Holy white hipster rapper, Batman!
I have two warnings about The Heist. One: This album will blow you away. Be prepared to sit down and listen to it from start to finish, because stopping halfway through is not an option. Two: This album is political. Not everywhere, but strongly in places. I have said before that I hate being preached at when I am just trying to enjoy some music, but this album is so good, that I don’t even care.
Six months ago my fiance said “Hey, have you heard this Macklemore guy? He’s some local rapper with this huge indie following.” She was right, but I didn’t get around to listening to him until now, when “Thrift Shop” is suddenly everywhere. You know, that goofy rap song you keep hearing on the radio with the funky saxophone hook. Actually listening to the lyrics, talking about shopping at thrift stores, and criticizing people who overpay for fashion, with lines like “Fifty dollars for a T-shirt – that’s just some ignorant bitch. I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business” I am wondering who this hipster rapper is, and then I find out he’s from Capitol Hill. Ooooooohhhh. Got it.
For people who aren’t from Seattle, Capitol Hill is Seattle’s gay neighborhood. It’s a lot of other things, but it is generally a region of the city where indie theater, angry music, and the LGBT community thrive. So when I hear something like “The Tea Party is marching on Capitol Hill” I picture Sarah Palin in the middle of a Pride rally. Capitol Hill is a haven for hipsters. Really, it’s surprising that it has taken this long for Seattle to produce an artist like this.
So what do you get when you take an urban hipster, educated at Evergreen State College, and mix him with a vibrant indie music scene, powered by macbook pros and leftwing convictions? Macklemore x Ryan Lewis.
From the start, Macklemore’s rapping has a relaxed tone, with clever rhymes, and a crisp, frantic pace that sometimes matches that of Twista. It must be pointed out that Macklemore doesn’t suffer from Asher Roth syndrome; this white rapper sounds nothing like Eminem.
Macklemore’s lyrics throughout The Heist talk about some heavy stuff. Struggles maintaining faith with a religion that is out of sync with the community and the world he lives in, trying to maintain a sense of self in a homogeneous sea of consumerism (“apps this good, who has time to make friends?”), not selling out to The Man at the record label, relapsing while serving as a role model for other addicts.
Which isn’t to say Macklemore can’t party. “Castle” is all fun, with 80’s synths backing up random lyrics of wizards, pirate ships, and eating coyotes, asking “will you come party in my castle?”. “Thrift shop” is as fun a fun gets. I always find out how loud my stereo goes when it comes on.
I blame the whole speaker-blasting thing on Ryan Lewis, though. The Heist is full of real acoustic instruments, horns and strings and drums, perfectly layered with backing vocals, mixing with thick hip hop beats and sparing use of electronic sounds and effects. They say that the mark of great production is that you don’t notice it. The Heist doesn’t sound like anything else on the radio right now, but it also doesn’t sound out of place. They call that “classic”. Listen to “Harder than you think” by Public Enemy. It didn’t sound like anything else out at that time, but it didn’t sound out of place. It still doesn’t sound like anything on the radio, but it doesn’t sound dated. Ryan Lewis has figured out that formula. The Heist stands out from the mass-produced, electronic dance chip-hop of today, without being radical.
If political music bothers you, or if you lean to the right, you should just probably skip “Same love”. Macklemore is really genuine on this track, and the backing vocals of Mary Lambert are really great. Let’s just say that Macklemore is probably ecstatic that Washington state voted for the gays in the past election cycle.
The closest artist I can liken Macklemore to is The Flobots, considering the horns, the rapping, the convictions laid out in the lyrics. The Flobots have a more jazzy, soulful sound, while Macklemore is climbing the hip-hop charts.
When you look at The Heist on Amazon, you are informed that customers who bought The Heist also bought The Lumineers. When I reviewed The Lumineers, I said that The Lumineers were for people who were fans of music, and that holds true for Macklemore. If you like music, you will like Macklemore.
I give The Heist five pounds of fur out of five. You’re right, Wanz, this is fucking awesome.