Uplifting hip-hop album celebrates love

By JONATHAN GIBSON, Ranger Reporter:

REVIEW: Mac Miller’s new album, The Divine Feminine, accomplishes something rare in hip-hop; it’s a celebration of love, sex and all related emotions. It also exhibits a quality that more hip-hop artists should take note of–conciseness. The album runs for a somewhat brief 52 minutes, and with only 10 tracks, there is no filler.

Miller is a Pittsburgh-based rapper and producer, and has gone through quite the transformation over the past several years. His breakout single, Donald Trump, sounds absolutely nothing like the music he’s making now.

I wasn’t a huge fan of his until his 2012 mixtape Macadelic and his 2013 album Watching Movies with the Sound Off. These two projects exhibited a level of maturity that many hip-hop fans thought “Easy Mac with the cheesy raps” was incapable of displaying.

Miller seems to have conquered the extreme depression and opiate addiction that defined Watching Movies and his 2014 mixtape Faces.

The Divine Feminine is perhaps his most uplifting and optimistic-sounding project, and definitely his most focused. Every track on the album is centered on the concept of love.

The album’s production is jazzy and funky throughout, taking some inspiration from Kendrick Lamar’s landmark instant classic 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly and from Anderson Paak’s excellent 2016 release Malibu, among many others.

Lamar and Paak are both featured on this album (Dang and God is Fair, Sexy, Nasty, respectively.) There’s been a lot of positivity in hip-hop this year, from Chance’s Coloring Book to Kanye’s The Life of Pablo, and I find this trend to be refreshing.

It was recently confirmed that Miller and pop star Ariana Grande are dating. I’ll keep this out of celebrity gossip territory, but I assume that most of the lyrics on this album were written about her. Opening track Congratulations does a great job of setting the tone for the rest of the album as an ode to Miller’s love. “Girl, I’m so in love with you,” Miller sings in the bridge of the song. He isn’t an incredible singer, but Miller does a great job of conveying his feelings for Grande with his singing. In fact, there’s about as much singing as there is rapping on this album. The lyrical themes range from romantic to incredibly sensual. Miller turns up the heat on slow-jams Skin and Cinderella, the latter of which features R&B singer/occasional rapper Ty Dolla Sign on the hook.

Miller flows effortlessly over smooth organ chords on Planet God Damn, a song about a fading love. “I think I’m stuck inside nostalgia/Reminded of the times when this love was so divine/But now it’s feelin’ like without ‘ya.” This album captures some of the introspective themes that Miller has become known for over the past couple of years.

Miller lets loose on Soulmate, yet another ode to his current love. The track opens with a sample from 1997’s Good Will Hunting–“Do you feel like you’re alone, Will? You have a soulmate? Somebody who challenges you. I’m talking about someone who opens up things for you, touches your soul”. It appears that Miller has found his “soulmate” on this track, as he describes her in the song’s hook–“You were the one to show me divine love, love, love… Where were you when I was lonely? My divine love, love, love…”

Miller duets with famed Goodie Mob/Gnarls Barkley member Cee-Lo Green on We, which is a strong competitor for smoothest track on the album. The instrumental wouldn’t sound out of place on a classic soul album, and Green’s vocal delivery compliments Miller’s once again effortlessly delivered verses about commitment in a relationship. The themes of this track are summed up simply in Miller’s transition into the hook–“Baby, ‘we’ sounds better than ‘you’ or ‘me’.”

Ariana Grande herself is featured on the duet My Favorite Part. To quote Pitchfork contributor Sheldon Pearce, the track “is basically the downtempo reprise of One Direction’s What Makes You Beautiful. “You just don’t know how beautiful you are, ain’t nobody gonna break your heart… You walk around so clueless to it all, like nobody gonna break your heart,” Miller sings on the hook, harmonizing beautifully with Grande.

Famed rapper and best lyricist in the game, Kendrick Lamar, is featured on closing track God is Fair, Sexy, Nasty, but unfortunately he doesn’t spit a verse, just the hook. Still, the song is incredibly smooth, so I have no complaints. A beautiful monologue from Miller’s grandmother closes the album, speaking about “(her) love affair with (her) husband,” explaining how they became close, eventually knowing and understanding everything about one another. Miller’s grandmother emphasizes “how important it is to love, respect and care for each other.”

Overall, The Divine Feminine is an incredibly enjoyable listen. It’s nothing groundbreaking, but with its smooth, jazzy production and focused themes, the album is easy to appreciate. I was not even the slightest bit disappointed with this release, and I don’t imagine that any fans will be either. 8/10

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