Valentine’s Day is just five months away. Five months until restaurants are flooded, roses are bought in bulk, diamonds are exchanged, and love is made. Valentine’s Day is why February has become the unanimous month of love. There’s no better time to release music that centers around the subject of love, affection, and matrimony or to touch on the subject of lost, heartache, and grief.
Mac Miller didn’t wait until the Hallmark holiday to express his views on love, he decided that The Divine Feminine would be a pleasant September surprise for all the lovers in the world. If the album is good it could potentially be the soundtrack for the next five months.
The 10-track effort started to receive attention a few months ago with the release of the Anderson .Paak-assisted single “Dang!”. The infectious song showed that Mac was stepping into a new terrain full of lush instruments and soulful sounds. More than being an excellent single, “Dang!” was just another example of Mac’s artistic evolution. He has consistently progressed without becoming stagnant. Just when you think Mac is married to a sound, he flips the scripts. The Divine Feminine comes almost exactly one year after Mac’s highly-praised GO:OD AM album. Plenty of established rappers would wait before releasing new material, allowing their last album to breath, but I’m excited to see how the album's concept will affect his direction.
With features from Bilal, Anderson, Ty Dolla $ign, Njomza, CeeLo Green, Ariana Grande, and Kendrick Lamar this is one talented lineup of star-studded artists. Based on the talent Mac decided to align with, I’m predicting an album full of soul and R&B, but with a funky undertone. The Divine Feminine could crossover Mac into uncharted waters if the album has the pop-spunk of “Dang!”.
Mac has done an excellent job proving himself as a capable rapper, he has earned his stripes, and now he’s in the position to ascend to the next plateau. It could easily be the 2016 Ghostdini Wizard Of Poetry In Emerald City, Ghostface’s R&B-centric album that is far from bad, but won’t be remembered when discussing the wordsmiths best music. Will Mac Miller succeed where Ghostface failed? I just have to press play and find out.
The 1-Listen Review rules still stand - no stopping, no rewinding, and no fast forwarding once the album starts. I must write my gut reaction while each song plays from beginning to end. In Mac Miller I trust.
1. "Congratulations" (ft. Bilal)
A voice asking “Where are you?” The sweet hums of an angel. I don’t know why but I think of the Phoenix from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. The voices of different women are reciting the album’s title. A soft piano comes into play. It’s sweet and serene. Mac is repeating the word love. He’s rapping in a melodic tone. It’s about as soft as a snowflake falling on top of a dog’s nose. The strings just kicked in. These are magical strings. The strings you hear in Disney movies where the animals can talk. Verse two has a nice flow. Mac picked up the speed a bit. You can feel a change in his mood. “You was there when I was just a starving album.” He must be talking about his long term girlfriend or ex-girlfriend, I don’t know about these Ariana Granola rumors. From rapping to singing. Bilal comes from stage left with the Disney strings, it feels like the magic carpet ride scene in Aladdin.
2. "Dang!" (ft. Anderson .Paak)
Needed more Bilal, but I think the world as a whole needs more Bilal. I love the fact Anderson .Paak is winning in this industry. People are seeking his voice, his sound, and he’s killing it at every turn. “Dang!” is going to be the Mac Miller song that will stand the test of time. It just feels like 500 days of summer. The horns, the bounce, Anderson’s soulful voice, and the theme of making up and breaking up is eternal. As long as humans are on Earth, we will love and fight, fight and love. It just feels better when you’ve got lush horns blowing in the background of the love and fighting. I’m also impressed by how good Mac Miller is at rapping now. His bars have stepped up nicely. How is this song not bigger? In a perfect world, radio would’ve sent this song to the top of the charts. Nice little thumping kick to close things out
Oh, a gorgeous horn is blowing. Super jazzy. The kind of horn you would hear on The Cosby Show or at a lounge on the Eastside. Is this Donnie Trumpet? I feel like anytime you need a trumpet player he’s the guy you have to call. I love the singing harmony. WOOOO. The drums just dropped. This number is grooving. “I swear that pussy grammy nominated” is a line that I wish Lil Wayne wrote. I really wish Wayne said it. I feel like Mac is a bit out of place on this. The hook is gold, but the second verse felt like he didn’t draw me in completely. But it’s hard to compete with this horn. Man, that horn is howling at the moon. I’m loving the drums. Why don’t we have more jazzy trap beats? Mac did it with Diablo by sampling John Coltrane’s and Duke Ellington’s “In A Sentimental Mood” so he’s no stranger. Trap jazz needs to be a genre. Can we get a Miles Davis and Migos album? I don’t even care if the song is going on for an eternity. There’s a female voice singing during this breakdown. A moan and a new horn are playing. Sounds like a saxophone. This feels like being stuck in a dream sequence. Like if TPAB was a porno.
Okay, deep breathing. Oh man, this is a sexy horn. A seductive horn. I wouldn’t leave my lady around this horn alone. Oh, this mid-tempo is the feeling. I don’t know why but I want to hear Twista rap over this. It’s the kind of R&B-esque groove he used to murder. I’m loving the album’s ambiance. There are some one-liners that are funny without being corny. Nice melody. Yeah, I’m getting full-blown jazz vibes. I like this, but just like “Stay” I’m feeling deeper into the instrumentation than Mac’s rapping. I do like his tone and cadence, he’s doing his best to set the mood.
