10 October 2012

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist [Album Review]

posted by: Sunset Fam Album Reviews | Reviews
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis The Heist Album Artwork

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just released The Heist yesterday, October 9th, and we’re here to leave our thoughts on it. Similar to our Frank Ocean Channel Orange review, the team of Sunset writers are all going to leave our thoughts on The Heist. If you need a bit of backup leading up to this release, check out a couple different previews:

Hit the jump to read all writers’ reviews, but before you get there…I’d highly recommend buying this album. Support the artists! (And I have to apologize for taking up so many words, but I couldn’t contain myself. Macklemore might be my favorite rapper of all time, so I really wanted to take the chance to say what I felt needed to be said. -Lydia)

The Heist - Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Lydia’s Review:

If you will, take a trip back into my past with me for a minute. I was a junior in college (2008) and I was really just starting to get into identifying new music that not many people knew about it. My main method of discovery was, believe it or not, MySpace. It was sneaky as hell, because you could find somebody you liked and search through their Top 8, and their Top 8, and their Top 8…and before you knew it, you were looking at some random 8 people who may or may not have been musicians. Some were traditional artists, some were videographers, some were designers, but some were indeed musicians.
It was via this method that I discovered Ryan Lewis. I couldn’t tell you the path that led me there, but I can tell you that the second I found him, I fell in love. I was listening to mostly instrumentals, but some of his tracks featured other Seattle artists. A lot of Symmetry, some Grieves, and there was this standout rhymer named Macklemore. It hit me like a ton of bricks. Fuck. Wake up. These guys are making music that very few people seem to know about, but it’s really fucking good. Ryan Lewis’s skills on the keys and boards, Macklemore’s unique rhyme scheme that rides the beat a bit like a surfer riding waves…staying on the edge, but taking surprising turns and twists that make you think he might fall, but he continues riding that wave like a bad ass motherfucker.

Fast forward to 2012. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis continued working together, and slowly but surely their music seeped beyond Seattle’s borders but managed to maintain that northwestern style that’s both gritty and proud. And now, on October 9, 2012, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just released their debut studio album, The Heist. It’s a collection of songs (including three bonus tracks on the purchased version, which, by the way, has some dope ass packaging!) that showcases the duo’s ability to send meaningful messages through music in the form of art that doesn’t sound like anything anybody else is putting out. They blend pop antics with more classical ensemble orchestration and above all of that, Macklemore lays down rhymes that cover topics ranging from his personal recovery from – and relapse into – drug and alcohol abuse, to the mockery of high-fashion consumption, and even to issues as controversial as same-sex marriage. But the best part of it all is the fact that they do it in a style all their own. It’s quirky, it’s catchy, and it’s far from preachy. The music video for “Thrift Shop” says it all: Macklemore embraces his frugal (or perhaps practical) side and creates visuals that show the world that it’s not just okay to ignore higher fashion, but better yet, it might even be cool.

But perhaps what I respect most about The Heist is that it is so incredibly genuine. It doesn’t seem incentivized, nor does it seem to host any tracks that were persuaded by money or radio airtime. How, after all, could a major label encourage a rapper to write about his three years of sobriety and then sudden relapse into the addiction? Instead, Macklemore takes his own approach to creating art and creates a song like “Ten Thousand Hours,” which reflects upon a Malcolm Gladwell theory that it takes ten thousand hours of practice to reach the highest levels of success. Macklemore rebuts and argues that he hasn’t quite put in 10,000 hours, nor did he ever do well in school, yet his story is one of success. And more importantly, he declares that “a life lived for art is never a life wasted.” We can also look at “Same Love,” which approaches same-sex marriage on a scale comparable to racial equality. Macklemore tells us ‘Kids are walking’ around the hallway plagued by pain in their heart/ A world so hateful some would rather die/ Than be who they are,’ and then challenges us to make a difference: ‘No law’s gonna change us/ We have to change us/ Whatever god you believe in/ We come from the same one/ Strip away the fear/ Underneath it’s all the same love/ About time that we raised up.’

If you listen to the message in “Make The Money,” Macklemore delivers the message to ‘make the money, don’t let the money make you.’ He’s remained a role model in that regard, as he has stayed true to his Seattle roots, ignoring the mainstream greed or corruption that many successful artists soon fall victim to. On another standout track, “BomBom,” Macklemore doesn’t even take the mic, but instead gives Ryan Lewis the time to shine and focus on a pure display of artistic orchestration. It’s a reminder that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are doing this for the sake of art. Lastly, maybe we should take a look at the closing track, “Cowboy Boots,” where Macklemore reminisces on his days at the bars. He doesn’t regret those days, but rather reflects honestly on them; he lets us know that he had a good time while it lasted, and even says ‘I’d be a goddamn liar to say at times I didn’t miss it.’ But he ends the album (pre-bonus tracks) on a high note, letting us know that he’s turned his back on his past and turned toward the future, marching toward continued success and growth through his creation of art.

