But he’s neither a bad guy nor a bad musician, just a name we’ve heard a little too often in spaces better occupied by other rappers. That became a real problem when he beat Kendrick Lamar to a Best Rap Album Grammy in 2012 for The Heist, his surprise indie hit with wall-of-sound producer Ryan Lewis, featuring two lambasted summer anthems: the gentrified block party “Thrift Shop” and the honestly good, honestly far too over-the-top, honestly honest gay marriage anthem with Mary Lambert, “Same Love.”
With Macklemore’s 2016 follow-up, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, abundant controversy met middling sales, but he put in some honest corrective work for his oft-discussed advantages. “Downtown” got Grandmaster Caz on the charts for the first time ever and put Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee back there for the first time since the ‘80s. Even the much-despised “White Privilege II” had the good taste to enlist Jamila Woods and Ahamefule Oluo for a few of its eight overthought minutes.
Macklemore’s latest, Gemini, probably won’t be a hit, but it probably won’t flop either, and this is as it should be. It’s his first album without Lewis since 2005, so only the song called “Church” threatens to turn the whole production into a sermon. The rest actually takes a stab at sounding like regular damn hip-hop, with snapping, trapping 808s and even an Offset cameo on “Willy Wonka,” a half-baked Migos tune that would sound much more inspiring in the hands of those triplet-twisters.
But the guy still writes raps designed primarily to service his unsubtle melodies and gigantic choruses; Foxy Shazam banshee Eric Nally (who also shrieked the chorus of “Downtown”) leads off the record with the glass-shattering “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight,” and the revitalized Kesha oversings the shit out of the otherwise pretty “Good Old Days,” which also spends a full stanza reminiscing about how Mack once dreamed of getting his own star on the First Ave wall. (He did.) The lurching “Over It” wants to strut like Beyoncé’s “6 Inch” but trips down the stairs instead.
And then there’s “Intentions,” perhaps the quintessential Macklemore song – “I should read a book but I keep watching this TV” and so on. It’s both a wink to his haters (he sees you) and a charming shrug to his supporters, and it still fails in those trademark tiny Macklemore ways, like suggesting that porn and feminism are incompatible. (And you can add it to the white pop-reggae Hall of Fame right next to Magic!’s “Rude.”) Each song on Gemini has small musical pleasures that make for far less interesting copy than their failings do. Still, when Macklemore opines on “Church” that “No other person on this earth could ever take my job,” it’s genuinely difficult not to start shouting the names of dozens of worthier rappers at your Spotify in disbelief. Dozens, though – not hundreds.