The Divine Feminine, the new album from Pittsburgh rapper Mac Miller, is a bit of a surprise. The album and its content, both lyrical and instrumental, seem to be a new undertaking by Miller. The Divine Feminine floats around images of love and its subtle beauties and painful intricacies. It never quite dives deep enough into its own ideas to be masterful, but it is a worthy effort, possibly even one of the best of Miller’s career so far.
The album has an undeniable sense of funk. “Dang!” supports this, and “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty” is undeniably great. Kendrick Lamar provides the backing vocals on the track, which seem to float lethargically along with the piano in the background. It’s a fantastic song to listen to, infused with funk and classical influence, and a pinch of jazz. In “Stay,” trumpets and vocals fuse together. The trumpets bounce around and resonate with the flowing melody. The backing vocals, by Ariana Grande, emphasize the gliding trumpets.
The melodies and beats that define the album are inherently fresh and enjoyable to listen to. Miller employs a diverse array of talented musicians that add musical quality without detracting from Miller’s own presence and conveyance of his larger theme. The tracks “Congratulations” and “Dang!” featuring Bilal and Anderson .Paak, respectively, are good examples of this. The beats on both tracks are fast, with bop and style. Miller effectively weaves the pairings produce, in essence, two very fun songs. Cee-Lo Green’s vocal on the song “We” is another example of Miller working well with others, to his own advantage and advancement. The crisp drums bounce around with Green’s vocals, producing another soulful, enjoyable song.
Perhaps the best example, however, of artistic collaboration on the album is between Miller and Grande, whose first big hit, 2013’s “The Way,” featured Miller. Her sonic voice is sprinkled all over this album. She sings some backup vocals throughout, is featured on the track “My Favorite Part,” and even does some less-musical voiceover work.
The pairing works well together in a musical sense, perhaps even better than in the thematic sense—though the two are rumored to be in a relationship. In fact, Grande’s presence highlight’s Miller’s thematic weaknesses on The Divine Feminine. Whereas some tracks are effective in exploring what it is to love, others, like “My Favorite Part,” falter at the line between lust and love, but maybe that’s the point of it. In fact, the entire theme can really be understood as Miller’s exploration of this fine line, although this may not have been his intended theme.
Miller has always been a relatively contrived artist, without original writing, but he tries his hardest to evolve as an artist on The Divine Feminine. He attempts to chip away at the layers of love, and his efforts yield some soulful compositions.
One of the best aspects of the album is that there is much more singing than rapping, which isn’t necessarily a compliment to Miller. The singing on The Divine Feminine and the overall sound of the album are punchy and good, but the writing, the development of the ideas Miller strives to explore is still relatively mediocre. He always seems to get lost in his own fixation on beauty and lust in his lofty, thematic pursuit.
Miller identifies the issues, but never dives deeper into them, leaving everything somewhat at face value, and this can be disappointing considering everything else that Miller and this album have going for them. For Miller, though, this is a step in the right direction. He isn’t there yet, but Miller is certainly on the path to better understanding himself as an artist.
Featured Image By Warner Bros. Records