Review Summary: And the white man get paid off of all of that.13 of 25 thought this review was well written
Who said hip hop doesn't sell anymore?
Sometime early last month, Thrift Shop finally pushed past Bruno Mars's holocaust of a single, "Locked Out of Heaven," to take the #1 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 -- the first indie joint in 19 years to do so. So before we get into the real nitty gritty part of this, let's just take a minute and clap for the boys, okay? Lord knows they deserve it. It's hard to calculate exactly how many good men lost their lives after hearing Bruno Mars literally commit ritual mass murder on the mic over and over again for 6 solid weeks, but it's safe to say that had this awful little jingle not strong armed its way to the top, it may have been too late for us to save this Earth from the vengeful wrath of a reggae-fusion hating God.
But that's about where my praise for this record ends. Well, that's not entirely true -- it is a marked improvement from the last white indie-rap thing to hit #1 on a Billboard Chart (Wack Miller's "Douche Slide Park") -- but for real, the hype currently swirling around this record would have you believing that it's some kind of Kanye-style terraform of the rap game, and it just isn't, in any way, shape, or form. Don't get it twisted though; I ain't mad at you for drawing the comparison, especially considering the fact that it's pretty much exactly what Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were going for on this *** ("Ten thousand hours I'm so damn close I can taste it / On some Malcolm Gladwell, David Bowie meets Kanye ***"). But I just can't, in good conscience, give this sour-ass privilege-rap a pass (even with it's admittedly pretty slick pop-rap production) when the lyrical content of some of its heaviest hitting tracks is seriously this damn offensive.
Not offensive as in like, Seth Putnam writing a song about Eric Clapton's kid, mind you, but offensive as in like, hipsters rocking Native American headdresses, or white guys claiming they know about the struggle 'cause, y'know, one time they bought a gram off a dude in Inglewood that looked vaguely black-ish, or saw a video of Rodney King getting beat once and felt really really bad about it (no bull***, that's basically the crux of the track "A Wake"). "But, but, but Macklemore has heart!" you cry. "And his flow's nice!" Yeah, alright. Whatever. Except, as it turns out, I actually listened to all 15 songs on this mother***er, and what I've concluded is, just like every other conscious rapper, at his worst, he's nothing but a condescending turdlord with no qualms about flaunting his moral superiority over the listener like any other maligned rap-song accessory -- exactly like all those other "stereotypical" rappers do with their $50 Gucci t-shirts and Lamborghini Murcielagos and all that. I'm not even trying to be a dick or anything either. It just amazes me that people are hailing this guy as some kind of social revolutionary when he's basically just RiffRaff with a money market account. Like I said. It's actually kind of offensive. You're telling me this Seattle bred paleface gets to open up his biggest single ever with some Dirt Nasty type sewage bars about buying doodoo brown leather jackets and *** and then gets to turn around and proselytize to me about consumerism? I mean, are you for real? I've never seen a dude misread rap harder than on Thrift Shop. And that's real talk. Maybe shopping at a thrift store holds some allure when you grow up in a household where you can actually afford to buy clothes not from a thrift store, but to act as if you're really doing a 180 on these hoes by lording your thriftiness over the "stereotypical" rappers out there flossing, over the dudes out there showing off the designer belts and $100 jeans precisely because every ***ing statistic in the book predicted they'd be dead by 21, over the dudes rapping about the whip because to them, it's a daily reminder that they clawed their way out of an environment that's literally ***ing engineered to keep them stuck in a never ending cycle of poverty -- it's just such a frustratingly privileged sentiment, and the fact that it's resonating so hard highlights just how deaf we've become to this dog-whistle bull***. I blame Newt Gingrich, personally.
And it's not just on Thrift Shop either. "Same Love," Macklemore's cool straight-ally-anthem against homophobia in hip hop, actually opens up the first verse with the longest ***ing "no homo" I've ever seen. I'm not even ***ting you: "When I was in the 3rd grade / I thought that I was gay / Cause I could draw, my uncle was / And I kept my room straight / I told my mom, tears rushing down my face / She's like, Ben you've loved girls since before pre-K / Tripping / Yeah, I guess she had a point, didn't she..." I hate to repeat myself, but I mean, are you for real here homie? And then this dude gets to dance with Ellen Degeneres on national TV like he just reached some previously unattainable levels of tolerance or some ***. Like he just armbar'd Scalia into voting against Prop 8 or something. Ugh. What a crock. It's not like this dude doesn't know better either. I mentioned "A Wake" earlier, and yeah, I was being a little harsh with it, but seriously, that track pretty convincingly details his own internal struggle with white guilt, and also very astutely highlights just how tricky of a topic race can be for a white rapper with a primarily white fanbase to cover, at least without looking like a clueless cornball afterwards -- and it's *** like that that really cements the fact that this dude might actually know what he's talking about. And it's not as if he's just a poor writer either -- yes, quite a few tracks off The Heist are so forgettable and one note that it's almost laughable (Neon Cathedral is the corniest, most on-the-nose depiction of alcoholism ever, White Walls is already a speedbump of a joint before Schoolboy Q just parks the ***er with his laziest guest verse yet, Can't Hold Us is so aimless lyrically that it might as well be daring you to remember it) but tracks like Jimmy Iovine and Starting Over are actually really, really dope. So I mean, I guess it just amazes me that such glaring artifacts of privilege manage to find their way into the damn centerpieces of this album. It just doesn't feel characteristic of an artist with as much common sense as he's demonstrated elsewhere.
