It feels wrong to say Macklemore’s latest solo album, “Gemini,” is better than “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made,” his 2016 project released alongside longtime collaborator Ryan Lewis. For goodness’ sake, “This Unruly Mess I’ve Made” saw Macklemore reflecting on important issues: dissecting white privilege, addressing police brutality, confronting the music industry.
But the end result was neither fun nor easy to listen to, and, quite simply, “Gemini” is. That’s thanks in no small part to a long list of the new set’s featured guests, whose good-time vibes seem to put Macklemore back in the space that gave way to his and Lewis’ 2012 smash single “Thrift Shop.”
Undoubtedly, that Grammy Award-winning song is the one that put Macklemore “in Obama’s iPod” as the rapper boasts on the delightfully off-kilter “Gemini” track “Willy Wonka,” featuring Migos rapper Offset. There’s the sticky sweet “Marmalade” featuring Lil Yachty, with its “Chopsticks”-esque piano and playful lyrics. Then there’s the electric funk boogie of “Levitate” featuring Seattle-based newcomer Otieno Terry. “I pulled up in that purple thang/ dressed like Prince in ‘Purple Rain’,” Macklemore raps.
Even Macklemore’s ruminating is limited to lighter fare, like on the guitar-driven “Intentions,” where he runs down a laundry list of to-dos he’s been falling short on. “I wake up in the morning, first thing I do is look at a screen. I should read a book, but I keep watching this TV,” he raps, adding, “I want world peace, but still want to watch Worldstar.” (We can presume he’s there for the fight videos.)
So as it turns out, Macklemore is, indeed, a regular dude. One who misses his youth, as on the starry, piano-driven “Good Old Days” featuring Kesha. He’s a guy who notices when his ex deletes photos from Instagram “like history didn’t happen if we can’t see it,” as he raps on “Over It” featuring singer Donna Missal. And he’s a dad who’s proud of his kid: “Hearing her sing along to Chance (the Rapper)/and being like, ‘yeah, that’s my kid,” he raps on “Excavate” featuring Saint Claire.
This time around, Macklemore may have stayed away from the heavy messages. But with everything going on the world, some fans might say “Gemini” is the perfect feel-good distraction.
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