Review Summary: Some Malcolm Gladwell, David Bowie meets Kanye shit
On The Heist
, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis pay homage to where hip-hop has been, while showing the genre where it’s going. Instead of keeping Ryan Lewis, who does the production on this album, relegated to album sleeve credits, Lewis rightfully shares title billing with Macklemore, rapper and lyricist. The duo create a brilliant album that mercilessly reinvents what rap can and could be.
Lewis’s production is instrumental in the success of the album. Lewis knows exactly when to show restraint, and just when to let loose to perfectly complement Macklemore and the assorted guest vocalists on the album. Throughout The Heist
, Lewis shows an incredible amount of range in creating beats. And with old-school flavor, atmospheric electro-pop worthy of the trendiest indie-pop darlings, restrained piano driven tracks, over-the top grandiose anthems, and even a banjo, boy does Lewis show range.
Despite the seemingly stark differences musically, the songs meld into one coherent album. Whether it’s the looping of a scream in the background of “Make the Money,” or the sleazy, ‘80’s style synthesizer in “Neon Cathedral ft. Allen Stone,” Lewis expertly sets the tone for the songs on the album. Lewis’s real standout track, however, is the completely instrumental “Bombom ft. The Teaching.” Starting with a lone piano, Lewis and The Teaching (a piano, bass, and percussion trio) create a multilayered ballad that morphs into a pounding club anthem. Growing to a false climax, the music cuts out halfway through the song to the sound of fireworks in the distance, before starting stronger than when it stopped. This is a master at work here.
While Lewis’s production is fresh and innovative, Macklemore’s rapping is nothing groundbreaking. His flow is smooth, and he comfortably goes to 11 and back without a second thought. How he raps is nowhere near as noteworthy as what he raps. Common hip-hop themes make appearances in Macklemore’s lyrics, but in a different light than seen before. When making statements of greatness on the opening track, “Ten Thousand Hours,” Macklemore forgoes other rappers or mainstream celebrities, and instead compares himself to Malcolm Gladwell, Keith Haring, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. “Thrift Shop ft. Wanz” celebrates the frugality of hand-me down style- “They be like oh that Gucci that’s hella tight/I’m like yo, that’s $50 for a t-shirt/Limited edition" Let’s do some simple additions/$50 for a t-shirt" That’s just some ignorant bitch shit.” Macklemore continues his attack on the consumerism of America with “Wings,”- “My movement told me be a consumer/And I consumed it.”
Macklemore’s takes on greatness and materialism are new and refreshing, but he makes points to venture into territory that other rappers rarely (if ever) dare enter. Delving into the deeply personal territory of addiction on “Neon Cathedral ft. Allen Stone,” and the consequences of relapses on “Starting Over ft. Ben Bridwell,” Macklemore bares his soul and his story on the album, creating two beautifully introspective tracks. This sort of vulnerability is almost non-existent in the pissing contest that is the modern rap game. “Wake ft. Evan Roman” is a frank examination of what it’s like to be a white musician in the predominantly black hip-hop world. Most white rappers would be offended by the mention of their race, while Macklemore addresses the issue head on. “White privilege, white guilt/at the same damn time.” And then there’s the song that’s creating a bit of a firestorm on YouTube right now- “Same Love ft. Mary Lambert” Macklemore declares his support for the LGBT community (“No freedom til we’re equal/Damn right I support it,”) and chastises the hip-hop community for it’s rampant and pervasive homophobia. With an accompanying video that shows the life of a gay man growing up, most mainstream rap and hip-hop publications seem to so far be ignoring its existence. As straight men, it takes some balls for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis to stand in solidarity with the queer community.
While I’ve lauded Lewis and Macklemore, the featured supporting artists are all great additions to the album, and deserve recognition. They all do wonderful jobs of framing verses with beautiful hooks, and add catchiness to songs that might otherwise be considered abrasive.
is inventive and original. In fact, this album is almost perfect. Except, however, for one song. “White Walls ft. ScHoolBoy Q & Hollis” glamorizes the offensively stereotypical rap favorites of Cadillacs, rims, and hoes. ScHoolBoy Q’s verse, with lines like “White hoes in the back seat snorting coke” are so glaringly out of place that I’ve been trying to figure out if I’m misinterpreting the song. On an album that attacks name brands, eschews misogyny for inclusiveness, and chronicles substance abuse, hoes snorting coke in a Cadillac seem out of place. It’s a sour note that throws off the rest of the otherwise brilliant album.
is definitely not an album to miss. It’s original enough that fans of rap should love it, but still accessible enough for the rest of the populace to enjoy. Catchy and innovative, this album deserves all the attention it gets. Following his recognition in XXL’s Freshman Class 2012, this release has made Macklemore’s rising star impossible to ignore, and proves that Ryan Lewis is a force to be reckoned with.