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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, The Heist

Every rapper, no matter their background, has a unique story to tell. Yet, most choose to disclose little, if anything, that directly displays their individuality. Macklemore does the opposite. Sure, chunks of his story, within itself, deviate from what hip-hop is used to; the tale of a White kid from the Pacific Northwest who has battled addiction is new to the music in and of itself. But it’s his willingness to illuminate those very tales and characteristics that makes The Heist, his new album with producer Ryan Lewis, such a refreshing effort.

Macklemore attacks an array of subjects that ultimately fit smoothly together thanks to their authenticity and Lewis’ intricate, tone-setting production throughout. On “Wings,” the MC contrasts his love for Air Jordans with the pitfalls of a culture of materialism, over a gloomy, horn and key-driven slow-building beat from Lewis, anchored with a hook from a chorus of children. With “Same Love,” Lewis provides bright and uplifting instrumentation to perfectly reflect Macklemore’s forward-thinking analysis of hip-hop and society’s take on homosexuality and same sex marriage. “Thrift Shop” is a funky homage to the 2012 XXL Freshman’s preferred place of shopping. The Ab-Soul-assisted “Jimmy Iovine” is a futuristic-sounding fictional tale of pulling a heist to secure a major-label deal, before realizing it’s not all it’s cracked up to be (“Rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting fucked,” he concludes).

These are topics that, generally, have not been touched upon in rap music in these ways. This trend is typified on the deeply moving “Starting Over,” the finest moment on an album full of highlights. Much of the singularity of Macklemore’s narrative within the scope of hip-hop has been his openness about struggling with addiction and ultimately finding sobriety. Where a celebration of party-ready substances is the genre’s norm, the Seattle rapper has managed to speak to those on the otherside. With this Ben Bridwell-assisted track, though, he reveals that he relapsed, and all that came with it: letting down his parents, bringing his girl to tears, facing fans who thanked him for being a role model, but feeling like he was deceiving and disappointing them. Lewis’ sobering melody guides the reflection. “I’m just a flawed man/Man, I fucked up,” Macklemore raps with a passionate cadence. It’s a feeling anyone can cling to.

Much how Talib Kweli feels that he’s a Prisoner of Conscious, Macklemore bucks some of the confines within which he’s been placed since his recent rise. “I’m not more or less conscious/Than rappers rappin’ ’bout them strippers up on the pole, copping/These interviews are obnoxious/Saying that, ‘It’s poetry, it’s so well spoken’—stop it,” he pleads on “A Wake.” Here’s the problem, with that, though. He continues with these very next lines to close the song:

“I grew up during Reaganomics/When Ice T was out there on his killing cop shit/Or Rodney King was getting beat on/And they let off every single officer/And Los Angeles went and lost it/Now every month there is a new Rodney on YouTube/It’s just something our generation is used to/And neighborhoods where you never see a news crew/Unless they’re gentrifying, White people don’t even cruise through/And my subconscious tellin’ me stop it/This is an issue that you shouldn’t get involved in/Don’t even tweet, ‘R.I.P Trayvon Martin’/Don’t wanna be that White dude, Million Man Marchin’/Fighting for a freedom that my people stole/Don’t wanna make all my White fans uncomfortable/’But you don’t even have a fuckin’ song for radio/Why you out here talkin’ race, tryin’ to save the fuckin’ globe?’/Don’t get involved with the causes in mind/White privilege, White guilt, at the same damn time/So we just party like it’s 1999/Celebrate the ignorance while these kids keep dying”

It’s these sort of astute observations on the human condition and keen self-awareness that set this effort apart. That reality, coupled with Ryan Lewis’ vast, daring and layered production, makes The Heist a truly beautiful album that challenges musical boundaries. —Adam Fleischer (@AdamXXL)

  • Ben

    Get off his dick XXL.

    • TC

      listen to the album

      • Ben

        Get off his dick too TC.

        • Danny

          This rating and the review is true, this album is amazing. The concepts and themes Macklemore explores are on a higher level than most rap albums these days so shut up and listen to the album first.

          • Ben

            Hey Danny. I did listen to the album. Higher level themes and concepts? Get the fuck outta here.

