Verdict: 4.5 / 5
Rap is one of the most misunderstood genres in modern music, and I would be the first to agree that the majority of Gangsta Rap starts to quickly fade into an indecipherable blur of guns, sex and excess. However, it seems like Macklemore has had the similar thoughts as I have, and his debut full length album with music-man Ryan Lewis is something very different to what the rap world has seen so far.
Macklemore is of course well known for his best-selling single so far, Thrift Shop, a catchy, memorable track with a truly hilarious music video. In that one song though, Macklemore has already outlined his view of rap as an artform. It doesn’t have to automatically be about how much money you can show off; your “swag” or your self-image. Thrift Shop is a funny song precisely because it stars the sort of image-before-all else rapper, and shows how ridiculous that concept really is.
The album starts off strong, with anthemic beats and made-for-single releases. These are the songs that are most likely to be played on television, with fun, energetic flows and beats that will become stuck in your mind for months. Ryan Lewis will perhaps never receive as much stardom as Macklemore, but his equal placement on the title card is well deserved. From there, we start to see the more serious themes behind Macklemore’s vision. A few tracks detail his suffering with the poor circumstances of his youth, his struggle with addiction, and his difficulties in relationships. A beautifully melodic piece about his gay uncle and his partner is a pledge not only to the notoriously homophobic rap community, but also to society as a whole.
The middle tracks are probably the weakest on the album: not bad, but not as memorable as the others. Placing them here was probably a skilled move, as the final 5 tracks on the album (which weighs in with a hefty 15 tracks) are again a rise to some memorable ending songs. The track “Wings;” an “in your face,” passionate message about how consumerism can destroy lives is an especially powerful message. The final tracks raise up to a more positive message, as Macklemore candidly discusses his relapse into alcoholism and his subsequent attempts to overcome it again; followed by the tracks “Gold” and “Cowboy Boots” to finish off the album, which are again, fun loving and wonderful tracks to hear over and over again.
If I can find any fault with this album, I suppose it would be that several tracks are superfluous compared to the quality of the others; but they are by no means bad. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have delivered one of my favourite albums of this year, no question. Macklemore has important things to say, and he says them over and over again, but he does so with a self-reflecting system that shows his honesty; he’s not preaching to us from above, he’s just another guy on the ground trying to make it through life, and he wants to open a discussion with us about what he sees as the issues. And he also shows he’s perfectly capable of having plenty of good fun too. I think Macklemore would be a great guy just to have at a party. And he is something different in rap, something rap very much needs, so I hope he continues to do as well as this.