16 October, 2012@2:46 pm
The story of Macklemore is pretty interesting. Here is a man, based in Seattle, completely removed from the hip-hop scenes of New York, Los Angeles, and down south, who hasn’t released an album in seven years, and then proceeds to open his first week on Billboard with around 60,000 sold, independently no less? We imagine many major label A&R’s are scratching their heads, trying to explain to their bosses how they “let” this happen.
But Macklemore is anything but an overnight success story. He’s actually proof positive that “slow-and-steady-wins-the race”, as he’s foregone instant major label stardom by instead going the independent route, and in a rare instance, it’s worked. He’s built his fanbase from the ground up, even throwing annual “pizza parties” (we’re unsure of the definition of that) for his followers, despite an almost Detox-like break since his last full-length project, albeit a mixtape and a few EP’s, here and there.
So, seven pizza parties later, here we are, with The Heist, a collaborative album with producer Ryan Lewis. So why the long break? Macklemore struggles with addiction, as he details here several times on the album. There couldn’t be a more open and honest emcee than Macklemore, which is what separates him from many of his peers. Mack doesn’t really feel the need to pretend he’s something he’s not, and rarely holds his tongue. It’s almost safe to say that not a minute or a verse is wasted on The Heist, despite a few minor shortcomings, here and there.
The album begins with “10,000 Hours”, a sort of dedication to the grind, as Macklemore breaks down his blue-collar approach to success, leading into the celebratory “Can’t Hold Us”, over a beat that would make a certain college dropout proud. This leads into the light-hearted, brilliantly penned “single”, “Thrift Shop”, which finds Mack at his most whimsical, as the heavier stuff is on the way.
Mack tackles a number of hot-button topics on The Heist, often with profound lyrical anecdotes that make him one of the best “conscious emcees” of the new era. “Same Love” is a beautifully written – and sung, courtesy of Mary Lambert – song that deals with sexual identity and civil rights issues of the gay community in America, while tracks like “Make The Money”, “Gold”, and “Wing$” – the latter touching upon youth culture’s Nike obsession – wrestle greed and consumerism. Later, he spouts off about his choice to go the indie route on the incredibly visual “Jimmy Iovine”, and then decides speaks on a white rapper’s role in black man’s artform on “A Wake”. Like we said, heavy stuff.
But Mack’s most revealing and fascinating tracks deal with his addiction, which span both “Neon Cathedral” and “Starting Over”. The former finds him denouncing God for alcoholism, in a pretty heavy parallel between the church and the bar. While he found sobriety some years ago on his Red Hot Chili Peppers’ sampling “Otherside”, on “Starting Over” he deals with relapsing. It’s a heartfelt tale of failure that finds Mack examining his thoughts on how to break it to his fans – especially those he’s inspired to be clean – that he’s not.
All of this could not be possible however without the work of Ryan Lewis, who produces this album. Utilizing a combination of live musicians and samples, the sound of the album is big, full, clean, and most of all, unique. It’s built upon the foundations of classic hip-hop, but in a Kanye West sort of way, is not afraid to experiment either. Had Ryan’s production not been so tight, perhaps Mack’s introspective lines may have fallen on deaf ears.
The Heist is easily the sleeper hit of 2012. Macklemore has honed his craft over the last few years to perfection, separating himself from a sea of independent rappers trying to break through when they simply aren’t ready. Together with Ryan Lewis, the two have found a chemistry that comes along rarely, and their existence outside of the dominant hip-hop markets has left their music uninfluenced by trendy sounds and industry evils. It’s clear that the constant grind has paid off; all hail the return of the Mack.
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