Album Review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – ‘The Heist’

If Macklemore is a name you haven’t heard of then read even closer. A true DIY rapper from Seattle; refusing labels and prime studio space and opting for a partnership with fellow beat maker and musician Ryan Lewis. This album can be seen more as a collaboration from a duo with hit-making chemistry. It may seem that Macklemore came up very recently, holding down an XXL cover (a slingshot-to-stardom magazine in America) and battling with drug problems that almost overcame his shot as fame until a highly lucrative post-2010 career that all started with a track focusing on this very issue: ‘Otherside’.

So, without further ado we are introduced to The Heist with ‘BomBom’: an instrumental that sets the scene for the next hour or so masterful ‘mashups’ of pumped up bass ‘head nodders’ and melodic trumpet and orchestral samples that form this LP. From here the listener is guided through maybe nine songs clearly about someone who really relates their album to their life, and struggle. Yet, unlike some far bigger names, such as Kanye’s fairly disappointing Cruel Summer, tracks like ‘Thin Line’ feature hauntingly great features from relatively unknown artists. It seems that especially producer and beat maker Ryan Lewis really managed to pick the supporting talent to complement their music perfectly.

Then, as we’re guided through ‘Neon Cathedral’ and ‘Same Love’, it’s hard not to be endeared towards the diary-confessional-style of this album. In ‘Neon Cathedral’, one could genuinely feel like you’ve had an equally depressing life  (do not mix this track with drink) and this cleverly constructed track with Allen Stone’s haunting voice and religious allusions galore further leads into tracks like ‘Starting Over’. This all serves to contextualise Macklemore’s real struggle – with drugs, drink, being turned down and, without trying to compare the two which is impossible in every way, doesn’t he remind you of another troubled white rapper who made a name from rapping about real social and personal issues?

Yet, this social-issue battling pitbull of an album is perhaps best summed up in ‘Same Love’; a track that, while maybe challenging listeners as to the line Macklemore makes between his pop and hip-hop sounds, highlights incredible ironies tied to controversy over the last few decades in the war between religion and homosexuality. Woah! Easy Macklemore, save the world one step at a time! But, all while avoiding parody or explicitness, a masterful, bold and sympathetic song which could have been ever so easy to be an over-reaching and awkward track to listen to. But not Mack.

Here the listener should be thinking about how incredible an album The Heist is to fluctuate from heart-breaking rap-ballads to hyped up party and parody tracks. Again with a list of instrumentals that would sell on their own to probably reach the same no.1 iTunes downloads spot that this duo have managed with their first EP, over Mumford and Jay-z!

Now, time to flip the switch. Rather than seeming disjointed Macklemore blends heavy hitting ‘hard rap’ tracks and more light-hearted ones into the midst of these previous, more emotionally charged songs. Thus, the video for ‘Thrift Shop’ off this album is also well worth a watch. But, while it might seem this fluctuation would inevitably bring the album down from a five star rating by breaking a wholly serious tracklist it is far from a bad track, and with seven million views alone it’s hard to argue. An album saturated with beats that are funky as hell, it is possibly what the album needs as some form of comic relief.

Lastly, it’s time for Macklemore to challenge the very nature of rap itself, a small feat, on tracks such as ‘Jimmy Iovine’. Here it would be an understatement to say Mack kills it over probably the most recognisably modern rap beat and it will genuinely convince you of the metaphorically massive middle finger the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis team raise to mainstream music labels, a path they have shunned and it couldn’t have worked better.

So, what’s the conclusion? as a previous fan I would expected nothing less, but even this surpasses my hopes – an album to be enjoyed and replayed, to provoke thought, move and sing to and one which I can only wish will be topped by a subsequent album from this truly tantalizing duo that just changed the game with perhaps the most innovative hip-hop album of the year.

Harry Patte-Dobbs

Harry is listening to Machine Gun Kelly – Half Naked & Almost Famous EP

5 Comments on this post.
  • Anthony
    14 October 2012 at 12:39
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    “most innovative hip-hop album of the year”? May I refer you to THEESatisfaction, Ab-Soul or the infamous Death Grips. This is a great review & I do think Macklemore and Ryan Lewis bring some great pop rap tracks with a conscious edge, but ultimately they don’t quite live up to the epic and ambitious expectations set by stellar singles like “Wings” and “Same Love.” Keep up the good work bro.

  • Tom
    14 October 2012 at 18:26
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    Word up PD

  • Phoebe Harkin
    18 October 2012 at 15:55
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    Amazing review, I also love Macklemore and Ryan Lewis long time. The End is pure gold

  • G
    20 December 2012 at 07:31
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    Sorry Anthony, just listening to QueenS now by THEESatisifaction, I wouldn’t say they come close to the creative genius of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Constantly repeating verses, annoying synth-line and pointless lyrics, how can you really think this is good? just rubbish if you ask me.

  • dead c
    26 January 2013 at 06:44
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    “But, all while avoiding parody or explicitness, a masterful, bold and sympathetic song which could have been ever so easy to be an over-reaching and awkward track to listen to.”

    That’s an over reaching sentence to read. This whole review is awkwardly worded. This is just a “previous fan” gushing over some artist that they already like and, with an album that’s been releasing the tracks over the last couple of years prior to the official release and a duo that’s been regularly hyped by the inclusion on huge music festivals and companies like Vitamin Water hosting events for them, the whole “independent artist” angle in this day and age feels like little less than a marketing angle and a way to convince the fanbase that they need to get out there like a street team and spread the word. “Have you ever heard of Macklemore?” Even your review implies that that people haven’t, but his album went number one within hours. He’s famous. He makes pop music. I live in Seattle. It’s everywhere and has been for a while. His lyrical ability is mediocre. This is not music for rap fans, it’s music for middle class suburban white kids and, lucky for Macklemore, there’s a whole lot more of them.

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