It’s interesting to watch influence in real-time: you could see the hip-hop and R&B artists attempt darker, fuller, more ambitious projects in the wake of Kanye West’s My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy; likewise, you can see hip-hop and R&B artists becoming more socially conscious in the wake of Kendrick Lamar’s To Pimp a Butterfly. In fact, the latter seems to be the main inspiration for Mac Miller’s newest LP, The Divine Feminine, though, to be blunt, he seems to care more about pussy than he does the political scene happening around him. In other words, the influence isn’t to do with lyrics, but rather the sonics. This one expands the jazz rap touches of GO:OD AM, nabs Bilal for opener “Congratulations” (whose 2013 release A Love Surreal general sound predated To Pimp a Butterfly), grabs Robert Glasper for closer “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” (whose resume has mostly been about crossing over from jazz into the mainstream) and even featuring Lamar himself on the same song (which was produced by Tae Beast, a TDE in-house producer), albeit for hook duty.
What results is Mac Miller’s best album, though it’s not his best album simply because of its ambitions — after all, Watching Movies With the Sound Off was ambitious for how Miller tapped into multiple regional scenes to cater (or pander) to different audiences, like Odd Future’s West Coast or Flying Lotus’ Los Angeles. Still, the result was an album that leaned heavily on its star-power features and producers, and in the middle, a blank canvas of a main attraction. Thankfully, in comparison to GO:OD AM (whose consistency wore thin over its 17-track, 70-minute run time), The Divine Feminine buckles down into a ten-track, easily digestible 52-minute album.
Being who he is, Mac Miller can’t help himself from hamming up the thing. There’s the absolute eye roll of the title of the album to the title of the closer, and, more problematically, certain lyrics that simply don’t make sense however you slice them (or, at the very least, are less clever than Miller thinks they are). The best example of this is the following lyric from the album’s centerpiece, “Cinderella”: “Write you letters / It’s only right that right after love / I write my name.” Elsewhere, he drops “All I really wanna do is procreate” on “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty”, which is not how people talk, and is steamrolled right over with more banal cliches (“I’m a Superman, you’ll be my Lois Lane”), to say nothing of the bit where he compares himself to Julius Caesar, seemingly just for a rhyme with the word “Beamer”. Put it this way: even though this is Mac Miller’s least rap-focused album, he still raps too much on it.
Yet, for the most part The Divine Feminine survives through its grooves, especially in the first half. There’s the indelible piano line of opener “Congratulations” (which would have benefited from more Bilal instead of using him as an afterthought) to the thick rhythm and flickers of electric guitar in contrast to the held horns on “Dang!”, where Anderson .Paak continues his quest to be Best New Artist since his breakthrough on 2015’s Compton. Meanwhile, peppier horns distinguish “Stay”, and “Skin” has a saxophone line that’s perfect for soundtracking wandering around late at night while the industrial blasts and backing vocals seem like the internal monologue in Miller’s head. Going back to “Cinderella”, DJ Dahi powers through its eight minutes with a bombastic and insistent organ line.
Sadly, Miller can’t keep this up for long. For example, the beat of “Planet God Damn” never coalesces into anything, and the cheap snare sound undermines Njomza’s warm choruses. Further on, Dâm-Funk’s busier beat on “Soulmate” seems out of place on the album, and it doesn’t help that that Miller can’t handle the choruses regardless of some female harmonies, or that the track starts with an overly lengthy sample of Good Will Hunting. The same could be said for “My Favorite Part”, yet that one survives because hearing him and Ariana Grande harmonizing as if they’re slow dancing to the plucked guitars is the realization of the album’s main theme: love.
Mac Miller isn’t a good rapper, and he definitely can’t carry a note, though he tries to do that a lot on this one. However, he has a vision of what he wanted this album to sound like and then carried it through with all the right producers and features, which is a talent in and of itself.