Return of the Mack. Album Review: "The Heist"

“You wanted an encore but there’s no encore today cause the moment is now, can’t get it back from the grave. Welcome to The Heist”. So starts what is sure to be one of the greatest hip-hop albums of the year. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have finally delivered their long-awaited first full-length EP "The Heist". If you’re having doubts as to the awesomeness of this album, let me nip those in the bud right now. It debuted at number one on iTunes last night at midnight. And it’s still there— dwarfing new releases from All Time Low, Mumford and Sons, Ellie Goulding and MGK.

"The Heist" is a unique album because it has no title track. So why "The Heist"? It’s a takeover. Kiss your Katy Perry nonsense good-bye; independent music is here to stay. "The Heist" is on top because Macklemore takes “unique” further than any of the artists who are making albums right now. In this age of auto-tuned crap, we have lost widespread appreciation for lyrical beauty. It’s as if artists have forgotten what the words actually mean and instead cloak their shoddy verses in computer generated noise. It doesn’t even deserve to be called music, so we’re going to call it just that,  noise.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis defy this troubling new standard. I’ve never heard an artist who understands the value of a good beat and a rhythmic hook better than Macklemore. Teaming with Ryan Lewis in 2010 was the greatest move of his career because what’s a rapper without a beat? Nothing, he would be nothing. No one would listen to acoustic rap.  Thankfully, "The Heist" isn’t an acoustic album.

Insane hooks provided by the crazy amount of collaborators characterize most of the tracks on "The Heist". Twelve collaborators, to be exact. Some standouts include Wanz, ScHoolboy Q, Hollis, Mary Lambert, and Ray Dalton.  Hollis’ hook in “White Walls” is especially catchy. In “Thrift Shop” Wanz basically dominates the track, with Macklemore taking a backseat to his fellow rapper. The album's unsung hero is Ryan Lewis. His beats are often overlooked, but in reality it’s hard to imagine “Thrift Shop” or “White Walls” without them. In his earlier collaborations with Macklemore, Lewis borrowed beats from other artists, namely the Red Hot Chili Peppers, but he has since moved on to creating original material. And it is sweet.

Other tracks are reminiscent of Macklemore’s earlier hits. On the track “Castle” Macklemore returns to his dance-infused beats, observing, “the girl’s booty was bigger than the stomach of Rick Ross.” Other tracks go deeper, with shout outs to the rapper’s struggles with an addiction to prescription cough syrup.  “Starting Over” featuring Ben Bridwell explores Macklemore’s relapse into this addiction after three and a half years of sobriety: “If I can be an example of getting sober I can be an example of starting over.”

This is not the first time that listeners have been privy to these inner demons. In “The Otherside”, a track released on his VS. EP in 2010, Macklemore takes listeners on a journey through an addict’s fight with Codeine infused cough syrup. He is particularly harsh on other rappers who minimize the side affects of syrup: “Despite how Lil Wayne lives, it’s not conducive to being creative”.

If you are new to Macklemore this album could easily come off as disjointed. There is no unifying topic tying the whole together.  Macklemore riffs on consumerism in “Thrift Shop”, “Make the Money”, and “Wing$”. He publicly supports gay marriage in “Same Love”.

He makes fun of half of America in “Cowboy Boots”.  He ridicules the gangster lifestyle in “Gold”, where he’s “sipping on Orangina”. What’s the matter Mack, run out of Patrón? I suppose if you had to assign a theme to this album it would be a list of Macklemore’s gripes with society. That doesn’t mean that it isn’t hella’ dope.

Macklemore has heart. He does not rap about bitchz and hoez or gettin’ money. He takes real life experiences and turns them into beautiful, relatable music. He’s not popping bottles of champagne sitting by the phone. That’s not real life. No one does that. Instead Macklemore raps about going shopping at Goodwill or his first new car.

One of the best tracks on "The Heist" is “White Walls”, a song written about Macklemore’s 2008 Cadillac. He’s not under any illusions, and he’s very frank with his audience: “Let’s fake another toast to the good life.” Macklemore isn’t going to sugar coat fame, or simply offer a view into the booze-filled world where rap usually takes us.

He’s also not going to judge anyone for wanting to live that life, it’s just not for him. As he spits on “Irish Celebration”, from his VS. EP, “I couldn’t drink like a gentleman/ that doesn’t mean I can’t make a drinking song for the rest of them”.

This attitude of acceptance is continually repeated throughout "The Heist". It’s the main reason why should you buy it. (Notice I said buy. Do not steal this. He deserves to be paid. And spring the extra two bucks for the deluxe edition, it’s worth it.) This album is a huge step for independent “DIY” music, as Macklemore’s particular sound has often been called.

If you’re familiar with Macklemore then you will know that this album was three years in the making. He turned down contracts with record companies, instead producing "The Heist" from his own recording studio. The guy has guts. He reflects on his experience in the recording business declaring “I’d rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting f*cked.” Good for you, Macklemore. Welcome to The Heist everyone.

Gavel rating: 9/10.

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