          • Joel

            Danny only a person who listens only to the radio would think that…Lil Wayne, Big Sean and 2 Chainz only represent a small percentage of the rappers out there dawg….dig below the surface a little and you’ll see there are tons of impressive artists …this cat ain’t special…he’s just got more buzz

          • DEFicitrhymes

            Nothing special about Macklemore? Why do you think he got the buzz in the first place? He brings more emotion than 99% of rappers, and quality lyricism and storytelling, up there with those impressive artists you’re talking about. Plus, he has a pop sensibility at the same time, which is why he’s broken into the mainstream charts. This is making more people than ever see how versatile hip hop can be. And he’s independent!! Like seriously, you can call me a dick rider, whatever. He’s independent, and made it to No. 1 on iTunes!! Rappers always say they’re changing the game, but Macklemore actually IS with this album.

          • Urdumb

            mac miller was independent #1 first. If you actually take the time to voice ur opinion on this site, AND you think people actually care, then you’ve got a lot more music listening to do and a lot less whiney bitching. It’s music. Enjoy it, or find something you do enjoy.

          • http://www.facebook.com/hethsale79 Seth Hale

            but mac miller is garbage so who gives a fuck

          • DEFicitrhymes

            Who’s whining man? I care about this music, so regardless of whether others do, I like to share why Macklemore’s the man. That’s the point of the comment section right? to voice your opinion? No need to be antagonistic dude. Like you said, it’s music. Enjoy it.

          • Joel

            @deficitrhymes:disqus …couldn’t agree more with everything you said….rapper with pop sensibilities…nothing new therefore nothing special…..I wish no ill will towards the guy….all the best to him and his generic party rap….that’s what’s in vogue these days….lotta money to be made

          • DEFicitrhymes

            Aight bro, you’re clearly missing the point. I guess if something’s catchy, then that makes it generic and wack? The Heist has 18 songs, 4 could be considered party songs. If you really equate Macklemore to people like Drake and Rick Ross, I’m sorry for you. Haters gon hate I guess.

          • http://www.facebook.com/LaCBallplayer Kory Schulte

            The fuck do you like Ben?

  • dock

    macklemore and lewis are the future. Nowadays, you just don’t see these types of independent artists making such conscious music that nearly everyone can vibe to. this style has never been attempted before and its fuckin’ dope.

    • isaac

      future? yes. Now? that too

  • Mark

    I love the album. I’m bumping it now.

  • Joel

    he doesn’t talk about anything new….some other dude beat him to the punch on homophobia in rap music….honestly I think the lyrics are well crafted and have substance which I respect greatly…but I’m not a big fan of Macklemore’s flow and the beats sound exactly like the generic pop/dance music with bread and butter hip hop drums that you would hear on any other Hip POP album so definitely not deserving of an XXL in originality in my opinion…although not unexpected either considering they are trying to force themselves into the mainstream….Kendrick Lamar is the only artist firmly in the mainstream that I would say is doing anything original these days

    that being said I’d give the lyrics an XXL, L for originality and XL (borderline L) for beats

    not hating on the guy…just telling it like it is….he seems like a good guy and I wish him all the best of luck…but all these claims about how unique and different he is are unfounded….they are following the same formula that every mainstream hopeful has been doing for years and it shows in the album

    • Joel

      I see a lot of dislikes but no body disputing my claims….with the exception of thrift shop and neon cathedral this album is filled with generic pop beats….which is absolutely fine but please everyone get off this “oh this album is so progressive” bullshit because it has no basis in reality!….you want progressive peep Blu or Shabbaz Palaces (lesser known Seattle rap artist)…you coulda thrown Taylor Swift or any other pop megastar over these instrumentals and her entire demographic would be shitting their brains out about how god damn awesome she is instead of ya’ll….

      again…these guys have a really positive message to send and thoughtful lyrics….much love for that…but they aren’t pushing any boundaries

      • Jsin

        Your claims arnt really that off. People take it personal. How dare you give them such a terrible review with all of those M and S’s, oh wait. I just think its more fun than Shabazz. Plus, I’m still whining over the whole “Digable Planets has a guy from Garfield HS? You wouldn’t know it from the album?” Talk back in the day. And if The T-Swift talked about her imaginary friends over these beats I’d buy it to. I just love the fact that Macklemores the designated driver for schoolboy q and his white bitches and blow.

