Macklemore's last commercial release relied almost entirely on the success of the singles. Preteens all over the country went ballistic over songs like Thift Shop and Can't Hold Us. And the entire culture was rocked when Macklemore delivered the 2012 theme song to tolerance with Same Love. For his reliance on radio songs some people resented him, but casual listeners chose to enjoy his music. I was somewhere in the middle. I thought that the first two songs I mentioned were decent at best, and clearly made for the radio, and the latter had a positive message, but set a precedent in corniness that even Hopsin would be proud of. I wasn't ever offended by Macklemore's quality of music, but I was also never impressed. Had it not been for the award show debacle I probably would've never given him a second thought. Love him or hate him,, though, Macklemore was the most successful rapper of the year, and dominated radio play. I'm not saying that makes his music good, but it has to be worth something.
When I heard Macklemore was making a new album, I have to admit part of me was excited. I love when the entire internet can come together to collectively hate one human so much that the negative energy is palpable. But to my surprise, almost nothing happened. He released his first single, Downtown to very little reception, and even preformed it at the VMAs, and no one really seemed to care. It wasn't until months later that the second single White Privledge 2 was released, and while I will touch on the songs content later, it still generated very little buzz in the hip-hop and general music community. Macklemore was wildly famous due to the polarizing nature of his act, but this complete apathy had to be frightening. How can you make headlines or sell records when no one fucking cares about you? There was very little in the realm of promotion put into this album, and almost none of what I had heard from the singles left me even remotely interested, but we are still talking about Macklemore here. Completely relevant or not, this is still on if the biggest artists of the 2010s, and I can't just not talk about this album. So despite my better judgement, I got the album, I listened to it a few times, and for better or for worse, I will now proceed to type my thoughts on this blog post.
(I don't really want to include this as part of the review, but as an aside I have to mention the promotional release of a song that did not make the cut entitled Spoons. It is quite possibly the very worst musical happening in the history of organized sound. I don't have any further elaboration, I just thought you should know of its existence)
1. Light Tunnels (ft. Mike Slap)
Well this song was certainly interesting, and did a good job of immediately addressing the elephant in the room... Well somewhat. The record talks about his feelings towards the Grammys, but he doesn't tackle in the way many people may have wanted him too, and I'm glad. Making a song about the Kendrick situation some three years later would have seemed like a cheap way to generate heat. Instead he gives a somewhat interesting view on the Grammys. He's critical of the behavior of the celebrities, and really the whole business aspect of the Grammys. I found a good chunk of the lyrical content to be interesting, but it was by no means a terrific song. This wasn't a bad way to open the album, as it ended feeling like and intro, but the opening instrumentation made the song feel like it was bigger than it was. Ryan Lewis is undoubtedly a talented producer, but the orchastraic opening seemed a bit over the top.
Holy fucking shit, Macklemore actually made this a song. After a three or so hear break from making music, the lead single for his comeback album is a song about mopeds. I will say that the beat is extremely nice and gives the song a very fun vibe, and the vocals on the chorus are also very interesting, but why oh why did he write this fucking song. I find it hilarious, but not for the way Macklemore meant for it to be hilarious. The moped centric bars that end up trailing into a topicless song are at times just goofy, and others straight up corny. What makes me laugh is that this was the song Macklemore thought would get people talking again. I understand that Thrift Shop, a similarly goofy song, was what got his brand on the radio, but this son lacks a vital component of what made Thrift Shop work: a decent fucking topic. Thrift shopping is something the Macklemore audience can easily latch on to, but no one actually drives a moped. Combine that with the lack of lyrical cohesion on this track, and you get a hilarious mess, but not a very good one.
3. Brad Pitt's Cousin (ft. XP)
Something Macklemore does incessantly that annoys the absolute shut out of me is overplay how lame he is. He rarely gets past the, "look at me I'm a famous rapper but I'm also a quirky white dude," act and it wears thin quickly. That's most of this song in a nutshell. I don't mind some of the braggadocio lines like when he talks about every white kid in the country getting his hair cut, and how he has accumulated international fame. These are both real talking points. What bothers me is the talk about his cat and going places with his parents. We get it man, you're lame. It stops being endearing when we have to hear about it all the time. The hook on the song, that inspires the title is ok. Macklemore has drawn comparisons to an ugly Brad Pitt, so thematically it makes enough sense, but I surely didn't need to hear a song about it.
4. Buckshot (ft. KRS-One, & DJ Premier)
For some reason, while the features on this song are both awesome, the song didn't seem like it had any business being good. In fact, it was one of the songs I circled on the track list as being a bust before even getting around to listening to it. Weirdly enough, I could not have been any more wrong. The old-school flavor of the beat accompanied the topic very well, and just flat out sounded awesome. Maybe it will only appeal to nostalgic Primo fans, but I really like the beat. On top of that both Macklemore and KRS sounded very good, and flowed seamlessly on the beat while talking about graffiti. While I have a hard time believing Macklemore was ever a tag artist, this song serves as an early highlight.
5. Growing Up (ft. Ed Sheeran)
At this point I will have to draw a line between subjectivity and objectivity. I know this is a subjective review, but there comes a point when I can't deny the objective appeal of this song. Do I like this song? Not even a microscopic portion in the smallest part of my brain finds this song enjoyable. I would rather listen to Downtown on repeat while Ryan Lewis called me a loser, but people will like this song. It has the same appeal as Eminem's Hailee's Song, but not nearly as raw, and I didn't much like that song in the first place. I think people will love this song for two reasons though, the first and most obvious being Ed Sheeran. For some reason that ginger bastard has gotten a label that exceeds pop garbage, and that is a fact I will never quite understand.The other reason is that people love when an artist is vulnerable. The cheapest way to get fans to like you is to "be yourself" even if it requires little to no talent at all. After this review I will try my damnest to never hear this song again, but don't be surprised if you hear it on the radio.
