Monday, September 19, 2016

Mac Miller - The Divine Feminine Review

Mac Miller is no stranger to adversity in the Hip-Hop community. Once labeled a laughing stock for his brand of Bro Rap, the Pittsburgh emcee has recently garnered fans with the mark of his 2013 LP Watching Movies With The Sound Off, which was somehow not completely overshadowed by Kanye West's Yeezus or J.Cole's Born Sinner, when all dropped on the same day. That album was one of my most surprising releases in recent memory, with shocking variety, sturdy guest spots, and production work that saw Cloud Rap soar above the condensed water vapors into space. Three years removed, with a handful of projects in between, and that work still stands as Miller's peak. 2014's Faces was spotty with a bloated tracklist and 2015's GO:OD AM, met with the same fate, also felt inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. It was the first time his evolution stagnated. Now, with The Divine Feminine, the 24-year-old rapper fully opens up about his love and admiration for the other sex, especially his current girlfriend Ariana Grande. The concept and aesthetics are well thought out, the LP's direction concise. However, the content, lyrics, and approach are not, revealing a brutally hypocritical man, detracting from The Divine Feminine's overall appeal.

If there's one thing that can unquestionably be commended here, it's Miller's restrictions placed upon himself. The Divine Feminine has only ten tracks, clocking in at 52 minutes, which is a breath of fresh air from the 16+ track projects clogging up his past. Better yet, for arguably the first time in his career, apart from his Horrorcore side project Delusional Thomas, Miller actually has a narrow topic rather than a sloppy mix of Hip-Hop tropes. Now, of course, these ten tracks are cluttered with cliches, but the mere act of truncation benefits Miller greatly. This, along with The Divine Feminine's aesthetics, which tip-toe both Jazz Rap and Pop without losing sight of either, see Miller evolving once more, possibly creating his strongest statement as an artist yet, even if it may not be all that compelling. Honestly, while I have immense problems with the content at hand, hearing a mainstream rapper hinge on a singular idea for an entire LP, something that should be standard in music, is welcoming. Added bonus points for the topic and sound being something that could easily lose him attention in the Hip-Hop community.

That's about where the general compliments end though. You see, if it wasn't obvious, The Divine Feminine is Mac Miller's attempt at displaying his love for his significant other. Rightfully, every song centers around this idea, which unfortunately gives Miller plenty of time to stumble, which he does countlessly. Hip-Hop's history with the mistreatment of women has been well documented, stemming from the Gangsta Rap days of rampant misogyny. I won't condone either side of the equation, but it's one thing to act the part of a degenerate, it's another to pretend you're prince charming whilst doing it. At the end of 'God Is Fair, Sexy, Nasty' there's an old lady recalling her fine marriage and loving commitment. It's heartwarming, if not a bit much considering it's three minutes long. It's also almost the complete opposite kind of affection Miller displays on the previous ten tracks. From the Dennis Reynolds implication vibes off 'Stay' ("I don't wanna be polite no more, make yourself at home, where the fuck you gonna go"), to the objectifying on 'Skin' ("gonna fuck you, put you on the wall, all I wanna do is show you off"), to the constant use of bitch and hoe, Miller does everything to prove he's not "Mr.Charmin'" as he states on 'Congratulations.'

Really a large facet of The Divine Feminine follows this form, those two quotes are merely scratching the surface. This isn't out of the norm for Hip-Hop, or Miller himself even, the content just strikes an odd chord when the man's own words derail the set narrative. A regrettable characteristic of the LP, for sure. Especially so given the strength of some standout tracks. Lead single 'Dang!' is a bouncy, bubbly hit, even if a bulk of its successes lie on Anderson .Paak and his distinct style. Thankfully Miller doesn't spoil the goods with counterproductive lyricism, so the track stands tall as Divine Feminine's best. Elsewhere, the hook on 'Stay' is a delectably gooey treat, strengthened by production that sounds right up The Social Experiment's alley. Think Surf. Finally, 'Cinderella,' all eight minutes of it, are quite intoxicating, including Ty Dolla Sign's chorus, which is alluring even if it is a bit too long.

The second half of the LP does lose a lot of steam though, especially with 'We' and 'My Favorite Part,' which don't really have a purpose, the former stalling for all five minutes, while the latter sees the bf/gf duet reach into severe Pop redundancy. 'God Is Fair, Sexy, Nasty' does rebuild what was lost, as Miller uses Kendrick Lamar and his influence well, but the long skit really hurts its replay value. Overall, the production on The Divine Feminine is quite admirable and at moments, quite contagious. They're not crucial to the LP, but the saucy red light district/film noir atmosphere of 'Skin' and the 90's era Contemporary R&B reincarnation on 'Planet God Damn' are worth noting, if only for the vision they elicit and elaborate upon. However, the merits nestled on tracks, no matter how many, can't pull down the substantial weight of Miller's hypocrisy. Being the main driving point of the album, the glaring content actively clashes with Divine Feminine's own title, making for a difficult listen in the critical sense. Artistically though, if Miller is somehow able to maintain lessons learned here while abolishing others, his career could blossom. For now, The Divine Feminine witnesses an emcee struggling to find an identity, without ever realizing he's looking for one.

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