Review Summary: Independent duo exceeds expectations on debut album
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have never been ones to conform. From their style of dress to their style of work, they are immediately distinguishable from any other rap group. Their debut album, The Heist, is no exception. While most rappers will talk about how much they love girls, Macklemore talks about his support for gay marriage (Same Love feat. Mary Lambert). Most rappers talk about how rich they are and how expensive their clothes are, while Macklemore talks about shopping at thrift shops, and impacts of materialism and propaganda (Thrift Shops ft. Wanz and Wings).Most rappers only mention their producers in the inside slip of the CD, Macklemore recognizes that Ryan Lewis has put as much work into this album as he has, and they rightfully share the name. One of the most distinct differences between Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and mainstream rappers, is that normally, rappers will be fighting to get the best, and highest paying record deal they possibly can, while Macklemore and Ryan Lewis chose to remain independent (White Walls ft. ScHoolBoy Q & Hollis).
It is hard not to like this album, simply based on how easy it is to root for Macklemore. He began as a local rapper out of Seattle, and has been releasing music independently since 2000, but early on delved deep into drugs. He went through a stint in 2005 to 2009 where he didn’t even release any music because of his addiction to drugs, primarily oxycontin. After he sobered up in 2008, he teamed up for the first time with producer Ryan Lewis. They went on to start making music, and in 2010 they released their first sounds as a duo, under the name, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, called “The Vs. EP.” The album was released for free online, and generated a lot of buzz through music blogs and social networks. One of the most meaningful songs was the song “Otherside,” which sampled a riff from the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name, where Macklemore raps about how he got into drugs in the first place, the highs and lows of his life during his addiction, and pleads for his listeners to never get involved with drugs.
His turnaround story is an inspiring one, as inspiring as the messages in his songs off "The Heist". In particular the song Make the Money, which, based on the title, looks like a song in which Macklemore is going to gloat about how much more money he has than you. Upon listening however, it is quite the opposite. “Make the money, don’t let the money make you,” the song’s chorus cries out. The tone constantly shifts throughout the album, going from fun songs like Can't Hold Us (feat. Ray Dalton) and Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz) to songs with more serious tones like Same Love feat. Mary Lambert and Starting Over (feat. Ben Bridwell). Starting Over is a somewhat like a sequel to The Vs. EP’s hit Otherside. That song talked about how his life was while he was addicted to drugs and what got him into it, while this one talks about what it is like to have to start a new life after going sober, as he says, “If I can be an example of being sober, then I can be an example of starting over."
One thing Macklemore is outstanding with is his delivery; anyone who has heard him knows this. He puts such strength and emotion behind his words when he delivers them that it makes the listen not only hear, but really feel the songs. When NPR’s Bob Boilen first heard the song Same Love Feat. Mary Lambert, he “was in a large public space with a lot of weepy eyes.” The song Same Love was inspired by Macklemore’s uncles, who were in a caring gay relationship as he grew up, and the music video ends with a statement asking for support to the gay marriage referendum in his home state of Washington.
This was not the first time the duo has stirred emotion with their work. When Macklemore talks about the feeling he got as a kid, listening to Mariners games on the radio, in the song My Oh My, a bonus track, you get the feeling of watching baseball as a kid, and the excitement of rooting for your team flows through you as if you are at the front row of the stadium. The song was made in memory of Dave Niehaus, the radio voice of Macklemore’s home team, the Seattle Mariners, who died November 10th 2010. He announced for the Mariners from their first ever game in 1977, and he announced 5,284 of all 5,385 Mariners games ever played. He used the catchphrase My Oh My whenever there was a big play and samples of him calling games can be heard throughout the song (to give you an idea of how emotional Macklemore delivered the song, when it was first debuted by a radio host, the station received calls right away from Mariners fans who had pulled over on the highway in tears from the lyrics, and memories they stirred up). In addition all proceeds from the song went to his local boys and girls club.
Ryan Lewis is only a producer, but he got to share the title line with Macklemore, and he proves why he deservedly does. All his beats are phenomenal, and all original. It is hard pressed in hip hop these days to find an entire album that does not sample even a tiny part of a beat from another artist. They all fit right into the song as well. The jazzy lines throughout the song Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz) are very different and not common to be heard in beats, but shopping at a thrift shop is not common either, and the piano driven melody of Same Love feat. Mary Lambert helps deliver on the songs emotion. The Heist leaves you with no question as to why Macklemore wanted to partner up with Ryan Lewis, instead of simply making a few songs with him.
Take time to appreciate what you are listening to when you hear The Heist. What you are hearing is over three years’ worth of work, money, and effort. All the hard work and time put into this really show, making this one of my favorite albums of the year. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis truly look at their music as a form of artistic expression. Just look at the CD. If you order a deluxe CD of The Heist it will come in a case made out of gator, and features an original piece of album artwork for every song. While many themes on their debut album are serious, you are still able to simply sit back, and enjoy the music.