Macklemore arguably carried the most mystery out of all the rappers highlighted in XXL magazine’s 2012 Freshman campaign, but with a quietly building back-catalog of mixtapes and singles to his credit, the 29 year old Seattle native had become a hit with independent blogs and radio stations for his now established mature, soulful productions and thoughtful verses. Fast forward some months later and the enigmatic man born Ben Haggerty produces his biggest challenge to date with his debut album, The Heist, crafted with longtime friend and producer Ryan Lewis.
A soul stirring opener, introductory track “Ten Thousand Hours” is the ideal setup for the mild-mannered Macklemore. Soft in speech but commanding in his tone, Mack unwraps a short verse expressing the relief of finally arriving at a moment of happiness both in life and music. The tempo picks up on “Can’t Hold Us Down,” a powerful combination of piano keys and footstomps to usher Macklemore’s get-up-and-go campaign, with Ray Dalton adding extra voltage with a charged chorus.
The biggest juggernaut tackled on The Heist by far is the same sex relationship issue addressed on “Same Love.” Macklemore takes neither a Republican or Democratic stance on the issue, but instead responds to it with a sensitivity to strike a nerve with all. From being boxed in by stereotypes to casting an eye over religions stance, “Same Love” is a bold outing, which excels thanks to Ryan Lewis’ meditative production and singer Mary Lambert‘s ambient vocals.
From this point onwards, The Heist begins to dig deeper into the hollow and shallow grounds of society. Macklemore’s confessional readings become more powerful with each song, as revelations of a past life of drugs and alcoholism begin to surface. “Neon Cathedral” paints a morbid visual image of the 24 hour store being the place of “worship” for those with the disease, whereas “Starting Over” narrates the harsh reality of breaking his lengthy period of sobriety and dealing with the disappointment shared by loved ones.
Macklemore doesn’t “over-rap” verses nor gets lost churning out metaphors. Each bar is clear and concise, making all tracks poignant and memorable. Wrestling with his conscious on “A Wake,” Macklemore contemplates whether his position in society as a white male affects his right to discuss his passions for racial politics. Dealing with the age-old issue of material items making up ones identity, “Wing$” looks at how an innocent desire to own the latest trainers can lead to a whirlwind of troubles.
But for all of the heavy material, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis do manage to crack a few smiles in between; teaming up with Hollis and TDE’s Schoolboy Q on “White Walls” to boast of their newest cadillac rides, whilst the satirical “Thrift Shop” takes the “ballin’ on a budget” phrase to new heights in a comedic tale.
What surely stands as one of the sleeper hits of 2012, The Heist is a remarkable project to fully catapult both protagonists into the front pages of music’s success stories of recent times. An album constructed more like a folk or spoken word LP, Macklemore’s confessional tales are sensitive, chilling and wonderfully crafted as the Seattle rhymer gets to the core of suburban America’s many anxieties, bringing them to the surface and exploring them with great detail.
Built with Ryan Lewis’ the multi layered orchestration, The Heist excels in many ways that a debut album should. Too intelligent and independent to be considered the next big trend in commercial Hip Hop, Mackemore and Ryan Lewis’ joint outing will find favour in those willing to champion the underdog.