CD Review: “The Heist” by Macklemore

He wears your granddad’s clothes; he sounds incredible.

by Simon Benarroch

Artist: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Album: “The Heist”

Label: Macklemore


After years of stinted releases, Seattle-based Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are releasing their first LP “The Heist” on Oct. 9, and it’s a fine package.

The 15-song album includes several of the singles the duo released throughout the year, such as “Thrift Shop,” and “Same Love,” two songs that have already been lauded as showing Macklemore’s thematic range — the former features a cranky saxophone background and a cocky profile of a man who’s good at finding deals, while the latter explores the musical and political treatment of homosexuality.

The bulk of the album is composed of thoughtful, often somber songs that span topics of materialism, race and success.

Macklemore a.k.a. Ben Haggerty often goes into his history of substance abuse in several songs, most literally in “Neon Cathedral,” in which he turns his alcohol dependency as a substitute for religious penitence. “I read the Bible, but I forgot the verses,” he says, “The liquor store is open later than the churches.”

He goes for the throat again in “A Wake,” when he describes the tight space artists have for discussing racial issues.

“Now every month there’s a new Rodney on YouTube,” he says, lamenting the complacency of our generation. He admits his hesitance to tweet about racially charged issues, specifically Trayvon Martin, saying he “Don’t wanna be that white dude Million Man Marching.”

One might argue he’s making excuses for himself, not to mention all white rappers, but even when he’s overtly political, he avoids being didactic — his messages are all grounded in an earnest internal dialogue.

Musically, the songs all follow a predictable, powerful pattern.

The refrains are often soulful; almost angelic with the exception of “Thrift Shop’s” jolly, deep-voiced chorus. Brass instrumentals make each song feel organic, whether the song is bouncy and energetic or slow and contemplative.

“The Heist” also features a number of talented vocalists.

Notably, Seattle-native Mary Lambert pinches the strained notes of the song’s refrain, “And I can’t change even if I wanted to.”

Macklemore’s own gravelly voice lends a thoughtful affect to his rhymes. He seems to be talking to himself more than anything.

“The Heist” is about the complex relationships people have with their identities. More often than not, he makes the division between himself and the things he owns, as in “Wings,” when he recounts his romanticized relationship with an expensive pair of Nikes — to little Macklemore, those shoes represented his every dream of success, of rising above his peers and of reaching a nebulous self-actualization. When he finally realizes the shoes don’t make him a professional basketball player, that they don’t give him “wings,” he loses faith in everything.

The same idea is even present in the album’s tonal counterbalance “Thrift Shop;” a song that playfully deals with the obsession with mastering one’s consumer-self.

In the song, Macklemore makes repeated reference to the dirt-cheapness of the clothes he buys, cockily rattling off the useless crap he’s accumulating as if it were gold chains and watches.

Pick a virtue: musical style, lyrical depth, fresh perspective, an independent label — “The Heist” delivers across the board.