If you turned on the radio 5 years ago, chances are you would have heard one of the numerous hit singles from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ monumental album The Heist. The sound they crafted seemed like the perfect archetype for pop-rap that would please both the general public and hip-hop heads alike. Ryan Lewis’ production may have been a bit elementary, but Mack’s massive charisma on the mic more than compensated. While it definitely did not deserve to beat Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City for Rap Album of the Year, it is an impressive effort nonetheless.
The pair reconvened again in 2016 for This Unruly Mess I’ve Made and they definitely got the mess part right. It is a textbook example of the sophomore slump, with the only apparent focus being on Mack’s overwhelming white-guilt. The singles did not perform well and even their core fan base was dismissing the album so the pair decided to part ways for creative purposes.
That brings us to Gemini, Mack’s solo follow-up to the under-appreciated Language of My World in 2005—though sonically the two albums couldn’t be more different. Even during his underground days, Mack had pop sensibilities, but never before has he pandered so hard to the mainstream. The authenticity that made him such a compelling artist is almost non-existent on this latest project, where he puts an obvious effort into riding the latest trends, albeit unsuccessfully.
Nearly every track has a feature, with the majority of them being largely unknown, and the notable artists present really don’t compliment Mack all too well. “Marmalade” is a very clear attempt at trying to recreate D.R.A.M.’s smash hit “Broccoli” with its piano-driven beat and Lil Yachty feature. But the most cringeworthy part of the track is Mack’s auto-tune vocals, which he uses again on “Ten Million” and “Over It.” Another example of Mack stealing another rapper’s style is on the chorus of “Willy Wonka,” which is assisted by the feature-killer Offset. Aside from Mack’s disingenuous adoption of the triplet flow, this track has a pretty decent Offset verse that should have made its way onto a Migos track instead.
For someone who very consciously avoids appropriating black culture, it seems problematic for Mack’s morals that he would borrow Yachty and Offset’s respective styles. When Mack beat Kendrick for Rap Album of the Year, his white guilt made him text him and apologize, yet he feels no shame in borrowing the style of popular black artists. There is nothing wrong with Mack doing this as stealing styles is commonplace in the industry, but when it is part of your brand to be overly PC, it makes people question your dedication to your morals. He even refers to his tank top as a wife beater on “Corner Store,” something he will surely exploit for an apology track on his next album.
The amount of bad features is astonishing, and range from all over the musical spectrum. The opening track “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight” features these hilariously overdramatic vocals that sound like your parents doing a mocking impression of My Chemical Romance. “Firebreather” has an appearance by some unknown blues-rock revival band named Reignwolf which sounds hopelessly out of place. Nearly every chorus is bland and forgettable, aside from Kesha’s performance which manages to breathe some life into an otherwise passionless project.
As an emcee, Mack has never beat you over the head with intricate wordplay or impressive flows, but has instead, relied on his boisterous bravado to capture the listener’s attention. In the past he has managed to translate this huge personality into some great radio anthems, like the stellar concept track “Wing$” off of The Heist. His wheelhouse has always been tracks with a politically-driven message which this album completely lacks. Without a thematic focus, Mack seems lost and spends the majority of the album rapping about essentially nothing. Some rappers can get by without having a clear topic, but since Mack isn’t the most technically proficient emcee it results in a string of boring tracks.
The problem with Gemini isn’t that it’s outright bad, it’s just forgettable. The tracks blend into this mentally draining string of monotony with no apparent standouts. What made The Heist so great can partially be credited to the forces behind its inception. Mack was a starving artist who had been working for years to get to “Thrift Shop” status. He was hungry, something that the success surely deprived him of and that is readily apparent with this album. Hopefully he goes back to his hip-hop roots on his next project, but more likely than not, this is just the beginning of his fall from grace.
Just listen to The Heist.
(Featured Image: Bendo LLC)