Macklemore, Gemini | Album Review
Returning as a solo act, for the most part, Macklemore drops an enjoyable, if overstuffed album with ‘Gemini.’
Macklemore is back, and this time, he’s all by himself. After splitting with producer Ryan Lewis (The Heist and This Unruly Mess I’ve Made), he returns with his first solo project in years, Gemini. Gemini is one big, fat album, running an hour in length. Even though it’s overstuffed – that’s a lot of Macklemore – it has its fair share of enjoyable, worthwhile moments. Also, there are plenty of guests.
“Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight”
“Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight” kicks off Gemini assertively and spiritedly. Guest Eric Nally is particularly amped up on the chorus, setting the tone for what’s to come. Naturally, Macklemore matches the energy, show casing the utmost confidence. It’s not a homerun, but a respectable start. The more familiar “Glorious,” featuring Skylar Grey, is better. A promo single, the sound and vibe are characteristic of the rapper through and through. Grey sounds great as always, while Macklemore is on autopilot – unstoppable.
If “Glorious” is characteristic of Macklemore, “Marmalade” is the complete opposite. The production is quite slick, led by its chief selling point – upper register piano. Embodying the modern rap sound, for Macklemore, arguably this sounds like he’s ‘selling out’ – assimilating and conforming to ‘now.’ He definitely has swagger without embracing a record like “Marmalade” that’s corny if ultimately harmless. This is naturally more in the wheelhouse of guest Lil Yachty, an unlikely collaborator to say the least.
Speaking of unlikely collaborators, “Willy Wonka” pairs Macklemore with Migos – well only Offset. The result is one of the best songs from Gemini. Macklemore showcases a killer flow with agile rhymes. Offset, who receives ample time to flex, does just that, complementing Macklemore superbly. The production work is among the crème de la crème, particularly the malicious, descending synth.
As much as a juggernaut that “Willy Wonka” is, “Intentions,” featuring Dan Caplen, is no slouch. This, like “Glorious,” is more characteristic stylistically. Macklemore, as the title suggests, has a number of good intentions, but struggles to execute them. Some of those intentions are small in the bigger scheme of things, but the ultimate point is, he’s okay with being where and who he is right now. Caplen superbly conveys this sentiment on the chorus.
One might expect the superstar collaboration, “Good Old Days,” featuring Kesha, to trump “Intentions.” While sound, it doesn’t supersede the record that precedes it. Nonetheless, the message is pitch-perfect, while Kesha continues to impress with top-notch vocals. Like “Intentions,” the sound suits Macklemore.
Kesha is traded for Otieno Terry on “Levitate,” another surprising record. “Levitate” joins a group of top-heavy standouts fighting for the distinction of ‘the best’ of Gemini. The production work is exceptional, while Mackelemore’s rhymes kick ass for lack of a better description. Adding to awesomeness, Terry drops great vocals on the chorus and post-chorus that follows. This is fun to the nth degree.
Macklemore maintains his swagger on the rock-oriented “Firebreather,” featuring Reignwolf. He continues to “kick ass and take names.” Reignwolf caps things off, with his expressive, fiery vocals on the pre-chorus and chorus sections.
“Between a rock and a hard place / Cold blunted with a stone face / Firebreather, firebreather.”
“How to Play the Flute,” featuring King Draino, drips in swagger, embracing an arguably, ‘cliché’ modern hip-hop palette. Naturally, it features that flute sound, in all its annoying glory. It’s a decent record, but not memorable on an album that features stronger material. “Ten Million” seems to continue this ‘swagger’ trip that Macklemore jumps into. It’s certain more modern and thrives off ‘flexing.’ It’s okay, but like “How to Play the Flute” that precedes it, it’s not elite.
“Over It,” featuring Donna Missal has a different vibe compared to what precedes it on Gemini. It dabbles in love and sex. The experimental vibe is a welcome contrast and jolt of energy into the album. Missal delivers expressive vocals, while the production work has plenty of beautiful touches. As a song, “Over It” still doesn’t ‘get over the hump’ necessarily, compared to the gems. “Zara,” featuring Abir, logically follows, also centered around love and sex. It’s slick, sensual, and enjoyable, without being transcendent or groundbreaking.
“Corner Store” smartly moves away from love and sex, giving Gemini another harder, cocky and confident record. Featuring Dave B and Travis Thompson, it’s okay, but doesn’t ‘move the needle.’ “Miracle,” on the other hand, brings Dan Caplen back for of the more unique moments of the album. It’s mysterious, yet intriguing. After Gemini seems to drift, this refocuses the effort.
Penultimate “Church” is simply beautiful. Like “Miracle,” this is in the wheelhouse of Macklemore, focuses on larger issues. The production is soulful, incorporating gospel cues choral vocals, pronounced bass line, and trumpet. The chorus, performed by Xperience is exceptional.
“Hope I’m feeling this good when it’s Monday mornin’ / Been doing my own thing, can’t say that I’m sorry / And I can only pray someday that we’ll all be /More than just okay, we can be so free / And I can get fly with ya, ride with ya, shine with ya, yeah /I can get fly with ya, ride with ya, shine with ya, yeah.”
“Excavate,” like “Miracle” and “Church” before it is Macklemore at his truest. Saint Claire delivers authentic, smooth vocals on the thoughtful, memorable chorus. Ultimately, it concludes Gemini on a high note.
All in all, Gemini has plenty of enjoyable, intriguing moments. The hits run abundant for Macklemore. Throughout its course, for the most part, he showcases an excellent flow and sound rhymes to match. The biggest rub with Gemini is length. At one hour, this album could’ve been edited and been equally or more effective.
Gems: “Glorious,” “Willy Wonka,” “Intentions,” “Good Old Days,” “Levitate,” “Church” & “Excavate”