Okay, now that I've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about what is by far the best part of this entire album: the production. Ryan Lewis is very, very nimble when it comes to this pop-rap ***, and as far as aping the *** out of Kanye goes, let's just say the boy's no beginner. "Ten Thousand Hours" is basically "Dark Fantasy" put through a thick, almost questionably obvious vector of MGMT and Chiddy Bang (just listen to that "Kids"-ish synth that keeps warbling in and out of the track), but after a solid couple of minutes of continuous buildup, the shuffled, snapping drums completely deflate into this defeated, bar-room piano that just languishes underneath this foggy layer of chopped up effects and manipulated vocal samples -- basically, imagine Drake's "Over My Dead Body", except a hell of a lot dorkier, and you'll have at least a halfway decent approximation of what this track is trying to do. It's cheesy, no doubt, but the cheesiness is actually really, really satisfying, you feel me? But seriously though...in quite a few spots throughout this album, it feels as if Ryan Lewis is actually trying to pave over Macklemore's lyrical brainfarts by making everything around him sound completely and utterly MASSIVE -- Can't Hold Us in particular is this anthemic, foot stomping speedrun of a beat that practically slams its piano-laced chorus headfirst into this abrasive, threatening, tribal-drums-and-horn-blasts mesh during the second verse, and let me tell you, when the group vocals finally kick in a few seconds later, it feels like nothing short of a damn event. Very, very slick stuff. Ironically, though, where Lewis's MBDTF-reappropriation act works best is when he's at his most subdued: the standout track on the record, Starting Over, is, lyrically, a pretty decently written musing about Macky Mack's troubled history with drug addiction, and I'm sure the temptation was enormous to craft together something outrageously and overbearingly sappy -- but Lewis perseveres past all that and comes out with an expertly subtle, vaguely triumphant and reassuringly composed accompaniment to what are equally the most tempered and heartfelt lyrics The Heist has to offer. Imagine Eminem's Lose Yourself, and then try and think of what that song would sound like if it were actually good -- needless to say, it's some killer ***, no doubt. Hell, even Thrift Shop's beat is pretty catchy, as abhorrent as that song is. There are a few misfires here and there (I actually burst out laughing when I heard that ***ing musty-ass-jukebox-blues guitar noodling on Neon Cathedral -- talk about laying it on too thick), but on the whole, Lewis really puts his best foot forward on a lot of these tracks and, in the end, comes away from it all looking much more competent than the guy he shares the headline with.
In fact, despite the spotty writing, this probably could've been a light 3/5 if it weren't for the ***ING ATROCIOUS hooks on practically every single one of these tracks. Considering both Ab-Soul's and Schoolboy Q's appearances here, it strikes me as almost fitting that The Heist would inherit one of the few but glaring flaws that nearly sunk Section 80. Where do they find all these bargain bin singers, anyway? And why didn't they redo all these choruses after the first playback? I mean, I just can't see how in anyone's head they sound even remotely appropriate on these joints. Straight up. They just don't fit. They don't fit over the production, they sound jarring when juxtaposed next to Macklemore's verses, they aren't particularly well delivered, and to top it off, they're just pretty uniformly not catchy. Like, at all. There are only three guests who really contribute anything to the album, and that's Ab-Soul on Jimmy Iovine, Wanz on Thrift Shop, and Mary Lambert on Same Love -- the rest all fall somewhere between being awkward to listen to and being flat out embarrassing to listen to, and trust me, the only way a Macklemore verse can actually get less enjoyable to listen to is when you realize, in the back of your head, that when it's over, you're going to have to sit through Ben mother***ing Bridwell from Band of Horses fist fighting his mic for 30 seconds. I mean, what, was that Phil guy from that Casey Veggies "Life Changes" joint too busy or something? You got every other high profile Black Hippy member besides Kendrick to do a feature -- you couldn't just pull Jhene Aiko in for a second and have her lay down a chorus or two? You couldn't just have Macklemore do the ***ing hooks himself? I mean come on. This is basic *** here.
I guess, in the end, the reason I'm so frustrated with this record is because it's got so much potential. Macklemore has this slippery, twisted up, razor sharp flow that can dip into some pretty efficiently executed double time when he wants it to, and Ryan Lewis just effortlessly puts forth this low-key bombast in all of his beats that makes every moment seem so much more important than it actually is. But calling the lyrics "hit or miss" would be an understatement, and the hooks...well, let's not mince words: they're completely and utterly ***ing toxic. Look, when it's all said and done, Macklemore is a very talented guy and a very good writer, and Ryan Lewis is without question a very talented producer, and together, these dudes should be cranking out solid 3.5 star+ albums in their sleep. Without question. But to be completely straight with you, I just don't feel like The Heist's positives really even put a dent in the sometimes overpowering negatives that are embedded pretty deeply inside this record. I don't doubt that Macklemore and Lewis put "10,000 hours" worth of work into it like they said they did (btw, do people outside of prison actually read malcolm gladwell. urgent response needed), but I think that maybe, in their rush to do everything on their own, "on their I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T ***," they ended up neglecting to get the second, or third, or fourth opinion that possibly could've caught a lot these problems before they even made it onto the cutting room floor.
Final verdict: 2.5/5 stars. Suck my ass Bruno Mars.