And that right there is a success story. It’s passion. It’s dedication. It’s honesty. And lucky for us, it’s a goddamned work of art.

And this is life, this is real, even when it feels like it isn’t/ I’d be a goddamn liar to say at times I didn’t miss it/ So deuces, I turn my back as I walk into the distance/ Dip my feet in every once in a while, just to say I visit
Favorite Songs: Cowboy Boots, My Oh My, Same Love

MP3: “My Oh My” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Jordan’s Review:

Wanna know what I love about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis? They love to have fun, but when it’s time to get serious, they drop bombs on you like crazy. Wanna know what else I love? How incredibly talented Macklemore is on the mic and how Ryan Lewis is equally as talented on the boards, but you should already know that by now. One thing that makes Macklemore stand out from the rest is you can hear the emotion in his voice. If you don’t know what I mean listen to Thrift Shop, then Same Love, then make the last switch to My Oh My. Since I’m opening up about my love for these guys, might as well tell you what else I love: The Heist. If it weren’t for Frank Ocean, The Heist would be an easy front runner for best album to drop in 2012. It’s an incredible album. This is the type of album that’ll make you say, what’s Cruel Summer? You will cry, you will laugh, you will head nod like crazy, and you will appreciate the diversity and the hard work put in to making The Heist. The messages in each song are clear, concise and while there might not be a certain direction for the album as a whole, each song carries it’s own blue print. “This is fucking awesome.”

Lydia already used this, but this is easily my favorite line on the whole album:

If I can be an example of getting sober/ Then I can be an example of starting over.’

Favorite Songs: Wing$, My Oh My, Starting Over, Jimmy Iovine

Ann’s Review:

Most rappers talk like they can’t get enough of their own voices. Macklemore speaks, and when he raps, he actually drops verses with substance. Even the more light-hearted tracks on The Heist have depth beyond the scope of many rappers today. He raps with such conviction, such power, reminding me a lot of some of Eminem’s earlier stuff. It’s nice to listen to an artist who holds enough trust in his listeners to actually be honest–not about money, or girls, or parties, but about nostalgia, and morals, and memories–and then even when he does rap about the material stuff, he has enough insight and enough of a sense of humor to realize how fickle and ridiculous it all is. I’m a new fan of Macklemore and just started listening, mostly on recommendation from other Sunset blogposts. The Heist is a damn good listen on many levels.

Favorite Songs: Wing$, Can’t Hold Us

Arjun’s Review:

Yesterday was the first time in a very long time I was excited for a CD—like, an actual physical CD. That excitement seemed strange yet familiar, and it was all thanks to Macklemore. While Macklemore is admittedly old-fashioned in some respects, this album, the first with producer/best friend Ryan Lewis, is very, very fresh and new. You see, the proud Seattleite raps about unique concepts from a unique perspective. He has a specific voice that works around modern social issues, intimate details of his life, and perhaps most importantly, thrift shopping. In particular, Ben Haggerty details the struggles of the 21st century’s aimless 20-somethings—the lazy, confused, drug-dependent inhabitants of their parents’ basement that are becoming way too common in this day and age. Ben raps for them and says life’s tough, but it gets better… because he’s been there. Meanwhile on the boards, Ryan Lewis consistently crafts inventive and fun instrumentals (not to mention the show-stopping “Bom Bom” interlude). Through all of its heavy social messages and details of personal strife, The Heist is a fun album. And I think that above everything else is the most important facet of these 15 songs (18 if you got the swagged out deluxe version). The saddest, most depressing songs on this album are matched with thumping hype songs and jams that have been carefully constructed with pure joy. Some critics might say that this album is all over the place, and they’re right. But that’s who Macklemore is, and we love him for it.

Favorite Songs: Wing$, Thin Line, Starting Over, Jimmy Iovine

Andy’s Review:

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I am a firm believer in the need of a healthy dose of ignorant hip-hop in one’s life. You also know that today’s prominent “conscious” rappers (Lupe, namely) annoy the hell out of me. If I wanted to be preached to, I’d go to church (sorry, Mom). That said, I thoroughly enjoy what Macklemore is telling me on The Heist. Songs range from previously heard favorites like “Wing$” (about his Jordans) and “My Oh My” (a tribute to legendary Seattle Mariners commentator Dave Niehaus), to standout new tracks “Thrift Shop” (the bass-heavy party track saying “f*ck brand names and everyone who love ’em”) and “Same Love” (a song denouncing homophobia, especially in hip-hop), but none of it sounds preachy, which is where The Heist wins. He doesn’t do it with witty wordplay or braggadocious similes, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a rapper today that can paint a picture like he can. The result is a gator-skin covered album that is sure as hell worth your $16.

