Few can transition seamlessly from fun, hilarious songs to heavy, thoughtful lyricism. Meet Macklemore, someone who can.
Macklemore grew up in Seattle where he struggled with addiction on the way to recovery and success. Growing up in Northwest gave him a different style to his music, and his research in youth culture during the 80s and 90s makes this 29-year-old more youthful than his age indicates.
If we’re bringing up Macklemore, than Ryan Lewis has to be mentioned as well. A great producer and Macklemore’s partner in crime, Lewis has had a hand in the artist’s best work. But what’s interesting is what comprises his best work.
The first big album (excluding the self-released 2000 mixtape under the moniker “Professore Macklemore”) Macklemore released was The Language of My World in 2005. For the most part, all white rappers run into the stale trend of comparisons to Eminem. In a self-aware track titled “White Privilege,” Macklemore talks about how this white rapper stereotype shapes his career. It’s an insightful song, and the production and delivery on the track make it really easy to stomach. He’s not yelling and the instrumentals are laid back and funky, reminiscent of Sublime.
Then there are songs on The Language of My World that are…less serious. Take for example, “The Penis Song.” It’s such an odd song and if you read the lyrics, they’re an ultra-hilarious confession that turns rap stereotypes on their head. While most rappers are boastful about this subject, Macklemore shows some self-aware tongue-in-cheek insecurity. Listen at your own risk…
In 2009, Macklemore showed his two sides through a pair of songs off The Unplanned Mixtape and The VS. EP, the latter of which brought Lewis’ name to the forefront. It’s fitting that the mixtape and EP came out together, because they’re completely different in tone, but also both great listens.
The Unplanned Mixtape plays off Macklemore’s goofier side, and subjects range from Macklemore’s not-so-glamorous nights out via “The Club,” to his pride in the Northwest in his feature on “NXNW (Remix).” While the latter song is not the typical Macklemore fare, “The Club” is a perfect example of the funny Macklemore. What’s great about the artist is how self deprecating he can be, whether or not he actually has these flaws he raps about.
But that song that really shines on this mixtape is “And We Danced.” Featuring an introduction that reaches an Anchorman level of one-liners, “And We Danced” is a hilarious, poppy song that allows Macklemore to flex into mainstream hip-hop without selling out. The video, featuring a weird cross of frat boy and glam rock attire, is just as hilarious, and a must see. One thing that can give you further respect for Macklemore, is how well produced his music videos are.
Any hint of Macklemore’s comedic side is lost in The VS EP, but this is definitely not a bad thing. Lewis’ production is softer, less aggressive, and more poetic. The piano ballad that is “The End,” is a song that can wind down a summer night, not pump a pre-game. One of the lighter notes of the album comes from “Irish Celebration,” which replaces partying with Macklemore’s pride in his heritage.
The winner off this album is “Otherside,” which uses Lewis’ remix of the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song of the same name. “Otherside” is somewhat of a tribute to artists that have lost battles with drugs, making it a very personal song for Macklemore, who was addicted to OxyCotin himself. The choice of sampling “Otherside” is perfect, as members of the Chili Peppers wrote the song as a recognition to their attempts at overcoming their own addictions.
Macklemore’s success and acclaim via hip-hop communities helped him garner the somewhat prestigious, somewhat eye-roll worthy honor of XXL Magazine‘s “Freshmen Class” of 2012. Which, of course makes little sense because Macklemore is anything but new to the rap game.
The cover itself perfectly represents Macklemore, probably the most composed of all the artists being featured. If anything, the feature has given Macklemore some serious momentum, and despite all the buzz, Macklemore’s latest effort with Lewis has shown he hasn’t copped out.
The Heist, released officially just a week ago, is his first official studio album since The Language of My World, and like that album, showcases both sides of the Seattle rapper. Something that can make any loyal Macklemore fan proud is the success of the album’s single “Thrift Shop.”
The video and the song are perfect, there’s no other way around it. The funky, jazzy beat is perfect for Macklemore’s goofy side, while Wanz’s feature is perfect. In a genre that embrasses excessive spending, Macklemore brags about how good he is rummaging through bargain bins and Wanz’s over-the-top yet simplistic tongue-in-cheek lyrics are a match made in hip-hop heaven. As aforementioned, the video is fantastic as well. Featuring offensively large fur coats, a creamsicle suit, and Batman footie pajamas, this video is so un-stylish that it’s…stylish?
The other big light-hearted song on the album is “Gold,” which characteristically compares the rapper’s wealth to other artists, in this case Rick Ross. It rolls through different mainstream-esque beats, and seems like pseudo-pop or self-aware cookie-cutter rap, thanks to Lewis’ work. The incredibly paced “Can’t Hold Us” precedes “Thrift Shop,” and while it has been around a while, its inclusion is a warm welcome on the album.
“If I was gay, I would think that hip-hop hate me. / Have you read the YouTube comments lately?”
– Macklemore on “Same Love”
While the upbeat side of Macklemore is always fun, the serious side really shines through on The Heist. “Same Love” breaks new ground and looks at hip-hop’s homophobic side. The opening line of “When I was in third grade, I thought that I was gay,” interestingly addresses the subject matter of this song that is both introspective and observational.
My top choice for best song off of The Heist is “Wings,” which looks at materialistic culture and capitalism. This haunting song speaks to a lot of people who grew up in the 80s and 90s. Fueled by a children’s choir and a fantastic instrumental progression from Lewis, this song really (no pun intended) takes off and makes this a heavy, but truly great listen.
The Heist reached the top of the iTunes charts within hours of being released, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis certainly deserved it. Without sullying artistic integrity, Macklemore has continued to be both playful and serious, and this new success should allow him to continue to make music that’s both fun and thought-provoking.