The fact that Mac Miller is as relevant as he is, and commanding the specific type of rap cultural relevance that he does, is somewhere between a small and large miracle. Early Mac sucked (though as a 15-year-old, I secretly loved him). He was more of a radioactive byproduct of the internet’s effect on rap music than a notable contributor to its sound. He was what old people at Rock the Bells would complain about. In the six years between when Mac’s standout pop-rap mixtape K.I.D.S hit datpiff and today, Mac has had seven Billboard Hot 100 tracks, become completely addicted and un-addicted to promethazine, produced an entire Vince Staples mixtape under the stage name Larry Fisherman, infiltrated the inner circles of both Odd Future and TDE, slept on Rick Rubin’s couch, moved to DUMBO (lol) and released two critically acclaimed albums (Watching Movies with the Sound Off and GO:OD AM).
Part of the appeal of new Mac Miller is that he has made mistakes, and he owns them. Intentionally or not, new Mac plays up his personal and sonic growth with introspective lyrics and creative production, and it’s really good. Old Mac crooned over simple synthy choruses and talked about smoking weed at pool parties. New Mac is warier, weirder and a lot cooler.
The Divine Feminine, with its captivating title, should have been good. Described as a concept album, The Divine Feminine is supposed to be about the journey that is falling in love. The phrase “Divine Feminine,” is a nod to the spiritual concept of a female energy governing the world or, as Miller paraphrases, “you know, like, Mother Nature” (Red Flag).
TDF does just about everything to perpetuate Mac’s “I’ve Changed” narrative. The album art is minimalist, mostly pink and gives off the aura of profundity. The lead single off the album, “Dang!,” has Anderson Paak on it and is blowing up as I type this review. From top to bottom the album is packed with in vogue features, expensive production, and trumpet tracks recorded by Julliard students. I mean, come on, it's a concept rap album ostensibly about the worshiping of female energy, it’s nearly satirically progressive.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t take more than 15 minutes into The Divine Feminine to realize that Mac does not deliver on many of the album’s promises. There is very little worshiping of female energy in The Divine Feminine. There is much talk about Miller’s lust over the various women in his life, and the problems he has with them, but no divinity conveyed. In other words: It’s a lot of Mac Miller talking about the girls he has sex with, and that is a gentle way to put it.
Miller’s lyrics are unambiguously misogynistic. He raps “Okay your legs like a store they open up. And you got people in the aisle” and later adds “First prize, Nobel, get a piece. Your clothes off, turn around, let me see. (In between Miller’s verse’s Ty Dolla $ign adds Aaron Carter-esque nuggets like “Parents they just don’t understand.”)
For a second, if we forget about the insincere and misleading title and concept, the album does sound good. The production fuses lighthearted funk, complex jazz, and Miller’s darker and poignant rap. The tracks change abruptly, and each song melts into the next. “Dang!” is an absolute hit, with an energy you can’t quite wrap your brain around. The song is complicated, maybe, by the fact that Paak originally wrote the song in response to the death of a loved one. There are also flashes of not divinity, but at least relatable, semi-profound lyrics. On “Congratulations,” Miller paints a heartbreaking image, rapping about changing relationships, sex and love lost, before hopping right into “Dang!” and giving a slightly different, though thematically linked perspective.
The Divine Feminine is a well-produced album, with an exciting progressive concept, and a frustrating lack of integrity. I do not mean to take on the lack of certain progressive ideals in rap as a whole — that is an entirely different discussion — but the false promise of progressiveness in The Divine Feminine is deeply disappointing. New Mac Miller is a good, if not a great artist. He’s also only 24 years old. Regardless, the Mac Miller of The Divine Feminine needs to do some serious soul searching before he tries his hand at another “progressive” concept album.