5. "Cinderella" (ft. Ty Dolla $ign)
Ty $! I feel like I haven’t heard $ in years. He sounds good. I thought he would be a bit more soulful but thus far he’s playing it cool. Kinda of reminds me of PND without the overabundance of robotic vocals. I know this beat. I know this sample. I’m thinking Aerosmith’s “Dream On.” Ha, Mac and Eminem used the same sample. Maybe it’s a white rapper thing? Mac is rapping and I can’t stop thinking about this loop. These drums could be a bit more dynamic. It feels like they’re not hitting as hard as they should. Oddly, I’m not in love with this one. I like Mac’s rapping but as a whole, it just doesn’t feel as compelling as previous tracks. Oh no, I have four minutes left. Four whole minutes. There’s no rapping. Just this electric guitar and the loop. The song is transitioning. The second half is Mac singing as he plays the piano. I would love to hear him sing a duet with Alicia Keys. That would probably be a terrible idea but it’s out in the universe now, I’ll accept the consequences. If this was the entire song, I wouldn’t mind it much. Still, I won’t be revisiting.
6. "Planet God Damn" (ft. Njomza)
I like this already. I need to find this sample. So far I’ve enjoyed Mac’s rapping over his singing on this album. Njomza, who is Mac’s artist, is stealing the show. Her voice is beautiful like it’s been frozen in time. Definitely getting a wonderful 90’s R&B vibe from her. Second verse Mac is going. This is a good, slow, but sensual single. I really like Njomza’s voice. Yep, this makes up for “Cinderella.” Need more Njomza in my life.
Okay, there's this warping sound. A voice. A movie clip? Slowly building up to something. This is like a strange, funky, spacey bounce. Imagine if you fused funk, trap, and the planet Venus—that's what this production sounds like. Ha, yes! This is interesting. A bit strange but infectiously groovy. The album is at it’s best when Mac goes all the way out of his comfort zone. I’m really intrigued in the production credits for this album. Kind of feels like this is something Thundercat put his paws on. I wouldn’t complain if this was eight minutes long but we never get what we want in this life of sin.
8. "We" (ft. CeeLo Green)
I love “We.” It’s the kind of song that the moment your eardrums hear that first hum warmth spreads across your body. Music that makes you feel better than sneaking food into the movie theater. This is definitely one of the brightest standouts. The “What are we?” part of a new relationship definitely needed a song for all the kids preparing for cuffing season. CeeLo still making new music in 2016 is pretty crazy. He doesn’t sound too bad. I thought he was going to lay down Thor’s hammer on the beat, but he did his thing. This album is strongly based on the soundscape more than anything. There’s only so much you can say about love, it’s a topic old as the bible, but these sounds, this production, that’s what makes it stand out.
9. "My Favorite Part" (ft. Ariana Grande)
Now this is that soulful bounce you want to hear at a BBQ in July. The kind of groove your drunk uncle and aunt start two-stepping to. That bass is so smooth. Mac is riding the beat with ease. Yeah, this is the summer anthem we needed three whole months ago. My mixed feelings about Mac’s singing will truly determine how many spins this song receives but it will be more than a few. Ariana doesn’t sound bad. She doesn’t sound bad at all. She’s a far more technically sound singer than Mac so singing together is a bit funny, but the chemistry is there. Very pleasant.
10. "God is Fair, Sexy Nasty" (ft. Kendrick Lamar)
Piano and drums. Getting a nice jazz vibe already. The jazz vibe disappeared and I don’t know what kind of world just entered my ears. I think that’s Kendrick doing alien harmonies. Getting subtle The Love Below feelings. This is so strange yet it’s so intriguing. I’m not even 100% sure that Kendrick rapped an entire verse. His voice comes and goes without warning. This song has no real structure. It’s completely free-form like free jazz. This is not what I expected from a Mac Miller and Kendrick Lamar collaboration. It kind of feels like something that could’ve fit on Untitled Unmastered but also feels uniquely created for Mac’s album. The soft piano has been added to the base loop. Really soft piano playing. The song is slowly fading out. Then out of nowhere a more enthused piano. A woman is talking about how she met her husband. She sounds older. Probably too old to know Mac Miller but young enough to know rap music. Well, that was beautiful. I guess you need a happy ending and that was the happily ever after story.
The Divine Feminine is a little less than an hour in length despite only having 10 songs. It doesn’t move in a rush, each song is layered to keep you engaged from beginning to end. Fans of instruments and lush production will be a sonic paradise. I love how jazz is a huge source of inspiration for the overall sound. Mac balanced the soul, the jazz, and the trap like he wanted a bit of the past and a bit of the present. Love is an old concept but a subject that is new to everyone once they experience it; a balanced palette of sounds is perfect for the theme.
Many of the songs feel a bit winded, wearing out their initial welcome. I understand the purpose but shorter records like “Planet God Damn” and “My Favorite Part” are proof that going short and sweet is still an acceptable approach without losing flair. Depending on the listener and what they find captivating the album will either sweep you up or fail to keep your interest. That’s the risk of releasing a concept album with such a distinctive subject. Love is the laser focus, the album never loses sight of its purpose. Unless you’re in the mood for a love album, you might not fall in love with The Divine Feminine.
What Mac Miller has proven with this album is his versatility as an artist. He created his most audacious project to date. This collection of songs is unlike anything he has done thus far. This is the album that will paint Mac Miller as an artist who isn’t handcuffed to the rap genre. There are no bounds for him creatively.
The Divine Feminine isn’t my favorite Mac Miller album, not on the first listen, but it exists in a realm of sound unlike anything Mac has ever done. He knows no fear when it comes to creating. He could go full synth-pop on the next album. You just don’t know what Mac will do. And that’s why his every album release is as exciting as the last.
By Yoh, aka Yohvine, aka @Yoh31.
Photo Credit: Warner Bros.