Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
By Jeffrey Kieviet
GWA (Gingers With Attitude)
The last few weeks I’ve been doing a series of “real-time” reviews, click HERE & HERE for my Book & Video Game Reviews respectively. Now… on to a real-time music review. To be fair & honest, I’ve heard some of these songs before, but this is the first time I am listening to this CD as a whole.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s The Heist is a new way to approach the rap-game. Right off the back, they’ve got a song called “Ten Thousand Hours,” and while interpreting a song is subjective, the title leads me to believe it is a song about perfection. The old adage about it taking 10,000 hours to become a master at anything. It serves as an excellent “welcome to the Heist” (direct quote).
I’m not the hip-hop fan I used to be. New artists like TI & T-Pain have driven me away into the embracing arms of folk & dubstep, losing hope in the genre’s future. New inspiration from artists like Kid Cudi & Childish Gambino keep my foot in the door, and there will always be the classic greats like 2pac & Ice-Cube (but their music is being replaced by holographic ghosts and family friendly road-trip movies). Eminem will always be a favorite, but I feel like that’s kind of cheating. I don’t want it to be all about race, but Elvis was the king for stealing rock’n’roll from black musicians, and Eminem has done the same. Now we’ve got this ginger with a comb-over coming onto the scene, rapping about gay marriage and buying used clothes. That’s nuts! Lil’ Wayne & Lil’ Jon don’t have a single song that’s not about them being the most generic hip-hop king of the castle’s ghetto. “I got money, I got hos (hoes?), I got booze, woo!”
“Same Love” (feat. Mary Lambert) is clearly the highlight of the CD. I mean, at least out of the first 3 tracks. But this is one of the best singles on the radio right now. He talks about equality in a way that makes homophobia just stupid (because honestly, what else could it be). Why would you ever hate someone for who they love? (If you don’t support it, you’re an ass, no two ways about it. If you’re truly a “homophobe,” the next time you see 2 drunk chicks making out at a party you better scream like you just saw a spider in clown make-up, otherwise, you’re just an ass) But this also brings up again that he is a white guy trying to succeed in an industry dominated by melanin. Racism isn’t gone, people are alive today who did not have the right to vote when they were younger simply because of the color of their skin, I mean, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 didn’t pass until the mid 60s. See what I did there? But in order for equality to be truly equal, a black man must be able to become president and a white boy must be able to grow up and become a hip-hop star.
Macklemore’s voice and style are his own, but there are definitely influences of rap-greats. Kanye West comes to mind, especially his early stuff, pointing out “if I rap about Jesus my record won’t get played.” That is epitomized here, singing about marriage, not slapping bitches, and marriage between 2 people in love regardless of sex, instead of “skeet skeet skeet”ing all over someone’s face. So he’s in the game to change it for the better. Kanye & Jay-Z’s “Watch the Throne” was supposed to be some sort of passing of the torch, but I think Kanye is going to need to “hold on a minute. I’ma let you finish, but you gotta know” this white-boy, Pete-&-Pete-looking wangster can hold his own and may snatch the torch right from your Kardashion occupied grip.
Musically, Ryan Lewis produces some sick beats. As someone who cannot snap in rhythm, I have no idea how music is made, but the general impression I get is Ryan Lewis, the unsung hero/producer, puts together the noise, and Macklemore adds the words. Like Alan Menken and the other guy from Little Mermaid, Beauty & The Beast, Aladdin, etc. (Howard Ashman – see Wikipedia)
Oh, another song, “A Wake” (feat. Evan Roman), he starts off saying 20’s the new 30, because 15 year olds have to act 30 and 30 year olds are acting like they’re 15, or something like that (cheap paraphrasing). But he then goes on to advocate using a condom! Can you imagine if the hip-hop community was about promoting love, equality, and responsibility? Take all those gangsters that misinterpret Common and want to shoot at cops, take the guns out of their hands, and turn it into a pamphlet about STD testing. Hand that out amongst your friends and point them at your enemies, promote quality of life, a quality that inspires protection and value instead of fear and hate.
Back to the music, “Cowboy Boots” can only be described as hillbilly hip-hop. And not in the Kid Rock sort of way, although I have nothing but praise to rain on the Kid, but that’s for another time. Macklemore still comes on with his gravely, deep voice and poetically raps his lines, but the backing music is spoons, accordions, and a banjo or something. Oh, there’s also a jangle-frisbee (tambourine – see Drawn Together). And the chorus is the classic group of cowboys singing from the bar with a pint in their hands. Like the “Bad Horse” song in Dr Horrible’s Sing-a-long Blog.
I feel like the main point has been expressed, both musically and lyrically, the CD transcends genre and reaches out to people who would normally not listen to hip-hop. It also has the potential to change the culture it is trying to invade. The song everyone has heard, “Thrift Shop” (feat. Wanz) expresses all of this tongue and cheek. So much so, that people took it seriously and thrift stores are now the #1 fashion designers for the Oscars & BET Awards. At least my interpretation, these rappers don flowing robes, metal grills, and doofy pimp hats, and walk around like respected kings when they look like anachronistic jesters from medieval times. But no joke, thrift shops have some really cool clothes, and instead of buying pre-ripped jeans for $50, buy $2 jeans and wear them until they rip. And the song’s hook is just addictive, “I’m gonna pop some tags…” Tell me you didn’t start singing about the $20 in your pocket.
