Review Summary: Earnest storytelling atop perfect production.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are two seemingly different artists from the same city. That city is Seattle, where kvlt black metallers praise Satan or nature or both next door to Tooth and Nail’s next up-and-coming artist singing or shrieking or sucking it up in the recording studio. Within this hubbub of creativity, Macklemore - an emcee - and Ryan Lewis - a jack-of-all-trades producer and artist - teamed up to create a 7-song EP. What this collaboration resulted in was The Vs. EP
, an amalgamation of what lies beneath the music scene in Seattle, an album blending hip-hop and electronic beats with chamber-pop influenced string arrangements and a dose of hipster sentimentality. This may sound like a travesty waiting to happen, but the EP is pieced together so well by Lewis and Macklemore that its slip-ups may easily be forgiven.
Macklemore, obviously, handles the rapping on the album. His skills may be described as inconsistent, but not in an overly negative way as The Vs. EP
shows many flashes of lyrical brilliance. Macklemore is primarily a story-teller, and the tracks in which he gets uber-personal are the best of the album. “Otherside” relates his struggles with an addiction to cough syrup (amongst many other drugs), ending with a plea to his listeners not to indulge themselves in the world of drugs. “Life is Cinema” is a spiritual journey of sorts that includes the superb line, “The page is a set of eyelids; the booth is an instrument that God created to record us trying to find him.” But unfortunately, the emcee’s storytelling becomes a bit redundant; at times, he rehashes old themes, and also struggles to fit his stories into anything resembling a rhyme scheme. The complaints, though, are minimal, because the album retains lyrical effectiveness despite the redundancy, and Macklemore’s tales and occasional brag raps (see “Crew Cut”) sit nicely atop Lewis’ slick production. Finally, the guest spots on the album are all superb, especially Xperience’s verse on the aforementioned “Crew Cuts.”
However, the The Vs. EP
’s magnetism lies in the production, and enough praise cannot be given to Ryan Lewis’ expert handling of the beats, sounds, and arrangements found here. The varied instrumentation is key; each song displays textured production with multiple live instruments weaving in and out of a steady beat. “Vipassana” begins with a guitar tweaked to sound like its coming out of a ***ty radio in the 60’s playing over a keyboard. The bass hits, a rapid violin joins, and Macklemore’s lyrics that started 20 seconds earlier take the back seat. “Crew Cuts” attacks with a fast bass guitar riff later taken over by synths for a couple measures near the end of the track. Truly, each and every song features a uniquely constructed beat, and it’s no wonder why Lewis and Macklemore let the beats run on at the end of almost every song. “Life is Cinema” is a great example of this: Macklemore’s rapping ends two minutes into the song and the duration is handed over to Lewis, who carries on a bouncy synth and rolling piano beat while sampling The Killers “All These Things That I’ve Done.” But amongst all the outstanding beats found on The Vs. EP
, “Otherside” shines brightest. The opening guitar riff is sampled from Red Hot Chili Peppers’ identically named track on the struggle of drug addiction. Lewis adds sweeping string arrangements and shoegazey atmospherics atop the riff, furnishing the track with a wonderfully dramatic feel that coincides perfectly with the story told by Macklemore. It’s remarkable, too, how, despite the experimentation, accessible the music is. The EP’s wide influences do not stifle the album whatsoever; on the surface level it’s simply a catchy, fluid hip-hop release. But listen further and you’ll find The Vs. EP
’s genius exists in the layered rhythms of Ryan Lewis boiling underneath Macklemore’s earnest storytelling.