You’ve probably heard their hit song “Thrift Shop,” but there’s more to this duo than a retro fur coat.
Seattle-based rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis have worked together since 2009, but The Heist is the pair’s first full-length effort. Mere hours after its official release, the album hit number one on iTunes. The unsigned duo was rightfully stunned; a work produced independently over the course of three years full of a cycle of drug abuse, sobriety and relapse was somehow an instant success. Regardless of the underdog story (he’s sober now), the album shines as it grapples with profound themes over expert production.
On the album’s first track “Ten Thousand Hours,” Macklemore drops some of his boldest beats. In typical rap fashion, he looks to establish himself amongst some of music’s greatest. Always the anomaly, Macklemore switches to some of his more unusual qualifications. He takes the opportunity to brag about impressive SAT scores and a love for street artists like Basquiat and Keith Haring.
From one type of bombast to another, the album shifts to “Can’t Hold Us,” an uplifting piano-pounding, stomp-along flash of studio genius from Ryan Lewis. Macklemore holds nothing back; his flow is precise, and the low bass kick coupled with horns that appear halfway through propel it further. Clearly, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis don’t delay gratification.
“Thrift Shop” is even catchier. Layering unconventional vocal samples over some of the funkiest saxophone this side of the ‘70s, Macklemore takes a subject so ordinary and mundane and turns it into a swaggering proclamation of frugality. Of the fifteen tracks on the album, this one is most likely to be heard from the sidewalks on Saturday nights (and send kids of every economic strata bargain hunting on Sundays).
“Same Love,” which after three party-friendly tracks is likely to hit listeners like a ton of bricks. As much as diehard fans will defend Macklemore’s originality, it’s not difficult to find similarities and influences in the music world. But they’d be hard pressed to find a rapper who has hit the mainstream so forcefully with a message of marriage equality. Eloquent, straightforward and disarming, Macklemore gives a remarkable social commentary, confronting stereotypes and the negative portrayal of homosexuality in rap with a calm but knockout delivery. In stark contrast, he does this over some of the most basic instrumentation on the album (a single piano and barely-there drumbeat)while Seattle singer Mary Lambert provides the hook.
Between the faux-alligator leather, gold-lettered album cover and the thought-provoking introspection of their songs, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis present a confusing duo — maybe intentionally. In a scene of auto-tuning and tired subject matter, perhaps the rap world needs a shock to the system. In the triumphant and humble “Starting Over,” Macklemore reflects on sobriety and relapse, hoping to provide, as he raps, “an example of starting over.” Although they are just getting started, maybe Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are the example raps needs.