Yes, it’s still hard to take Mac Miller seriously.
The Pittsburgh rapper made it big in the indie rap scene as being a clown prince stoner MC, always laying tracks with his raspy voice and goofy come-ons. He was party rap with a hint of white-boy douchebaggery. He may have had a bit more charisma than his hometown counterpart Wiz Khalifa, but the novelty didn’t seem to last. But ol’ Larry Fisherman had more cards in his hand: He plays with a full band and experiments, he raps about inner paranoia and self-worth, he dabbles in creepy music.
His second album, Watching Movies With the Sound Off was one of the biggest leaps forward for a rapper maybe since Kanye West dropped Graduation, at least sonically. While he reminded the big players his lyrical worth and entertainment value on his major label debut, last year’s GO:OD AM, he now needs to prove himself as an artist. Who would’ve thought the love of a good woman would bring that out?
Yes, Mac Miller’s romance with one Ariana Grande is the music romance that’s heavily influenced and practically eclipsed Mac’s fourth studio album, The Divine Feminine. And that’s a damn shame, because it’s a revelation for Mac’s career. Mac trades frat-boy charisma for neo soul with dabbles of house music thanks to production from the likes of Dam-Funk, Pomo, and MusicManTy.
Lead single “Dang!” with the invaluable Anderson .Paak singing the chorus has a smooth bounce and a two-step beat, with the horn section as a lovely topping. “Planet God Damn” has the honey-sweet voice of Njomza dripping off of the sparse organs. “My Favorite Part,” the inevitable duet with his lady love, is practically acid jazz off of a Brand New Heavies album.
Though the tracks are original for Mac, but he certainly wants to sound like the first one to the sound. “Stay” and “Skin” sound like prime cuts off of Chance the Rapper’s magnum opus Coloring Book with a trumpet as the backbone and a looping beat. The album’s closer, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” might as well be off To Pimp a Butterfly, especially considering that album’s artists is featured on the track. And the less said about “Cinderella,” the awkward and out of place collab with Ty Dolla $ign, the better.
The Divine Feminine is Mac’s most relaxed record, not out of laziness but out of sheer mood. He’s not just happy for the mood of the song or just the weed he smokes, he’s genuinely happy for what’s to come and the state of his life. It’s refreshing to hear that expressed from a major label rapper and not be about how much money they have.
Even though Mac is feeling deep and romantic, he’s still saying it in his own Mac way. Opening track “Congratulations” is Mac fully confessing to being a horndog (“I tried to hit it while you was gettin’ dressed/You said “All you ever think about is sex”/I’m like, “Oh well, you know me so well/And if this will make you lay, I swear, I won’t tell,” but his idea of pouring his heart out is “And every time I call your phone, you better pick up your cell/I swear to God I’ma freak out if it go straight to voice mail”/Well, I’m the jealous type/But I swear that ass what Heaven’s like/When I’m in that pussy, it’s a better life.” “Dang!” has the right idea going for it, with Mac admitting he’s a screw-up in relationships.
The problem is that Mac can’t help but still be goofy (“Yeah the d*ck ain’t free/I don’t give no f*cks”). To his credit, at least his musings on relationships are current as he reminisces on binge watching The Sopranos and getting high as the good times on “Stay.” Mac does some moment of lyrical enlightenment, like on “Planet God Damn” where he finds new ways to be lost in love (“Yeah, I think I’m stuck inside nostalgia/Reminded of the times when this love was so divine”). It takes a real softie to use a Robin Williams monologue from Good Will Hunting as an intro to a rap song about love, but “Soulmate” tries and pulls it off in spades showing the struggle instead of bliss (“I try to make you feel okay/Do you know I’m in pain?/I get you close, you misconstrue/You continue to push me far away”).
Of course, Mac drops the struggle and goofy come-ons for his lady on “My Favorite Part,” where he straight-up sticks with sobriety and avoiding the rap life for the artist formerly known as Cat Valentine, who gives a brief but great verse as usual.
The closer with Kendrick Lamar, “God is Fair, Nasty Sexy,” pretty much sums up the entire vibe of The Divine Feminine: the goofball pouring his heart out, sometimes sincere and other times icky. Mac Miller is not Mr. Romance like Drake or has the lyrical dexterity to describe his feelings like Kendrick, but it’s romance from the schlubby clown, the Seth Rogen rom-com of rap albums. But considering the more popular option is Future’s codeine-drenched auto tune rapping about a broken heart while also nailing strippers, Mac isn’t a bad alternative.