With the announcement of This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, many will question the stylistic approach that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have taken with this new album. Two years have passed since the pair won four Grammy Awards, including Best Rap Performance for their hit, Thrift Shop. Macklemore is mostly known for his pop songs but he does have some lyrical diamonds in the rough. Seldom speaking on serious issues, but when he does, like in his hit song Same Love, the public loves it. The duo has a history of alternating between gleeful and genuine. Straying from the musical norm as well as the social norm, Macklemore’s taste for eccentric apparel has helped to create his unconventional image.
Upon scanning the features on Macklemore’s most recent album, one can only expect a tremendous amount of firepower. Macklemore was able to acquire the skills of Mike Slap, Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz, Xperience, Krs-One, Dj Premier, Ed Sheeran, Leon Bridges, Chance The Rapper, Idris Elba, Anderson Paak, YG, Carla Morrison, & Jamila Woods.
The first song, ‘Light Tunnels’, catapults the listener into an intense instrumental, which fades into Macklemore’s experience at the Grammy’s. He spits about the pretentious atmosphere and the gaudy aura, noting that the ceremony revolves around insecurities and viewer ratings. We all remember when he ran away with four awards that night, beating out Kendrick Lamar and then posting their text messages later that night on Instagram. It was a strange text apologizing Kendrick and saying that he thought he was robbed. No one really knows why he would send a text like that nor does anyone know why he would post it on Instagram.
Next he jumps into one of his old habits and signature songs. The song ‘Downtown’ is about his crew and himself cruising through the city on mopeds that were just recently bought in an impulsive decision. The music video gives off a very 1980’s vibe. The video depicts a lot of leather, fur and afros. There is a motorcycle chariot, a stuffed moose welded on the front of a motorcycle, and many other strange props. Finishing off the video is a scene similar to that of the Ferris Buellar’s Day Off parade , filled with more leather, fur, afros, and mopeds. Next up on the album is another strange one named ‘Brad Pitt’s Cousin’. It talks about his cats’ Instagram, his “cousin” Brad Pitt, how every white dude in America went to the barber shop and said “give me the Macklemore haircut”, his text messages between God and himself, “deez nuts”, and how he used to smoke that purple weed. This bar that was dropped about purp is the first of many on this album. He says “I used to smoke that purple weed, sip a bunch of purple drank, that shit did just not work for me ,now I drink that herbal tea”. This is overall a goofy song but there are glimpse of greatness that make me hopeful for the rest of the album.
In his 3rd song he talks of his younger years. After he was done with his shifts at Subway, he would catch the bus equipped with speakers, spray paint and a location to meet up with the squad. Touching on how he would be dipping police in alleys and spray painting walls gave this album a new feel. He was in on the graffiti scene and wasn’t going to let the fact that it was illegal hold him back. This song has a kind of grimy feel to it.
Macklemore recently had a daughter and this next song is for her. ‘Growing Up’ feat. Ed Sheeran, is a feel good song with Macklemore trying to explain life to his infant daughter the best he can in 5 minutes and 5 seconds. He made the song so that his daughter can listen to it when she’s 20 and remember why her dad does what he does.
Up next is one of the most powerful and real songs on the album. ‘Kevin’ is a song that is personal to Macklemore. It tells the story of how he lost one of his good friends to Oxycontin, at the young age of 21. With prescription drugs being more readily available than ever before, Macklemore attacks the big pharmaceutical companies for providing doctors the opportunity to over prescribe people left and right. He calls for more rehab centers instead of jail time. He has a powerful verse where he says “Look at Kevin, now he’s wrapped in plastic, first dealer was his mom’s medicine cabinet”. He next rifles off every kind of prescription drug you can think of and the reasons they are given out. You can hear the exasperation and passion in his voice throughout the whole song. Leon Bridges comes in with his fantastic old soul vocals to add the cherry on top “Doctor, please, give me a dose of the american dream. Put down the pen and look in my eyes. We’re in the waiting room and something ain’t right. All this is on you, we’re over prescribed.” This song is one that will hit home for many listeners considering 52 million americans over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs non-medically in their lifetime.
