15 December 2013

the heist || macklemore & ryan lews || 2013

Macklemore is in a very interesting position. He's been welcomed into the world of hip hop, but his white privilege allows him to take risks that other rappers can't and send his messages to places where they may not otherwise be received. He and Ryan Lewis have also achieved their success independent of a record label (only the second independent artists ever to have a Hot 100 #1; the first was Lisa Loeb in 1995), allowing them to retain creative control that most artists will never have. This resulting, very self-aware album takes advantage of both and doesn't hold back a bit.

"Ten Thousand Hours" falls a little bit short as an opening track, and I think it's the music to blame, not Macklemore's rapping or his lyrics. The melody is based on the oldest pop music chord progression in music history, and I found myself a little annoyed and exhausted with it.

I simply do not care for "Can't Hold Us." I find it droning and boring, and think Ray Dalton's vocals in the chorus sound listless.

"Thrift Shop" is really where the album picks up. It's simply a brilliant pop rap single that millenials will have no trouble whatsoever relating to. Self deprecation is always a surefire laugh, but this song amazingly manages to be self-deprecating AND aggrandizing all at once. It's truly a feat, and the beat is just delightful.

In a previous post, I used the term "modern classic" to refer to Daft Punk's "Get Lucky," and it feels right to use it in reference to "Same Love" as well. Macklemore goes beyond a superficial support of LGBT equality and humanizes the struggles that many more privileged individuals don't consider, even though they're a reality for many folks here and abroad. He also takes aim at the rampant homophobia in the hip hop community, but not in a way that shuns it -- it's a place he very much feels a part of and he wants to make it better.

Allen Stone's vocals are the best part of the otherwise unremarkable "Neon Cathedral," which is followed by the odd instrumental choice "BomBom." This is a bit of a mid-album slump.

The beat on "White Walls" is fantastic, and it meshes perfectly with Hollis' vocals in the hook. Is that an accordion I hear? Who the fuck cares? This track is awesome.

Macklemore shows off his rap chops on "Jimmy Iovine," which is quite un-obtusely about meeting with suits at the record label and his decision to remain independent. Serving to show off Macklemore's apparent fearlessness and "let the cards fall where they may" attitude, it's the closest to the mainstream gangsta rap sound that the album comes.

The heaviest material on the album is found in "A Wake." He starts by taking jabs at his fans, whom he refers to as "cynical hipsters with long hair and cocaine problems," and notes that "25-year-olds seem 10," a very honest critique of most millenials. He then rips into conservative soccer moms who laud him for being a clean rapper, accusing Americans of sanitizing the realities of the world. The song concludes with a very heartfelt and honest tackling of white privilege, noting that he didn't tweet about Trayvon Martin because he doesn't want to be "that white dude." He also notes the Internet's role in normalizing violent tragedies like Rodney King's beating, with literally thousands of similar videos available for viewing, wondering if this has halted progress. This is a perfectly delivered message and a great example of him using his aforementioned white privilege to send a message to an audience that other rappers aren't in a position to reach.

"Starting Over" deals with the struggle of addiction and sobriety, particularly how hard it is to stay sober without help. The twist of added pressure from being a celebrity who got sober temporarily and is now a public example of sobriety while not having actually dealt with the addiction is very interesting.

This a very impressive debut, and it's such an interesting listen because of Macklemore's unique position. I hope he chooses to remain independent so that his voice can remain as loud as is necessary, as he's in a position to use it to bring quite a bit of good into the world.