After finding mainstream success with musical partner, producer Ryan Lewis, affable Seattle rapper Macklemore returned to his own material with Gemini, his first solo output since 2009's The Unplanned Mixtape EP. Without Lewis and his radio-friendly sound, the beats hit harder and that duo's signature throwback rap-pop style shares space with contemporary rap production trends. Arriving 12 years after his proper solo debut, Gemini also leaves much of The Language of My World's "conscious" rap heart in the past, with lyrical content less the product of a wide-eyed kid's hastily scrawled journal and more the deep thoughts and confessions of a grown man with plenty of life under his belt. When Macklemore gets serious, he's brutally honest about his demons, whether on the clever and endearing "Intentions," the intense makeup-breakup saga "Over It," or the thoughtful "Miracle," which shines a light onto his struggles with temptation and addiction. On the upbeat end of the spectrum, Gemini delivers a balanced mix of party tracks and trap bangers. The triumphant "Ain't Gonna Die Tonight" reunites the rapper with Foxy Shazam's Eric Nally from the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hit "Downtown." Lead single "Glorious" stands tall with "Can't Hold Us" as one of the more inspirational and invigorating anthems of his career. Of the contemporary offerings, "Willy Wonka" is a highlight, a booming collaboration with Migos' Offset that casts the titular candy man as an icon and inspiration for success. Elsewhere, Lil Yachty guests on the vibrant "Marmalade," while "How to Play the Flute" capitalizes on the summer of 2017 flute sample trend and sounds like it could be a Gucci Mane track. "Ten Million" -- a Future/Migos-style trap banger -- is the only song on the album without a feature, yet it proves Macklemore is just as effective and entertaining without a foil. Which is indicative of the entire album. While some fans might prefer Macklemore with Lewis, Gemini is a reminder that before the multi-platinum singles, hit albums, and thrift shop threads, he could handle himself just fine.
AllMusic Review by Neil Z. Yeung