s a complicated style of rapping that not everyone can (or should) do, and Macklemore just can’t keep up, especially when he’s using it to deliver painfully corny lines like the chorus, “I woke up like this, I’m Willy Wonka! / B****, I’m Willy Wonka!”
And when Macklemore isn’t playing catch-up with the artists featured on the track, he seems obsessed with latching onto the success of rappers that have eclipsed him in recent years.
On “Ten Million,” he autotunes his voice so heavily that he sounds almost exactly like Travis Scott, and the track is complete with the dreamy trap beats that fans of Scott will be all too familiar with.
“Intentions” is basically just a Chance the Rapper track, complete with a horn section so heavily influenced by the Social Experiment that Nico Segal should sue.
“How to Play the Flute” is an attempt at a trap banger, complete with a no-name rapper named King Draino who seems to just be a bargain bin Gucci Mane, while “Levitate” sees Mack try to capitalize on the funk revivalism success that artists like Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars have had in the past two years or so.
The thing is, other than some occasionally cringe-inducing lyrics — “I wanna be a feminist, but I’m still watchin’ porno/ I wanna eat healthy, but I’m a eat this DiGiorno’s” is a line that somehow got past the test audience on “Intentions” — Macklemore doesn’t really sound bad in any of these styles. He makes it work. The problem is, for anything he does on “Gemini” to sound fresh, you would have needed to been in a coma and missed contemporary hip-hop and pop music for the better part of the last decade.
And it’s truly a shame, because, while Macklemore was never the most “real” of hip-hop artists, he and Ryan Lewis carved out a niche for themselves and did very interesting things in it.
The chorus on “Intentions” hears Dan Caplen (bargain bin Ed Sheeran) crooning “I’m okay with who I am today.” But if Macklemore truly felt like that, he wouldn’t be so plainly grasping at the success of everyone else.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Best Track: Offset’s verse in ‘Willy Wonka’
Worst Track: Any moment of ‘Willy Wonka’ not featuring Offset