        • Joel

          yeah of course shabbaz isn’t as fun haha. I dont even like shabbaz I just think that its funny that people are blowing their load over how unique a pop rapper like macklemore is when they have a guy like that from the same town making some of the strangest music out right now…Macklemore has a hell of a personality….I honestly like him as a person…I just can’t stand the weak ass effort that goes into these XXL reviews

          and I forgot to mention Grieves….Macklemore couldn’t hold that kids jock strap…together/apart was a brilliant album

          • Ice Cube

            Grieves is just too goofy looking to take seriously though. Plus his flow isn’t as tight as Macklemore.

    • DJ Inferno

      I’m not going to dispute your opinion because quite simply; you are entitled to it. But to say that the production is weak is very inaccurate. Ryan Lewis has done an excellent job (this coming from a fellow DJ/producer) and there are very few rappers out there with better instrumentals. Of course Kendrick Lamar’s crew is better; Dr. Dre is the mastermind behind it all, but to compare lousy music by today’s pop artists is just wrong. Btw, Lil wayne and everyone else signed to ymcmb are considered pop, not rap.

  • http://www.facebook.com/hethsale79 Seth Hale

    Sickest album i have EVER heard….wow

  • Jsin

    Fellas, don’t hate on Ben. Macklemore should be critical of his own
    shit. Your clownin’ Macklemore, I like you, hating on your own album.
    I’ll be real here, if i wasnt a white guy from Seattle, I may just give
    it an “L.” (which is still good). But since i am, and since I had to
    sit through years of
    backpack laced, cracker jack rap shows where everyone yelled “This real
    hip-hop right here, son,” while thinking “If I had any talent, i sure
    wouldnt be in Seattle doing a free show.” And everyone claimed they been
    down with hip-hop since “Low End..” (yeah, they called it
    that….idiots). Yea, so since I have that in my resentment file, this
    album gets an “XXL” in
    my personal rating file. Right next to “Midnight..” the Quest album
    that is really favored by people that been down since whenever. The
    Heist…. the best seattle rap album since Swass and Seminar. And do
    not mention anyone that left and claimed Brooklyn. Also, dont take
    offense to how somebody feels about art. Its good to have discourse,
    especially good to tell XXL to get off a dick – regardless of the size
    and color. Sure, these topics have been covered and there are many
    great wordsmiths (ok, there are less than 20 ever, but he’s pretty good
    for a guy in early recovery) Plus, I dont want another white wordsmith
    thats so dedicated to the craft. Thats code for weak beats and pale
    voice. Ice Cube, Kool G and Chuck D still could take a piss on that
    type of thoughtfull rapper. Macklemore, luckily, aint that twerp. He’s
    a rapper, not a hip-hopper of 1999′s – “206.” Hate it or love it, He’s
    making shit happen up here in southern Canada, er, Sea-Tac. So, In the
    words of my
    daughter… Happy Good Day!

  • saysomethin

    album of the year

    big statement but idgaf, never heard of these guys until i saw the review and give it 3 listens to far, real hip hop and something finally original

    this and jon connor is what hip hop needs

  • Josay

    macklemore came at it strong!
    i wasnt feeling some of the hooks
    but music is music & i cant stop listening to it.

  • GoodMusicOnly

    Not often do I spend money on music, but after hearing the Heist on NPR I knew this was one album I will buy, not on iTunes, but a physical copy. Best money I have ever spent.

    • daver

      I used to prefer the solid form of CD’s. Until recently I discovered that the artist gets a far greater portion of revenue through digital music… Much cheaper to put together. If you really want to support an artist, go digital.

      • AddThis

        Normally I’d agree, but it really feels like these guys wanted people to get the physical edition, they put their heart and soul into making this album the best it could be, and the physical album is a part of that, watch the video where the explain the album on their youtube, it shows that.

