Mac Miller: The Divine Feminine

When you can't rap or sing, but you want to declare your love to your new woman, you might as well do it through groove.

Mac Miller

The Divine Feminine

Label: Warner Bros.
US Release Date: 2016-09-16

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.







Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.


The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.


Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.


King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.


Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.


Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.


Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.


The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.


Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.


The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.


'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.


Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.


Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.


South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.


Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.


'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.


A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.


The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.