Album Review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist
I have to start this review by saying that this album came out of nowhere; I had heard of Macklemore back when he was a XXL Freshman, but other than that, my exposure was pretty limited. With the aforementioned being said, this is the perfect album for an introduction into the world of Macklemore. Let’s face it, we’ve all heard the story about overcoming addiction and life obstacles to become a champion; however, no one has done it quite like this. Backed by the prodigal production of Ryan Lewis, Macklemore has created one of the year’s most honest and resonant records.
On the lead song “10,000 Hours” – which interestingly enough is a reference to Malcolm Gladwell – Macklemore states that he’s “going to make sure the sound man doesn’t cock block the drums”; that’s a bold statement to make as an emcee, but the chemistry between Macklemore & Lewis is undeniable, and ultimately, it’s one of the main reasons that this album is a masterpiece.
“Thrift Shop” is a song that is guaranteed to make anyone laugh; Macklemore spits a hilarious narrative about his favorite place to shop, but at the same time, he does an impeccable job mocking the rap industry’s obsession with ice and material possessions. Just as material possessions rule our culture, so does money. On “Make the Money, Macklemore encourages listeners to chase their dreams and do what they love rather than chase material wealth; he even says “If I had done it for the money, I would have been a fucking lawyer”.
I probably wouldn’t have listened to this record if it wasn’t for Tyler Keyes. I asked him if The Heist was the new Macklemore record, and I remember his response very clearly: “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, don’t short change the producer”. He was right, after a few spins, it became clear that Lewis’s beats are the gorilla glue holding The Heist together; furthermore, many songs wouldn’t have nearly as much of an impact if his organic instrumentation wasn’t a part of the equation, and the track “Same Love” is a perfect example. Ryan Lewis’s soulful piano keys and symphonic strings are the breath of fresh air Macklemore needs to exhale his thoughts on marriage equality:
“If I was gay, I would think that Hip-Hop hates me/have you ready the YouTube comments lately?/”man that’s gay” gets dropped on the daily/we’ve become so numb to what we’re saying/a culture founded from oppression, yet we don’t have acceptance for em/call each other faggots behind the keys of a message board”
Frederick Douglas once said “If there is no struggle, there is no progress”, and for Macklemore’s career, this statement is especially true. “Starting Over” is the whirlwind of emotions and consequences that manifested when Macklemore relapsed after three years of sobriety. Ryan Lewis did an incredible job of building the soundscape of “Starting Over” around mellow guitar strings that convey a great deal of emotion, and Band of Horses front man Ben Bridwell lends his beautiful vocals to an already sensational song. In one of the most honest moment of the record, Macklemore talks to one of his fans shortly after his relapse:
“…Somebody stops me and says “Are you Macklemore?”/maybe this isn’t the place or time/I just wanted to say that if it wasn’t for “Otherside“, I wouldn’t have made it/I just look down at the ground and say thank you/she tells me she has nine months and she’s so grateful/tears in her eyes, looking like she’s going to cry… fuck!/I barely got 48 hours, treated like I’m some wise monk/I wanna tell her I relapsed, but I can’t/I just shake her hand and tell her congrats.”
Macklemore’s straight-to-the-point lyrics are the perfect fit for Ryan Lewis’s incredible instrumentation. After listening to The Heist it becomes obvious that Macklemore has been through a lot; more impressively, he’s been able to use his struggles as his motivation for success, and it’s paying off big. I was shocked to hear that The Heist independently sold 78,000 copies in its first week on the shelves, but when your message is chocked full of honesty and sincerity, people are bound to listen.