Seattle native Macklemore (Ben Haggerty) released his first album, “The Language of My World,” way back in 2005. Despite garnering positive reviews, Macklemore fell into a creative slump afterward due to substance-abuse problems and didn’t release anything new until 2009.
In 2010, he began collaborating with producer Ryan Lewis, releasing “The VS. EP” which included the popular song “Otherside,” which chronicled his struggle with drugs. Since that EP, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have haphazardly released highly praised singles and gone on two sold-out national tours while still remaining unsigned.
That brings us to their new LP, “The Heist.”
The bar for this album was set extraordinarily high — especially considering they’ve released only 14 songs together — as people wondered if their first full-length LP could live up to the hype.
The duo has not only met the expectations, but also exceeded them quite a bit.
The album is solid all the way through, leading to 64 minutes of unadulterated enjoyment. I didn’t want to skip a single track.
The only bone I have to pick with the album is that of the 15 songs, only nine of them are fresh tracks — the other six were previously released as singles over the past two years. But that is not much of a complaint, as each of the older songs is phenomenal in its own right, from the pro-equality “Same Love feat. Mary Lambert” to the explosive “Can’t Hold Us feat. Ray Dalton.”
And as good as the songs they’ve previously released are, all of the new material is at least as good as — if not better than — anything from their past.
There are multiple songs on it that could easily become someone’s personal favorite. Many will likely flock to the extremely catchy “Thin Line feat. Buffalo Madonna,” driven by an organ and bouncy beat. For those looking for something a bit heavier, there’s the blistering “Jimmy Iovine feat. Ab-Soul” that documents Haggerty’s struggle to make a living with his craft while not selling out. Not digging something that serious? Try “Gold feat. Eighty4 Fly.” Starting out with a Ratatat-esque intro, I can already hear this slick, light-hearted piece of music playing at every party I attend for the next six months.
However, the strongest cut is “Starting Over feat. Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses.” A continuation of sorts to “Otherside,” this song is personal and earnest. During its four minutes, Haggerty relays the story of a drug relapse he had, keeping you gripped the entire time: “Will they think that everything I’ve written has all been fake? / Or will I just take my slip to the grave … I barely got 48 hours, treated like I’m some wise monk.”
It’s a breathtakingly human song that showcases his rare storytelling talent. Haggerty allows the listener to feel him struggle with his own demons while trying to set an example for those who look up to him.
Macklemore’s rapping is spot on, but what separates this work from “Language of My World” are Lewis’ ever-inventive beats and musical selection. The solemn beat of “Neon Cathedral feat. Allen Stone” is overlaid by a forlorn guitar and finally accompanied by violins in a song that crosses the threshold from moving to devastating because of the music backing Haggerty’s rhymes. Lewis’ expert mixing of conventional instruments and hip-hop rhythms makes “The Heist” musically sleek and fluid in a way only a few albums achieve.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are both impressive artists in their own right, but as a duo they’ve created something truly special in their debut LP.
The Verdict: With phenomenal rapping layered over genius beats, “The Heist” is a strong contender for album of the year. Don’t miss it.
Reach reporter Nathan Taft at email@example.com. Twitter: @nathantaft
Please read our Comment policy.