September 26, 2017

TEST SPIN | Macklemore — GEMINI

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To be a Macklemore fan nowadays is to beget ruthless harassment.

Ruthless, but honestly much deserved. With his gauche dad-like demeanor, often bluntly unaware lyrics and ostensibly supra-woke politics, Macklemore is undoubtedly the most uncool artist to have ever graced the Billboard Top 100.

Maybe it’s because of my proclivity for irony turning into genuine interest, or maybe it’s because of Macklemore’s charming awkwardness, but I’ve stayed a fan since that fateful day that someone sent me the YouTube link to “Thrift Shop.”

Yeah, I said it. I like Macklemore. Sue me. His white guilt is cumbersome and his lyrics are often outrageously basic, but his rich register and storytelling ability more than make up for his inelegant mishaps here and there. Macklemore is just, uh, misunderstood. Once you really listen to him, you get to know him. Once you get to know him, you’ll appreciate him.

I thought I had gotten to know Macklemore more than most, but the rapper’s latest album, Gemini, is making me reconsider. Gemini — Macklemore’s first album since his hiatus with long-time partner and producer, Ryan Lewis — is a bit of a bizarre mess.

Inasmuch as The Heist guided me through my own unfortunate adolescence, Gemini is doing the same for Macklemore. The album is reminiscent of that episode plot from almost every Disney Channel sitcom where a main character’s friend leaves and said character spends the entire episode trying to find out who they really are by donning various outfits and trying out a few wild hairstyles.

The only difference, though, is that 20 minutes into the Disney Channel show, the character learns that who they are is something they’ve known deep down all along; in Gemini, Macklemore doesn’t get the same idealistic resolution.

Gemini features Macklemore testing out a different sounds like one would hats at a department store. In “Firebreather” he raps over a numbing, ceaseless rock-and-roll beat, while in “How to Play the Flute” the trap beats and riffs are almost indistinguishable from those of a Future track (While we’re at it, “diamond, diamond, diamond” sounds way too much like “Jumpman, jumpman, jumpman”). The “Corner Store” trumpets are too close to Chance the Rapper and The Social Experiment for comfort. In “Marmalade,” Macklemore seemingly gives up; it’s Lil Yachty’s track now.

Macklemore’s sound-hopping is more than just a series of nods and allusions to other artists: It often feels like sheer confusion as a result of creative bankruptcy. “Intentions,” which resembles “old Macklemore” more than most tracks on the album, gives off an aura of helplessness in the midst of uncertainty. As Dan Caplen croons in the chorus, “All my little problems keep on buildin’ up, and buildin’ up / All my good intentions just ain’t good enough.”

Macklemore has good reason to be as confused as he is for a good portion of this album. Since gaining international fame, the rapper has been mostly known for two things: Starting out without a label and brashly supporting aggressively mainstream liberal politics. But as Macklemore has stated himself, he wanted to divorce himself from politics and the genre’s expectations for him to just create the stuff he wants.

This admission is notably disingenuous, as Macklemore tries to fit to mainstream rap and trap so much in Gemini that he loses himself in the process. Gemini isn’t an attempt at dismantling external expectations, but rather a live confrontation between Macklemore and a life that looks a lot different than it did in 2005, when he dropped the silly and headstrong debut, The Language of my World.

Now, Macklemore is a father. He’s achieved success that’s a big jump from where he was ten years ago, as celebrated in “Victory Lap” and “Can’t Hold Us,” but not much different from where he was last year when he and Lewis released the impassioned This Unruly Mess I’ve Made. His transition from rugged, earthy youth to goofball to heavy-handed advocate and finally to all-of-the-above-plus-wholesome-father has been clumsy, to say the least.

The result of what I have wildly speculated to be Macklemore’s existential crisis is a slightly sloppy album that feels mostly like background music, or something you feel like you should like but don’t quite. Despite being largely unsatisfactory, Gemini beats the odds here and there.

Macklemore thrives most when he dives deeply and carefully into a single subject, whether it’s a 1995 Mariners game, trying to use a fake ID or a fictionalized attempt to defame Jimmy Iovine by breaking into his office and stealing a contract. Macklemore’s expertise is specific, clear storytelling, which comes out in tracks like “Zara” and “Corner Store.”

Where the stories are weaker, the features just barely offer much-needed balance. Ke$ha and Dan Caplen both offer an ever-so-rough silkiness that sounds like it tastes like crunchy peanut butter. Eric Nelly’s voice is pushed to its limits in the album’s beefy opener, “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight.” Dave B and Travis Thompson take “Corner Store” from a fun track to a total bop.

While Macklemore’s team is marketing Gemini as pure, electric impulse, it comes out more like creative cardboard. The listener can’t help but compare the album’s dull pop imitations to the Macklemore-Lewis duo’s previous deliciously crude pop-underground hybrids. That said, we all go through puberty, I guess, whether physical or artistic. I can only hope, then, that Gemini is the means to a fiercer and more rousing end.


Pegah Moradi is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at [email protected].