Debuting at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 chart, Pittsburgh-based rapper Mac Miller’s newest work, Divine Feminine (2016), has made an immediate impact on the music scene. Much to day-one Miller fans’ interests, this album is starkly different from his previous works. Divine Feminine attests to Miller’s perpetual push to maturity.
Six years ago, Miller came into the rap scene appealing to a demographic rarely targeted by the hip-hop industry: preppy high schoolers from suburbia who spend their allowance money on snapbacks. Songs like “Donald Trump,” “Knock Knock” and “Nikes On My Feet” became the anthems to kids adorned in Diamond Supply Co. apparel everywhere. At just 18 years old when his mixtape K.I.D.S. (2010) blasted on iPod touches across the country, Miller’s juvenile self was reflected in his immature musicality. With overly repetitive beats and mundane lyrics that conveyed elementary school-esque messages like “Kool-Aid and frozen pizza / It’s a work of art, I ain’t talking Mona Lisa,” this version of Miller was on track to dominate his niche in the music industry.
Yet, Miller abandoned his original market and became one of the more musically inclined rappers in the industry. Miller’s music grew up with him. His 2013 album, Watching Movies with the Sound Off, strongly juxtaposed his work from just three years prior. Opening up about his battles against addiction and depression, this album had themes much more emotionally charged than simply that of rebellion against authority by smoking weed in friends’ basements.
Watching Movies still had some notable flaws, despite it being his best work at the time. Nineteen tracks felt like a marathon, and the high-pitch/low-pitch voice effects felt like a forced attempt at being creative.
The vocal effects were fortunately enough abandoned in GO:OD AM (2015). The new album truly attested to the rapper’s progression toward maturity. Carrying a reflective and optimistic post-addiction vibe, the 17-track work showed off a sobering version of Miller that employed more complex beats and stronger lyricism. However, given the lengthiness and inexperience with a sound that was far from his previous style of fratty-sounding music, GO:OD AM would have served better as two separate mixtapes.
Maintaining past successes and abandoning previous failures, Miller put forth his best — and most unique — album to date: Divine Feminine. At a concise 10 tracks, the album is just the right length to develop an overarching motif. Rather than building a thematic arc around smoking weed as was done in K.I.D.S., battling addiction in Watching Movies or reflecting upon sobriety in GO:OD AM, Divine Feminine conveys a message of love. Love’s presence on every track allows the listener to fully understand Miller’s notion that romance is very much intertwined with the holistic universe. In the songs “Soulmate” and “God Is Fair, Sexy Nasty,” Miller develops this theme with lines like “I think you’re too divine for my human mind. When I’m with you, what do you do? Bring me to life” and “Your divinity has turned me into a sinner; God is fair and your beauty can even make hell have a winter.” These lines speak to Miller’s newfound capability to maintain a consistent theme over different songs.
However, the recurring and poetic lyricism on the theme of love does not make the album monotonous by any means. Miller employs a wide range of sounds over neo soul and R&B instrumentals to differentiate each and every song. Whether it be brass-based beats in “Stay” or a piano-and-strings-driven backing to “Congratulations,” Miller diversifies the instrumentals of each song throughout the album. Additionally, by alternating between singing and rapping, Miller displays his versatility as an artist. This flexibility speaks to Miller’s ever-maturing musical self, as he no longer limits himself to producing the same sound in every single song — a flaw of the past.
Divine Feminine is further strengthened by strong features from R&B artists CeeLo Green, Anderson Paak and mainstream rappers Ty Dolla Sign and Kendrick Lamar. These artists’ individual styles are effectively blended with Miller’s, resulting in a style that pleases listeners’ ears. In “Dang!”Paak’s energetic voice accompanies Miller’s raps to develop an upbeat, funky sound. Additionally, in the hook of “Cinderella,” Ty Dolla Sign’s raspy voice pairs incredibly well with the clean, simplistic beat that Miller dominates in the verses.
In spite of Miller’s success in mixing sounds and remaining concise to develop a consistent theme, Divine Feminine will not make much of an impact outside of Miller’s most loyal followers. In spite of its initial success on the Billboard charts, the album’s lack of any overly catchy songs will inhibit it from achieving widespread popularity. In GO:OD A.M., Miller expanded his following with radio-ready songs like “Weekend.” Earlier in his career, the song “Donald Trump” appealed to an array of music listeners with its catchy beat and hook. However, no song in Divine Feminine will intrigue the casual listener who may stumble upon the album.
Despite that issue, this album is Miller’s best work yet, presenting Miller as a more mature, musically inclined artist. He is no longer the shallow, easy-rhyming rapper of the past. He has matured into a rapper who focuses on far more serious topics than the delights of Kool-Aid and frozen pizza.