Mac Miller – The Divine Feminine (Review)

mac-miller-the-divine-feminine
Warner Bros. (2016)

Mac Miller has come an awful long way since his frat-rap days, with his album concepts and lyrical content becoming more complex with each release. With Watching Movies and GO:OD AM, Mac experimented with new sounds, dabbled behind the boards and explored areas of his spaced-out psyche that perhaps many would fear to tread. His latest release, however, The Divine Feminine, brings with it a new context: Mac is, for the first time in a long time, sober; there is little to no mention of drugs on this project. Moreover, he is in love: although his relationship with Ariana Grande may have only burgeoned as the album’s production drew to a close, its profound effect on the project as a whole is clear. The upshot of these things: The Divine Feminine is concise, candid and arguably Mac’s best project thus far.

Wait – I know what you’re thinking: Mac Miller stumbles around on egg shells, loosely attempting, but ultimately failing, to define feminism for an hour. However, I don’t think this is the case at all: The Divine Feminine sounds more like a buoyant, playful ode to how the fairer sex can enrich our lives. The role of the mother, friend, sister and – perhaps most importantly – lover, all manifest themselves sonically on these ten tracks, as Mac gleefully guides us around his jaunty new world. However, this album isn’t merely about love, but rather it demonstrates how love can liberate us. Namely: how love can liberate us from our inhibitions; how love can liberate us from the shackles of addiction; and how love can liberate us sexually.

A particular problem I’d like to highlight with this project from the outset, however, is that Mac errs too often on the side of carnality rather than simply romance. In fact, he often seems to get the two confused: “I open up your legs headin’ straight for your heart,” he raps on “Skin.” That being said, this confusion could well be a deliberate theme. On the album opener, “Congratulations,” we hear Mac rambling, “love, love, love” over a wistful piano riff, interspersed occasionally with pitched-down outbursts of “sex.” We have a clear demonstration, here, that Mac can’t ruminate on the concept of love without his mind immediately wandering back to sex. However, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; perhaps Mac is tapping into something important. I mean, if we strip away all of a particular male’s ill-informed attempts to define their love for a woman, what do we have left? Probably just a hard-on. Love supervenes on the bio-chemical, see?

Anyway, flippancy aside, whatever it is that Mac’s hooked on, it’s certainly charging his creative freedom: we find him singing more than we do rapping! Although you wouldn’t describe his voice as angelic, I think Mac’s idiosyncratic crooning, much like Eminem’s on “Hailie’s Song,” is a lovely exhibition of a young man who is finally happy – all thanks to love. Take the Ty Dolla $ign assisted “Cinderella,” for example. DJ Dahi’s eerie yet compelling soundscape sets the perfect tone, as Mac sings, “I’ve got angels / no more Satan’s.” I just can’t help but feel happy for the guy. Even Dolla $ign’s sweet – but still quite lecherous – vocals add a little something to the track. That being said, the best demonstration of Mac’s unbridled happiness surely has to be the gooey “My Favourite Part,” with Ariana Grande. Listening to Mac clumsily trade melodies with his new beau is just, well, lovely; like a dork who got the cheerleader, Mac just can’t contain his joy.

Who do Frank Dukes, DJ Dahi and Vinylz all have in common? Drake, of course. So, who would be better for Mac to tap when making a lovey-dovey album? Probably no-one. Frank Dukes, in particular, does a stellar job: his warm, plush pads; soft, scattered drums; and neo-soul inspired instrumentation provide the perfect platform for Mac’s gushing on tracks like “Stay.” Similarly, Dukes’ sun-burnt guitars on the CeeLo Green assisted “We” mimic perfectly the atmosphere of CeeLo’s collaboration with Outkast, “Liberation,” generating one of the best tracks on the album. In fact, the production team do so well in curating the album’s sonic template – fusing the sounds of funk, neo-soul and jazz-rap, yet still managing to integrate some of the more contemporary drums and synths – that it often outshines the vocals provided by Mac himself.

That being said, I don’t think Mac really cares. In a recent interview with Vogue, Mac asserts that he knows he “won’t ever sound like Al Green;” however, as I have said, Mac’s new-found penchant for singing is about something more than that: Namely – being happy. Joining Mac on his emotional journey from the drug-fuelled trough that was Watching Movies, all the way to the euphoric peaks of this project, is touching – not merely as a fan – but as a human being. The fact that he is singing despite not being very melodic, then, is the ultimate expression of this transformation, and certainly makes the album all the more poignant.

This poignancy reaches a beautiful climax during the last track. Mac and Kendrick’s psychedelic love ballad, “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty,” is the perfect conclusion; the pair both make their voices heard without unnecessary jostling for attention. As the smouldering guitar and piano riffs subside along with K-Dot’s soaring hook, however, we hear a brand-new voice: Mac’s Grandmother. Nanny, as she is referred to in the credits, proceeds gingerly to inform the listeners of her very own love story, detailing how she met her husband and their subsequent adventures together. This is a very personal touch by Mac, revealing a family story that he himself has “cried listening to,” and serves as another excellent demonstration of his transformation. Mac’s album is not filled with shock imagery or wayward attempts to appear “cool” anymore (i.e., not like Watching Movies). Instead, he has revealed scattered fragments of a vulnerable desire to love and be loved throughout his new project, whilst exuding a profound positivity that is frankly impossible not to like.

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