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Macklemore's New Album is a Love Letter to Fatherhood

'Gemini' dropped Thursday night

Published on: September 22, 2017

Macklemore-singing
Photo:
Dave Lichterman

If you’re a Macklemore fan, you’re in luck. His new album, “Gemini,” dropped last night and it’s just what Friday ordered. His first solo album since his split from Ryan Lewis, “Gemini” takes the Seattle rapper in a new direction: fatherhood.

I attended a small gathering at the Cinerama on Monday night for a preview of the new album. There were only about 100 people in attendance, who were chosen at random from people who made donations in his name to YouthCare. Before Macklemore arrived, his wife Tricia brought their toddler daughter Sloane over to say hello to those of us waiting in line. The vibe was intimate, but that didn’t prevent us from having to surrender our phones immediately after our photo opportunity with Macklemore.

Macklemore kicked off the event with a heartfelt talk about the vulnerability and intimacy of unveiling his new album in front of strangers. He was dressed in a flannel and jeans, with the requisite Nike shoes. After a brief showing of a behind-the-scenes video of the making of “Gemini,” it was time for the music. And by music, I mean music: As the first song began to play, “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight,” the theater lights cut out, leaving us with nothing but darkness and the music.

We listened to five songs off “Gemini” before Macklemore began a brief Q&A session. I did my best to remember the songs, but only the most notable stuck in my mind: “Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight,” featuring Eric Nally, has a campy sound that reminds me a bit of “Downtown”; “Willy Wonka,” featuring Offset, is EDM meets old school hip-hop meets someone’s acid trip (in a good way); “Good Old Days,” featuring Kesha, is my new favorite song (but reminds me of “Arrows” with its mix of nostalgia and regret).

It was only after the album dropped last night that I was able to remember the other song I really liked from Monday’s event: “Excavate,” featuring Saint Claire, again digs into the question of priorities and what we leave behind. This isn’t a new theme for Macklemore, but this time that legacy has a name: Sloane.

“My greatest achievement isn’t the dollars / My greatest achievement isn’t the followers / My greatest achievement isn’t the accolades / My greatest achievement is my daughter.” The song continues: “Waking up in the morning, being a father / Watching the light kiss her eyelids / Hearing her singalong to Chainz / And being like, yeah, that’s my kid.”

This isn’t a new theme for Macklemore, but this time that legacy has a name: Sloane.

It’s not surprising that becoming a father has impacted Macklemore’s artistry. And yet there is something different about Macklemore’s brand of fatherhood. His Instagram is littered with pictures and videos of Sloane, and he spoke candidly during the Q&A on Monday night about how he’s built a recording studio in his basement to be with his family. (He also shared that his favorite three Seattle restaurants are “Dick’s, Dick’s and Dick’s.”)

Macklemore has long come under fire for his self-critical and sometimes painful approach to music. I’ve often seen him dismissed as corny; not a true artist. But what’s missing from these critiques is an appreciation of the vulnerability in his music. Yes, there Is a song on “Gemini” that features a thinly-veiled manual to performing oral sex (“How to Play the Flute”). Yes, he bemoans in “Intentions” that he wants to be a feminist but he watches porn (he apparently believes the two are mutually exclusive). His music isn’t perfect, by any means, but I get the sense that’s the point. His music is honest and raw, and he’s explored fatherhood with that same vulnerability.

It’s expected that women will talk about their kids, and perhaps even write or sing about them. But how many male artists — and rappers, in particular — are doing the same thing? “Gemini” is littered with mentions of his daughter, and the role she plays in his life. It’s hard to imagine Kanye West making an album about anyone but, well, Kanye.

On its own, “Gemini” harkens back to Macklemore’s earlier days and “The Unplanned Mix Tape,” in particular — with moments of polished, radio-ready pop. But what stands out the most is the prominence of his daughter. In a world where fatherhood often takes a backseat to career, the importance of men like Macklemore strongly identifying as fathers can’t be overstated.

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