Macklemore and his producer Ryan Lewis have been everywhere these days, releasing hit songs, touring and building up a devoted fanbase. All the work and waiting has culminated in The Heist, an unbelievably poignant full-length album debut.
Hailing from Seattle, Macklemore, real name Ben Haggerty, began his career in 2000 when he self-recorded and distributed the EP Open Your Eyes. In January 2005, Macklemore released his the solo album, The Language of My World.
From 2005 to 2008, Macklemore’s substance abuse effectively stunted his musical production. By 2009, the newly sober, Macklemore teamed up with producer Ryan Lewis to release The Unplanned Mixtape as well as a few other EPs.
Now signed with The Agency Group, the collaborators have outdone themselves with The Heist. The album contains 18 tracks, 11 of which feature contributions from other up-and-coming artists -— and every song deserves to be a single.
Impressively, “Ten Thousand Hours,” the first track on The Heist, is a relatively simple recounting of Macklemore’s young rise to fame. The “Ten Thousand Hours” theory, first mentioned in the book Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, suggests that in order to be successful at something, an individual must put in at least 10,000 hours of work. Macklemore believes “Put those hours in and look at what you get / Nothing that you can hold, but everything that it is.”
Several tracks deal with Macklemore’s devotion to music and his journey to getting where he is today, including “Can’t Hold Us (feat. Ray Dalton).” The track was released digitally about a year ago and features spitfire rapping on top of fast beats and trumpets with a chanting, gospel-inspired chorus. The song is a rush, propelling itself forward, mixing genres and recalling the euphoria of doing what you love and receiving love for it in return.
While The Heist runs the gamut on serious topics, Macklemore knows how to have fun. “Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz)” discusses Macklemore’s shopping habits — which include buying broken keyboards — as he mocks people who spend fortunes on brand-name apparel. “Gold (feat. Eighty4 Fly)” sounds like something that would play on Top 40 radio countdowns. The track, with its light and sweet chorus, packs less of a punch than others, but serves as a sweet antidote to the bitter lyrics elsewhere on the album.
“Castle,” which appears near the end of the album, also reminds listeners that life is not a constant struggle. Similar to “And We Danced,” it contains a chorus pertaining to “unicorns and wizard sleeves.” Such tracks showcase Macklemore as an artist that can comfortably shift between irreverent lyrics and relevant themes.
“Same Love” has already become one of the better-known songs on The Heist, both for the track’s excellent musicality and its support of marriage equality. The track attacks America’s oppressive heteronormative ideals. Macklemore shows he is unafraid to make his art political in “Wing$,” a previously released track warning against consumerist culture, and “A Wake (feat. Evan Roman),” a hit-list of societal issues.
The most memorable and powerful songs, however, remain the ones that critique society and chronicle very personal inner battles with demons.
Macklemore has penned several songs dealing with his substance abuse. “Neon Cathedral” features a heavy beat and a slow bluesy melody with Macklemore rhyming religious metaphors with drug addiction. “White Walls” describes Macklemore’s car and the drug-infused hazy days spent living inside it.
“BomBom (feat. The Teaching)” is entirely instrumental. Consisting of classical piano, tribal chanting, drumming and horns, the track sits right between the darkest songs on the album, offering a brief catharsis before diving back in.
In “Starting Over (feat. Ben Bridwell),” the album’s darkest song, Macklemore confesses to relapsing with cough syrup. He apologizes to those he inspired to get clean on his track “Otherside,” but doesn’t apologize for being human, making mistakes or start over.
The line, “If I can be an example of getting sober / Then I can be an example of starting over,” sums up the power of Macklemore’s music.
Macklemore isn’t just another rapper. He resonates with listeners and inspires with songs still red and raw from his scars. The Heist is a brilliant hip-hop record: Each track is standout. If you listen to only one album this month, make it this one.