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Five years ago, Macklemore was the biggest act in rap music. The independent sensation bubbled up through the underground primarily thanks to the cult classic “Otherside” and silly rap-a-long “And We Danced” but it was mega-smash hits like “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” that really took him to record-setting heights.

Fast-forward to the latter half of 2017, and Macklemore is close to regaining a similar momentum earned from those tracks with the release of Gemini, his sophomore solo album. Before pressing play on the LP, there is one notable difference: Mack is without his longtime collaborator and musical confidant Ryan Lewis. With no apparent bad blood or fallout between the two, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis decided to try their hand as complete solo artists for the sake of “some creative space”—and after only one play through of Gemini, it’s hard to tell anything has really changed at all. Mack's lyrical ability is on point and the production seems as smooth as ever. So what’s new?

For starters, Macklemore has pleasantly adapted to the rap sound of 2017. He definitely likes letting life happen in between making albums which, if he were a lesser artist, could result in topical dissonance but Mack hits the contemporary sound right on the nose without sacrificing the devices that made him such a unique artist.

The two most obvious examples of his timeliness is “Marmalade” with Lil Yachty and “Willy Wonka” with Offset. On both occasions he crafts true back and forth collaborations with both respective rappers; the former employs Yachty’s signature sing-along keys and the latter uses in the rapid-fire Migos delivery. Macklemore remains authentic even while totally immersing himself in his collaborators musical territory—no bars, beats or even breaths are gone to waste.

Gemini also features tracks full of big choruses and motivational lyrics that Macklemore has become wildly slick at making. “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight” and “Glorious” are cut from very similar cloths but sound triumphant nonetheless. Eric Nally provides one thundering chorus as Skylar Grey provides the other with Macklemore rapping profusely about chasing dreams, taking care of loved ones and becoming the best you can be. Lines like, “So when I leave here on this earth, did I take more than I gave?/Did I look out for the people or did I do it all for fame?/Legend it’s exodus searching for euphoria/Trudging through the mud to find the present, no ignoring us” carry enough positivity to motivate even the most self-doubting individuals. Near identical vibes appear on Kesha assisted “Good Old Days” and “Excavate.”

There is no shortage of personal transparency on Gemini, or in any of Macklemore’s music for that matter, but lighthearted songs like “Intentions” remind us that at the end of the day he’s just a 34 year-old guy from Seattle that battles with everyday struggles. “I wanna be sober, but I love gettin' high/Wanna give it a hundred percent, but I'm too afraid to try/I wanna be faithful, but love hookin' up with randos/I wanna live by the law, but still think like a vandal/I wanna get exercise, but I'm too lazy to workout” are all predicaments most everyone faces at one time or another. He takes his reality even further on “Ten Million” where he humbly brags about his apparently lit family life: “So say what's up to my haters at the club tonight/I'll be busy singing my daughter lullabies/When she sleep, I hit the booth and get super lit.” Above all else, Macklemore caters perfectly to his audience with these relatable lines and honest delivery.

The absence of Ryan Lewis hardly affects the production with Budo and Tyler Dopps doing an exceptional job of ensuring not a note, key or chord is out of place. With that said, there is definitely an onslaught of featured guests that make the final tracklist, which also overwhelmed the Ryan Lewis-assisted albums. Fifteen of the 16 tracks have a collaborator, mainly smooth crooners delivering top-notch choruses. The family affair vibe is solid but for his first solo album is some time, it would be more beneficial for Macklemore to drive tracks on the solo tip to showcase his talents as a one-man show.

Gemini might not have the colossal tracks that filled his previous albums but as a full body of work, this album is a cohesive listen. Macklemore shows more diversity and proves he isn’t afraid to keep up with the times no matter what people might say. What has always been present in his music and what clearly remains on Gemini is his honesty. First it was battling addiction, then it was thrift shopping and now it’s being the best rap dad he can be.

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