‘St. Ides’, the well known 40 oz. alcohol brand endorsed by Ice Cube in the 90’s, is the title of the next track. Macklemore reflects on his childhood when he would steal his father’s cabernet. The young artist had no idea what path it would potentially lead him down. It all comes full circle in this song for him with reflection on his problems with alcohol and drugs. He describes his struggle with just trying to see another Saturday, all the while telling himself that everything would be all alright.
The following song titled ‘Need To Know’ is a special one. I was excited for the next track as soon as I saw Chance The Rapper slide across my screen. Anything with Chance on it in the last 18 months has been fire, this track was bound to follow suit. To be honest, Chance completely robs the song from Macklemore and kills it. He confesses the path that he wants his daughter to go down, how he is pressured to change his lyrics from talking about God to talking about what’s cool, and how he wishes that he could go to open mics and go back to the night before he was famous. Just an all around great track. Macklemore and Chance could defiantly pull off more work in the future.
The song ‘Dance Off’ is literally about a dance off. When I saw that Idris Elba was featured, I was intrigued. A fast beat song with lots of electronics makes for a mediocre filler song for this album.
Following up is the song ‘Let’s Eat’. Macklemore is the only artist who can write a song about literally eating food. The whole song is about how he constantly says that he is going to go on that diet and start working out. Of course, every day he puts off the diet until the next day. I am not sure what to think about this upbeat happy song. This song may just simply be about food or it could be another song about how hard it is to stop using prescription drugs and alcohol for many people.
The song ‘Bolo Tie’ feat. YG was one that I was excited for. It looked like it was going to be one of the only fast beat, turn up songs on this album, but I was wrong. This is a slower song about how everyone shot him down which eventually began to lower his self esteem. He then realized that he should not care about what people think of him. Once he started to do that he began to thrive. When he sings “keeping my name in your mouth, just don’t bite your tongue when you chew it”, he’s telling his haters that he doesn’t care what people have to say about him as long as he’s making music that has meaning to his fans and himself. YG comes in on his verse and takes the time to get some stuff off of his chest also. YG says “ when I got shot that was headline news, ya used me for views I ain’t stupid, cause what about all the good, the non profit for the kids in the hood” Both YG and Macklemore come into this track letting people know they don’t care what you have to say and that they live their lives the way they want to.
‘The Train’ is a touching song that takes you into Macklemore’s earlier life when he was trying to start up his career. Starting a career means being on the road and being away from friends and family. Consequently, this could ruin the relationships you have with the people you love. It is a hard decision to know whether or not to go for it or simply give up. Thank God he decided to follow through.
The final song on the album ‘White Privilege II’ is an 8 minute follow up song to his 2005 track titled ‘White Privilege’. The disputed song is about the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement. He goes to a police protest to be a part of the movement but doesn’t feel that it is his place to give his two cents on the subject. He feels incredibly awkward for “stealing” black culture. “We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by. We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?” says Macklemore about the serious topic in America today. The song is filled with conversations from both white and black people about the subject. This song will really make people think twice about white privilege.
Overall, this album is something that will shake up the status quo for the rap game. Macklemore has always wanted to be a rapper that preaches on social issues but was forced to make garbage songs like ‘Thrift Shop’ and ‘Downtown’ so that he could break out. At the time he didn’t have the platform like a Kanye or a Justin Bieber to be able to talk about the things that he wanted to. As others have said, this album is disappointing yet occasionally lit. For every good and meaningful song there are 3 trash songs. The album jumps from very serious subjects to joke songs which diminishes the meaning behind the important topics. If you are going to make a serious social issue album, there should be consistency throughout the project. Likewise, the same consistency should exist in a funny upbeat album. Macklemore continues to shed his skin and is slowly coming out of his shell. He is still a little self conscious and feels that he needs his upbeat pop songs so that he has a platform for his serious messages. On his next project, he should go all in and make a meaningful album. By doing this, he will be taken much more seriously and given the respect he deserves.