Those critical of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s debut LP The Heist (a minority opinion, so it seems) have pointed out that the duo’s style more closely resembles pop than hip-hop, which might be true, but does almost nothing to change the fact that The Heist is a plainly devastating piece of work.
For those unfamiliar with Seattle MC Macklemore, it helps to put the man in perspective if you’re clued in to some of the atypical aspects of his identity. He’s a white guy from Seattle whose career went almost nowhere prior to his 2005 attempts to kick an oxycontin habit. Along with producing partner Ryan Lewis, he has described a meteoric post-2010 career defined by his obsession with such atypical subjects as same sex marriage, white guilt and how best to rock some swag threads from the Goodwill. The duo will likely chart on iTunes with this release (if not Billboard), yet they have shown no interest in signing to a label of any kind.
In keeping with this aberrant career, The Heist offers a collection of tracks that are head-scratchingly hard to categorize, yet at the same time an indisputably “good” example of whatever genre they happen to belong to.
A large amount of praise must be laid at the feet of Ryan Lewis’s production work. This guy is capable of just about everything, most of which he actually does at some point during The Heist’s run. The beat for “Jimmy Iovine” sounds like club rap’s angst-ridden, art-school cousin, whereas “White Walls” could easily go toe-to-toe with M.I.A.’s finer works. Hell, they could have released The Heist as a collection of instrumentals, and I’d still be writing about it.
Given this sort of canvas, Macklemore would be hard-pressed to fail. While always a capable lyricist, his work leading up to The Heist (all four years of it) has called into question whether his diary-pilfered rhymes result from a heroic openness, or a calculated attempt to fake some appealing “real talk.” Now that eighteen specimens of this songcraft are available for back-to-back consumption, it’s safe to say that his confessional style is the real deal.
“Starting Over” provides a wrenching account of his various backslides into substance abuse. By the end of “Jimmy Iovine,” Mac has convincingly laid out a case for why anyone who signs to a major label needs to have his or her head examined.
On “A Wake,” Macklemore offers hip-hop’s most profound discussion to date of the role played by white rappers: “My subconscious tellin’ me stop it / This is an issue that you shouldn’t get involved in / Don’t even tweet, ‘R.I.P Trayvon Martin’ / Don’t wanna be that white dude, Million Man Marchin’ / Fighting for a freedom that my people stole / Don’t wanna make all my white fans uncomfortable / But you don’t even have a f**kin’ song for radio / Why you out here talkin’ race, tryin’ to save the f**kin’ globe?”
The “aww shucks” tone of “Thrift Shop” still grates a bit, but for the most part, The Heist argues that Macklemore and Lewis have earned their renown by taking an established genre and making it entirely their own.