6. Kevin (ft. Leon Bridges)
If you have been following Macklemore for as long as I unfortunately have, you have heard all the stories of his past drug use and a friend of his who died via overdose. This story is taken to the next level when the friend is given the name Kevin. Please don't crucify me for calling a song about a dead kid fucking awful. Is it emotional, somewhat. The emotion feels kind of cheap even though it is derived from real pain. It also feels like we are beating a dead horse with this story, and really milking it dry. Do I agree with some of Macklemore's claims about the war on drugs? Of course I do, but that doesn't mean it makes for engaging music. Maybe awful was an overstatement, but this song is not by any means as good or powerful as it should have been.
7. St Ides
After tearing down back to back tracks that were cheap attempts at pathos, the third one here kind of even got me. The main reason being the instrumental I think. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are able to capture a real emotion on this track, being that of nostalgia. This is the only one off the last three songs that made me feel what I was supposed to feel. Nostalgia is a powerful emotion, and this song turned it into a sound, so for whatever that is worth, congrats.
8. Need To Know (ft. Chance The Rapper)
Every bit of this song screams Chance The Rapper. It sounds a lot more like a Chance song featuring Macklemore than the other way around. I actually like this song quite a bit. Maybe it just seems good when being compared to all the shit that has led to this point, but I guess that doesn't really matter. Chance continues to gain favor in my eyes, and is actually becoming an artist that excites me, which is far off from how I felt during the Acid Rap era. My biggest complaint is how much Macklemore sounds like a guest on his own song, but I can't really blame Chance for having exponentially stronger presence. All in all this is actually a very good song and one of them saving graces of the album.
9. Dance Off (ft. Idris Elba, & Anderson .Paak)
What the fuck am I listening to? This at times is just goofy enough to work, and at others it just seems like a bad Lonely Island song. Yeah, some lines are amusing, and even I laughed the first time the hook hit, but how did this make the cut for a major album? Some people tell me I take music to seriously, and maybe I do, but I at least want an artist to sound like they care a little bit. The silver lining is Anderson .Paak who continues to wow with his terrific and unique vocal styling. If you haven't heard his album Malibu I strongly suggest giving that the time it deserves, but this song is only good for a giggle. Macklemore seems to be struggling with his own identity at this point. He's making an album that contains a very strange balance of melodrama and comedy that just isn't working.
10. Let's Eat
One thing I have yet to touch on is Macklemore's ability to tackle a topic. When he wants to, he can make an entire song based around one idea unlike anyone else. He does that here, but the song just sucks. I refuse to put it any more eloquently. At one point he says, "my girl is shaped like a bottle of coke, I'm shaped like a bottle of nope," and if he expects me to hear that and take it seriously, then no I don't respect this song enough to say anything more than, this sucks.
11. Bolo Tie (ft. YG)
If you're anything like me, seeing the name YG appear on this album was not only shocking, but relieving. Shocking because the two artists could not be more different, and relieving because no song with YG is going to be complete trash. Not only was this song not trash, but it was pretty damn good. Both rappers approach the song in a similar way, and end up coming out pretty even in terms of quality. Both are introspective, and YG is especially interesting when detailing how he feels the media purposefully paints him in a negative manner, and neglects all of the good deeds he does for the community. Both artists give an interesting take on their lives, and we get one of the most intriguing cuts on the album. Thank God for YG.
12. The Train
This song is more broad than the other emotional tracks earlier in the album, but it does manage to capture more emotion than Growing Up or Kevin. Dealing with detachment and departure, Macklemore actually comes off as a mess of a person who can't gather his thoughts, and truly regrets some decisions he has made. I don't love this song, given this type of track simply isn't my cup of tea, but I couldn't blame someone for liking it.
13. White Privilege II
Reviewing this as a song seems asinine. It hardly feels like a song, but a series of soliloquies separated by skits all dealing with the central topic seen in the title of the track. A lot of these ideas are powerful, and I don't really disagree with anything Macklemore is saying, but I disagree with the way he said it. Macklemore is one of the most famous rappers in the world, and could have used his platform to make a hit song, in a similar way he did same love, about this topi. Instead he made an experimental half spoken word track that has no chance of getting that level of exposure. Not only that, but this song also contains the line,"maybe I should actually read an article," which is corny enough to make our friend Hopsin cringe. The lyrical content of this song is good, and I'm glad Macklemore is as self aware as he is, but this should have been so much more.
This could have just as easily been a 2.5, but in this case, there were enough things I didn't like about this album to justify rounding the score down.What Macklemore did with his last album was mix fun, radio songs with his emotional ballads to create a nice balance of songs. This does the same thing, but lacks the tastefulness found on The Heist. The songs that were supposed to be fun weren't nearly as catchy or playable as Thrift Shop, and the emotional songs lacked in a certain power that drove the songs on the last album. Ryan Lewis is the silver lining on this album as his production, while sometimes can be overdone, is mostly extremely appropriate, well done, and fun. What surprised me the most here is the lack of impact this album had on me personally, and has had on the public. Macklemore was a game changing rapper who seemed to be poised for a rap game takeover, and has somewhat squandered his opportunity. This album won't plunge him into obscurity, but it certainly won't propel him, or even match the success of of his last album. This album lacked in entertainment and power, and made for a mediocre overall listening experience.