Favorite Songs: My Oh My, Same Love, A Wake

Tom’s Review:

Listen to just a few songs on “The Heist” and you’ll no doubt agree that talented producer Ryan Lewis should likely start getting phone calls out the wazoo from anyone and everyone asking for production tips. His range of textures jump across the board, from the subdued, Jon Brion-esque reflective and emotional undertones of “Thin Line” to the maddening, high stakes beats that make up “Make the Money,” perhaps this album’s reconstruction of Kanye West’s “So Appalled.” Each song hits on all cylinders. And while I normally don’t open reviews on rap artists talking about the producer, I have to make an exception for Lewis — he’s a rare perfectionist who truly makes every minute sound a little different than the last.

You also have to understand this: There may not be a better personality to stick in front of Lewis’ beats than Ben Haggerty’s, aka Macklemore. Honest, thoughtful production requires the same of its lyrical content and vocal delivery, and Macklemore gives us both. “Same Love” speaks openly, jarringly and sweetly about homosexuality, a rarity among hip-hop songs. And that’s where Macklemore is at his best: When he’s coming straight from the heart with nothing else in the way. It’s that approach that delivers the album’s best songs.

The lovely “Neon Cathedral” makes the list, as does “Starting Over,” but chief among the standouts is “A Wake,” the precise moment when Macklemore and Lewis are on point together, one in the same. Everything meshes, the lyrics are among the best on the album and the production additions — from Evan Roman’s drowzy vocals; to the hollow noise behind Macklemore’s reflections on today’s America; and to the longing, lingering piano that takes the song into the sunset — they are all absolutely perfect. One of the best songs of the year if you ask me — a hidden gem.

I’ve got a few quips, of course. The two could benefit from tightening a few songs up just a bit. I love the organic feel of it all, but a few songs drag on to the point that I almost come back to Earth, so to speak. I really don’t want to do that. What else is there? Hmmm. I wish the fantastic, addictive beat to “Thrift Shop” wasn’t nearly wasted by some not-so-funny lyrics that nearly come off as trying too hard. And I also think “BomBom” fits on the album as an instrumental but DAMN I wish I could have heard some lyrics in front of the gorgeous piano work.

But on the overall, it’s a grand statement that needs to be heard, and the best part is that it’s a real pleasure to hear. We naturally don’t like being told what to do, and Macklemore does plenty of preaching on the album, but it’s not in an absurd way. He’s fair throughout, and the backing production adds a flair that opens your mind to the ideals being thrown at you. Whether the language is spoken or synthesized through beats, backing music or both, each feeds off the other to create an album that demands to receive more attention than anyone could have ever guessed. I’m (more than) pleasantly surprised.

Favorite Songs: A Wake, Thin Line, Neon Cathedral

Dusty’s Review:

In a lot of ways, Macklemore’s fierce words represent the very antithesis of traditional hip-hop. Over the cohesive and cinematic production of Ryan Lewis, Mack spits bars that celebrate same sex marriage, devalues rap’s prototypical pedestals of money and fame, and even reveals his drug addictions as shameful. When was the last time you’ve heard any rapper talk about drinking and smoking like it wasn’t the cool thing to do?

It’s clever, really. Macklemore is using hip-hop as a tool to deconstruct hip-hop, and it all starts with his sincere tone. His voice is raw and untammed; you almost expect it to crack at any given couplet. With that, every song on The Heist is absolutely drenched with emotion, and Ryan Lewis’ slow and deliberate style compliments it perfectly (much of the album seemingly sounds like a film score.)

But Macklemore has a wicked sense of humor, too. When he’s not preaching against the flawed American system, he flashes his goofy side with tracks like “Thrift Shop” and “Castle.” Sure, these songs may dilute Mack’s message a tad, but they help to quell his overtly somber messages with a smirk.

The Heist isn’t without flaws. It’s a long, feature-heavy 75-plus minute album that at times gets distracted from its own themes. But, if you take this album for what it’s truly worth, it’s a triumph in many ways. It’s hip-hop that transcends hip-hop. As audience to the album, you feel like you’re a part of a movement; a watershed moment that marks a real change in rap culture. As Macklemore says, “change the game, don’t let the game change you.”

Favorite Songs: Wing$, Starting Over


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