Macklemore is a prime example of what it is to be a musician nowadays. Patient and fan-focused, but not in the sense you’re focusing your efforts to appease but appreciate. Fan appreciation pizza party? How could you not like an artist that does that? Blueprint has honed this humbleness as well when he was meeting and thanking new and old fans at The Frequency in Madison in March 2011 (photos), after his The Adventures in Counter Culture dropped. What’s stunning though is that Blueprint opened for a rapper from much farther away in Washington, who had no album out but had cultivated a feverish following that led the Frequency to hit capacity quick…and he publicly embraces his love of The Labyrinth by his David Bowie persona. You can see a plethora of independent artists come and go, but rarely do you get a duo that has generated such enthusiasm and devotion so early on-all without releasing mixtape after mixtape after mixtape after mixtape. And here’s the proof:
The “concrete vagabond” has crafted a debut that does not get old from beginning to end, the culmination of Ben Haggerty’s decade plus experience on the job. From rising high up the ranks to performing the Mariners’ Opening Day with his tribute to longtime baseball broadcaster Dave Niehaus with “My Oh My,” you’d expect some sort of inconsistency from Professor Macklemore in 2000, through his later mixtapes The Language of My World and The Unplanned Mixtape, but The Heist is pure continuation. Unless you pick up the deluxe edition with “Victory Lap” and “My Oh My,” his debut only brings “Wing$” back contrary to many debuts that rehash previously released tracks. How’s it hold up?
Even with the independent label, “Can’t Hold Us” featuring Ray Dalton feels like Lasers‘ best moments thanks to Ray Dalton’s chorus interjections as Macklemore steps in on the verses, but with Outkast‘s energy. Allen Stone-backed “Neon Cathedral” strings and electronic drops confirm the theory that experience pays off, transcending that worn signed vs independent argument. It’s rare proof you can craft a song, record it, and have it indistinguishable in a record label budget taste test. Embracing creative freedom, we’re blessed with “Thrift Shop” with probably the greatest deepest voice with Wanz since Lee Fields & The Expressions‘ My World. Not to mention the anthem for Salvation Armies from sunrise to sunset.
“I use vulnerability as a tool to express my truth.” (Macklemore, Respect Mag)
Honesty is what cuts with Macklemore and throughout The Heist. It’s what connects. What other rapper confesses his envious hatred over the success of fellow rappers? Slice of life snapshots such as “Wing$” or everyday philosophical spinnings as on “A Wake.” “They say 30’s the new 20 and 20’s the new 30 should I guess. It makes sense. Because 15 year olds seem 20, and 25 year olds seem 10.” / “Apps this good who’s got time to make friends.” / “Every month there’s a new Rodney on YouTube. It’s just something our generation is used to.” But it doesn’t feel heavy, nor belittle you over fear of not relating but holds a more universal core. And it’s that which brings Macklemore out above the crowded new line of rappers these days. “I’m just a flawed man. Man, I fucked up. Like so many others, I just never thought I would,” is far more ordinary than club jams and rolling in Maybachs.
That last quote comes from an unassuming gem off The Heist, bringing out Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. “If I can be an example of getting sober, then I can be an example of starting over.” Plucks of violin over bare beats bend into longtime collaborator Budo‘s lone spotlight trumpet at the end. While it’s still a little unorthodox to bring out indie music stars on rap songs, he incorporates it well. “Cowboy Boots” even brings out the banjo in the closest rap Irish ballad you could get.
Several others stand out. Eagles had “Ol’ 55”, Slug had his “Free or Dead,” well Macklemore’s got “White Walls.” The ode to his 2008 Cadillac DTS Biarritz dips down to Hollis’ slow-rolling lovely voice as ScHoolboy Q comes in on roll down the windows and stroll on by ode to the auto. “Thin Line” featuring Seattle’s Buffalo Madonna is as upbeat as a pop song despite the anxiety-laced lyrics, “Let’s fake another toast to the good life. Predict the future, clean slate, blue sky. Fantasy: I see me husband, you wife lying, staring into those two eyes.” While “Same Love” with Mary Lambert has already proven to be one of the most important hip-hop songs of the year in flatly approaching marriage equality and same sex situations.
The Heist is not your average rap album, nor was there any indication it would be. Yes, some could call it conscious rap but the lightness and lyrical wit quashes those claims. Independent won’t sound as good as mainstream? That one’s gone too. Shed those labels, lighten that musical baggage and head into that venue the next time Macklemore rolls into town in his Caddy. It’s just good, fun and earnest. As he mentions on “Make the Money,” “If I did it for the money, I would have been a fucking lawyer.” Thankfully, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis aren’t cooped up in a cabinet but criss-crossing the globe.