Macklemore, after his brief rise to mainstream success, has undeniably fallen away from the music scene. While his breakout singles Thrift Shop and Can’t Hold Us were catchy (and in Thrift Shop’s case somewhat genius), little of his discography had any staying power, with only a few tracks from The Heist still racking up streams and sales. This, followed by a controversy-riddled career and poor sophomore album, has led most to believe that Macklemore’s fire has all but burnt out. It would be wrong to attribute this solely to the industry, however – Macklemore has consistently misjudged his niche, branching into social commentary with tracks such as White Privilege II and Need to Know. It’s become clear that, despite good intentions, following this path will yield only further reduced success.
Which is why GEMINI seems, at first glance, refreshing. The project, Macklemore’s only solo album since 2005’s The Language of My World, embraces the same pop-rap aesthetic as 2014’s The Heist. Whilst it initially appears as somewhat of a return to form for Macklemore, its lyrical weakness and heavy dependence on trends result in a messy, incomplete project with moments of success.
While The Heist kept pop-rap its focus throughout, GEMINI reflects far more genres than its predecessor. This can be both a blessing and a curse: whilst it invites greater diversity when successful, it also results in heavy trend-following when not. And unfortunately for Macklemore, this is not.
Rarely, this trend-following results in excellent tracks, such as the jazzy, upbeat Corner Store. With excellent contributions from Travis Thompson and Dave B, the track is breezy, goofy and undeniably fun. The influence of artists such as Isaiah Rashad and Chance the Rapper is evident, but Corner Store feels more like paying tribute than stealing, resulting in a track that feels both familiar and fresh.
For the most part, however, GEMINI’s tracks seem like weak imitations of their influences. Firebreather, a guitar-led anthem, sounds incredibly watered down, a weak attempt at incorporating guitar into a primarily pop-rap album. Similarly, How To Play the Flute attempts to mimic the success of flute rap, but fails to attain the earworm status of Kodak Black’s Tunnel Vision, Future’s Mask Off or even Drake’s Portland. Marmalade, featuring Lil Yachty, is the worst offender, stealing the piano-tinkles and upbeat stylings of D.R.A.M. and Yachty’s smash hit Broccoli, essentially plagiarising one of 2016’s biggest hits. Macklemore’s attempts to tune into recent trends fall short, leading to an incredibly inconsistent record.
This inconsistency divides the album, presenting it as two halves, one weak, and one slightly stronger. Tracks 1-9 form the weaker half, generally falling into generic pop-rap cliché. Tracks Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight, Glorious and Good Old Days follow the same structures found on The Heist, and whilst they may see mainstream success, they are wholly dull, featuring some of the traditionally weak lyricism that has come to be associated with Macklemore’s pop tracks. Intentions, Levitate and Firebreather all attempt to forge new directions for Macklemore, but whilst the new sound is refreshing, they are let down by weak lyricism and a conformation to pop’s bland verse/chorus/verse structure. Even this half’s most successful track, Willy Wonka, falls short, flailing around without direction before belting out a stunningly corny chorus.
However, as I stated earlier, the record shows signs of promise- tracks 10-16 mark an inconsistent, but noticeable step up in quality. For example, Ten Million features some impressive flows/lyrics, and Over It features interesting song structures and an earworm chorus. The album rounds out successfully too, with an excellent feature from Dan Caplen on Miracle, the aforementioned Corner Store, and the excellent closer Excavate. Of all of Macklemore’s introspective songs, Excavate feels the most genuine, painting a picture of his own death, alongside fatherly pride – “My greatest achievement is my daughter / Waking up in the morning, being a father / Watching the light kiss her eyelids / Hearing her sing along to Chance / And being like, “yeah, that’s my kid””.
Whilst this album will not convert me to a Macklemore fan, it is undeniable that it has some successes. Ignoring the unsuccessful socio-political tracks that caused previous controversy, Macklemore remains within his pop-rap niche, embracing it to produce some successful upbeat pop-rap. Even one of his introspective songs seem to work well, with Excavate remaining one of GEMINI’s strongest tracks. However, the album is completely inconsistent, with many tracks trying to replicate past successes or imitate the work of his contemporaries. These attempts fall entirely short, marring the album and presenting a sonically incohesive project overall. GEMINI is an album littered with problems, but amidst the mess there are elements of promise for Macklemore.