It’s hard to believe that it’s been more than five years since Seattle-based rapper Macklemore stepped into the commercial limelight.
That year, in summer 2012, Macklemore and longtime friend and producer Ryan Lewis took the rap game by storm with their release of “The Heist,” an alternative hip-hop album that went on to win the Grammy Award for Best Rap Album. But, after the duo released the underwhelming “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made” in 2016, Lewis and Macklemore split amicably, and, the rapper, born Ben Haggerty, has released his first “solo” album in more a decade.
“Gemini,” named after the zodiac shared by both Macklemore and his daughter, is a slight departure from the style to which we’ve grown accustomed. Macklemore sticks to more common topics, avoiding the political (“White Privilege”) and controversial (“Same Love”) stances he’s taken on past albums.
In fact, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Macklemore said, “It’s not extremely politically motivated or heavily subject- or concept-oriented. It’s the music that I wanted to go get into my car and listen to.”
This album was promoted as Macklemore’s first solo album since 2005, but it’s hard to truly say it is a solo project. The album has featuring credits on 15 of the 16 songs, and at times it can be hard to tell whose album it truly is. Guest artists overshadow Macklemore continuously, something no lead artist should be happy about.
From a stellar guitar riff by Reignwolf (“Firebreather”) to Migos’ Offset stealing the show and laying down arguably the best verse on the entire album on “Willy Wonka,” and all the way to Donna Missal’s soulful and heartfelt hook on the break-up but relapse song “Over It,” Macklemore seems more like he should be the featured artist.
Even the more well-known guests seem out of place. Skyler Grey’s flat falsetto makes the choruses on “Glorious” almost unlistenable, while Kesha is completely underused on “Good Old Days.” Lil Yachty (“Marmalade”) adds some character to his verse, but the song itself is basically a carbon-copy of D.R.A.M.’s smash-hit “Broccoli,” down to the farty bass line and melodic piano touches.
Production-wise, “Gemini” feels as though it’s missing the constant flow that Ryan Lewis provided. Styles range from pop radio-friendly songs like the lead-off single “Glorious,” to the trap banger’s “Willy Wonka” and “Ten Million” and even to ‘80s-inspired bass line styles like “Levitate.” Macklemore uses a wide-range of instruments, ranging from the aforementioned guitar-led tracks to soulful trumpets and saxophones (complemented wonderfully against Eric Nally’s hook on “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight”), and all the way to rap’s new favorite instrument, the flute on the innuendo-laced song “How to Play the Flute” that sounds eerily similar to Future’s “Mask Off.”
Lyrically, Macklemore holds true to his statement about not being politically driven. It’s a complete hodgepodge of lyrical content to sort through, with most of it trying for dull humor more than conscious hip-hop. There’s the mandatory brag-rap song, “Ten Million,” where Macklemore talks about how famous he is, and then there’s “Willy Wonka” that hears Macklemore exclaim “I woke up like/(expletive) I’m Willy Wonka” because apparently, he’s as rich as the fictional character in “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.”
Then, there is the contradictory infused lyrics on “Intentions” that finds Macklemore trying to live a good life as an upstanding citizen, but failing all the same. He sings, “I wanna be sober, but I love getting’ high/Wanna give it a 100 percent, but I’m too afraid to try.”
By far, the most in-depth and best lyrical content (and obviously rap is not judged based on lyrical content anymore) comes on the closing track “Excavate.” Macklemore starts with “If I could read the world my notebook and these thoughts in it/Would they judge me or love me for what I’ve written” and later expresses that no matter how much money or fame he’s received, his “greatest achievement is my daughter/wakin’ up in the morning, bein’ a father.”
When he wants to be, Macklemore still has the ability to write truly inspirational rhymes, but instead he falls into the stereotypical hip-hop songs like the club friendly, but lyrically awful “How to Play the Flute.” Struggle bars like “She hopped up in the whip and then I taught her how to play the flute” and “I wanna be faithful, but love hookin’ up with randos/I wanna live by the law, but still think like a vandal” are way too common on this album, and are frankly beneath Macklemore’s abilities.
Overall, it’d be easy if this album was flat-out bad, but ultimately, it’s just boring. In the matter of a month, this entire album will be forgotten, save one or two songs. Sure, there are elements on “Gemini” that are good, but it’s hard to imagine coming back to this album the way so many have with “The Heist.” If you search out Macklemore for captivating and insightful lyrics, “Gemini” probably isn’t for you.
Best Songs: “Excavate,” “Firebreather” and “Over It”
Worst Songs: “Glorious” and “Levitate”