Haha, woops. So I’ve been listening to this CD out of order, on “shuffle,” which kind of ruins the point of the “real-time review” because the CD was put together in it’s order on purpose. I mean, there’s that whole Spinal-Tap bit about the artist putting it together as a whole, and while it’s easier to enjoy the songs individually, (and it’s not like it’s a concept album and the chapters are now out of order) but just so you know, this particular audible journey into The Heist is more like Lost as opposed to Lord of the Rings. Because Lost was all flashbacks and flash-forwards and non-linear, and Lord of the Rings was chronological and… long.
Maggie got me a Kindle Fire for Christmas and I’ve loved learning the new technology and getting immersed in my digital world. It’s too easy to buy CDs or movies, just the click of a button and it’s in my cloud forever. So now I’ve got a whole new digital music set up on my Kindle Cloud as compared to my iTunes, it’s kind of like starting over. I bought Milla Jovavich’s “The Devine Comedy” several years ago on Amazon, but since it’s part of Amazon’s digital MP3 collection, all these many years later it’s automatically available in my cloud. So Maggie bought a copy of The Heist using my Amazon account (with Amazon Prime you get free 2-day shipping), so she’s got her actual CD disc, and I can download & stream to my heart’s content. But with all this new technology I haven’t figured out how to listen to an album in order. I don’t think I clicked the shuffle button. Oh well.
Now I’m 2/3 the way through the album and the gimmick is getting old. I can only be oh so inspired for oh-so-long. He’s a happy guy with good moral ground, and all the songs have a similar theme and message. Sure, blink-182 always sings about the angsty girl they let get away, and Dethklok always sings about mermaid murder and bloodrocution, but Macklemore makes each song sound unique. I guess that’s more Ryan Lewis’s doing. But “Wing$” has a group of children sing parts of the chorus, the music is new and fresh, and as Macklemore gets more passionate about what he’s saying, the words just burst through the speakers and hit you with his message: “Nike Wings are the shit!” Wait, is that the message? There’s got to be something deeper than that. “These are what make you cool… nah, it’s just another pair of shoes.”
I saw Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on the Colbert Report, so that’s my only real knowledge of these guys. They seem like a couple of young do-gooders, so yay! But I haven’t read any articles or even the Wikipedia entry on this album, so this is meant to be as much of an impact on a blank slate as possible. Now afterwards I’ll put in some research for editing purposes, but this is how I heard it. I wish I’d turned shuffle off. Anyway, these guys produced this album themselves, and distributed it and did everything. I don’t know if it’s a stand against capitalism, and art shouldn’t be about money anyway, but it’s cool that they could cut the middle man. More than the money, this means that what they released is what they wanted to release, there was no one to restrict their music or talk them into selling out. Give it a couple years but for now, this is music the way it was meant to be made.
“Can’t hold Us” (feat. Ray Dalton). Remember that Kanye West song with Jamie Foxx & Twista and how the chick wants him to sing it faster, rap it harder, but he can’t, so Kanye hands the mic to Twista and he just tears it up? Well Macklemore might be able to go toe-to-toe with Twista because he is fast & hard (natch) and his words are clear enough that you can understand what he says. I think this might have been another single from this album because the chorus sounds very familiar. I need to keep up with pop-culture better. I still haven’t seen the new Iron Man movie. Whatever.
Another thing I’ve noticed is there is very little swearing. There is still enough to get the “Explicit” sticker on the front (or if not the sticker, the “[Exlicit]” label after the CD as a whole and the specific songs that have swearing). I’m a fan of bad words, I think they’re tons of fun and help express thoughts with an intensity and meaning other words cannot capture. But it is overused. Especially by me personally. I throw out F-bombs with my breakfast and can use the C-word as a noun, verb, and article of a sentence. “Articles” are like “the” and “a” right? My favorite swear-er is John Malcovich, have you seen Burn After Reading? Highly recommended. Anyway, Macklemore may not have the distinct & subtle hesitation of the Malcovich, but he uses curse words and swears sparingly and appropriately in a way where they raise the quality and don’t tarnish the purity with “naughty words.”
“The liquor store is open later than the church is.” “Neon Cathedral” (feat. Allen Stone) is Macklemore’s “Jesus Walks.” I’m not a religious person, but I believe people can use religion as a way to better themselves and if they need the metaphysical to be a better person, then do it! But so many people abuse religion and use it as an excuse rather than a blessing, and this song depicts the neon nightlights that so many of my generation worship, stuck in bars and nightclubs when what they could use is a little bit of “god,” whatever that may mean to you. I know I spent a good chunk of my early 20s praying to the porcelin god (puking into the toilet) after a night shakin’ my thang in da club, so I feel the song suggests as a society we need to improve. Easier said than done, but baby steps, right Bill Murray & Richard Dreyfuss (see – What About Bob?)?
“White Walls” (feat. ScHoolboy Q, Hollis) is the most trivial song on the album. It’s all about having the nice Caddillac and the guy who raps with him, I’m guessing ScHoolboy Q, has that tacky hip-hop style full of “F-this,” “smack that,” and general hooligan bafoonery.
The last song I get to listen to is “Thin Line” (feat. Buffalo Madonna) and it’s a nice soft song to finish with. I’ve never heard of any of these people featured on the album, but this guy has a similar style to Kid Cudi. Maybe not vocally, but melodically. While I didn’t listen to the songs in order, this could easily stand in for the last track. This one song has everything that makes the album great, a beautiful melody, intense lyrics, and a positive message. “You are the love of my life,” the voice is fading into the background, the music goes quiet and “this time we know it all. It’s over.”
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Label – Macklemore
Producer – Ryan Lewis