What’s the opposite of saying an album grew on me?
It fell off of me? It shrank on me? It fell off of me and continued to grow?
Whatever it is, The Divine Feminine did that.
If I had to rate this album off the cuff after my first listen, I’d have probably given it a 10/10; I thought that this album was going to go down in the annals of music history as one of the greatest works of all time. Was I overreacting? Sure, but screw you. I like liking things.
Mac Miller is an emotional rapper. He writes music not to fulfil expectations from him as an artist, but to adequately summarise where he is in life at the time of writing. His early work introduced us to a young and naive guy churning out fun frat-rap party songs for college students (see: Donald Trump, Party on Fifth Ave), before a very drastic and sudden leap in artistic growth inspired the dark, endlessly introspective and harrowingly depressing albums, largely centred around drug addiction, that were Watching Movies with the Sound Off and Faces. In addition to these, Mac dropped multiple side-projects under the guise of numerous aliases, including the unsettlingly disturbed Delusional Thomas and jazzy Larry Lovejoy, all of which seemed to capture Mac‘s efforts to find who he wanted to be as a musician, and internal exploration of himself as a man. 2015’s GO:OD AM however, gave us a more focused, refined and happier artist, one who was both feeling good after kicking his bad drug-habits, and finally making the music he wanted to make.
And now, with The Devine Feminine, Mac has fallen in love.
See, on the surface, this is a really well done album. With production assistance from a range of sources, he constructs an ethereal dream-scape, apparent as soon as ’s multiplied voice comes through on Congratulations. Miller does a good job of holding onto this aesthetic throughout the album, even though its tone fluctuates between (and sometimes within) tracks. Wildly different tracks, like Dang! (which has a really fun, groovy Anderson .Paak feature) and Soulmate, which contain live instrumentation and massive synth production respectively, find similarities in heavy reverb on their melodies and background vocals.
I’m actually glad I brought up vocals, ‘cause that’ll segue nicely into what I have to say about Mac’s vocals. I love it when a plan comes together.
So, at first, I loved Mac’s singing. I thought he moved effortlessly between melodic rapping and full-on crooning, and that it was an element that added another level of intimacy to an already incredibly intimate album. I’m on my sixth listen through of this album now, however, and when his mumbling, slurred singing comes up on My Favorite Part, I can’t promise that I won’t throw up all over myself. Granted, My Favorite Part has his worst singing on the album (in my opinion). In other songs, like Congratulations and Dang!, his singing is effective for the reasons I stated above. Overall, however, the singing came across as a little messy on an otherwise very clean cut album.
The only other thing that didn’t quite track with me was the lyrical content. Now, look, I like vaginas as much as the next guy. Sure. But it took 6 songs before he could make it a full five minutes without talking about eating, being in, or “turn[ing] that pussy to the office”, it’s just… a lot. Surprisingly, however, these lines aren’t the worst on the album. There is, of course, a cliché “Superman/you’re my Lois Lane” line in there (which I’m not going to bother to look up because that line isn’t worth it), or this couplet from Soulmate (which has no vajeeper references): “I try to make you feel okay/ Do you know I’m in pain?” Junior high diary lines like this irk me, because while The Divine Femine frequently suffers from cheesy bars, it also has some of my favorite flows from Mac. He manages to fill eight minutes on the album’s centre point, Cinderella, without falling back on weak lines, which makes these zingers fall even flatter in comparison.
The album ends, however, with a beautiful story told by Mac’s grandmother at the end of the track God is Fair, Sexy Nasty (which also has a slightly underwhelming Kendrick feature). She describes what she calls a “love affair” with her husband, starting from living in the same building to getting married and providing “a good life” for each other. Her voice barely breaks a whisper over a simple piano line by Robert Glasper, and she tells a simple, frank story of falling in love with a good man.
I love that story. I love it so much that it made me want to give this album a 10 after I heard it the first time, and I just rewound the song so I could listen to it again.
If you go back and read the “lyrics” somewhere, you’ll find that it doesn’t sound like much of a love affair at all. The history of Miller’s grandparents’ love isn’t torrid or scandalous, it doesn’t involve spontaneity or rash decisions; their love is comfortable, and safe. His grandmother doesn’t speak dreamily or wax poetic, rather, she lays out her journey in a matter of fact tone. It all seems bland, and yet she sounds more in love than Mac does anywhere on this album. In about two minutes, she creates the same level of intimacy as the entire album. It was a stunning feature, and a great end to the album.