      • BRM

        I am about 99% sure that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis put this out on their own as it is distributed under Macklemore & Ryan Lewis LLC, so in this case they get more money through the physical copy

  • BenjaminFlocka

    Macklemore is hope for a dying generation…. the fact that his album is getting this much attention is great news for american in general. Rap Killed My Generation. I see this first hand… every dumbass kid walks around looking like he’s in TaylorGang now. Thank god for Macklemore and Kendrick.

  • Matthew

    It’s just astounding that now one here mentions Neon Cathedral. Because damn, that is by far the best song on this album. Macklemore is a rapper with a unique voice, and previous albums have showed that his biggest strength is airing that voice under the soft flow of a beat crafted by Ryan Lewis, a master of its art.

    Sadly enough, The Heist features a lot of other artists who in my opinion are too dominant on the songs. Only in a few songs such as 10.000 hours or Neon Cathedral, the ‘true’ Macklemore can be heard.

    • mambojambocombo

      are you fucking stupid? even on his songs with features artists he is the MAIN focus. yes on some hooks he isn’t singing, but its custom to use melodys and sign hooks. macklemore is no singer last time i checked, and even the songs with schoolboy q and ab soul, they are minimial, nothing more than your average featured song. they have one verse at max. A LOT OF other artists is a stupid thing to say. and neon cathedral also has a feature too for your informaiton. and im sure that any other sane person would disagree with you by saying that the TRUE macklemore can be heard on every single song. fuck you sir. fuck you

      • Matthijs

        Boy… that escalated quickly.

        Let me start by saying I’m not arguing with you whether Macklemore the main focus is or not. Of course he is. However, in my opinion on some songs those other artists just get way too much space. Furthermore, if you truly knew Macklemore you’d know that his previous albums featured a lot less other artists than The Heist. Oh, and I know that Neon Cathedral features another artist (i.e. Allen Stone), but Macklemore is way more dominant in that song than in other songs on the album which feature other artists.
        Fuck you sir, for disrespecting a fellow music lover who is brave enough to be critical of the artist he loves.

        • mambojambocombo

          im sorry

          • Jsin

            “Fuck the police.”

  • BangBangura

    Two years of Macklemore and I can honestly say that I’ve listened to atleast one song each day for these two years. I’ve never felt like this for any artist. Macklemore is changing the world with lyrical masterpieces above the greatest of beats(Thank you Ryan Lewis). Together they’re painting Mona Lisas with soundwaves, changing the world, giving music life and meaning and reaching out to every corner around the globe. Macklemore helped me develop as a person and now I’m a proud owner of my first physical album!

    Frame the pictures coming with the Deluxe-version like a boss on the wall.

  • GenoSmith4Heisman

    While this album is extremely progressive and provides a breathe of fresh air, I’m not ready to give album of the year respects as well as calling Macklemore the future.

    I feel like album reviews and opinions are somewhat skewed these days for the fact that everyone is desperately looking for someone to come give Hip-Hop CPR and bring it back to life(but not saying that everything out hasn’t provided that spark at all IE. Kendrick/Krit, etc.). And thus, as soon as we hear new good Hip Hop that presents us that ‘it’ factor we’ve been longing to have come back, we jump right on the bandwagon.

    4/5 stars for me…shit is dope, but not as amazing as its perceived to be.

    • http://www.facebook.com/people/Alex-Klatsky/8117351 Alex Klatsky

      Really like this album and give it 5/5 but I think its not a lock for album of the year. Especially with artists like Binary Star and Deltron 3030 with albums still to come in 2012

  • Macklemore is DOPE

    THE FIRST TIME I’VE SEEN XXL IN ORIGINALITY. WELL DESERVED,

  • Chris Tuttle

    Macklemore-Lupe-Hopsin-B.o.B colab would be nasty

  • Brendawg

    That long quote at the end of the article, best verse of all time

  • RealHipHop

    The history of music has always been about dramatic evolution. Someone coming along and breaking the mold and steering each genre in an entirely new direction that forever changes it for the better. The day the Beatles dropped Sgt Peppers on Rock and created and began a new era. The day Nirvana dropped Nevermind on the world, and effectively ended the glamour rock era with a single song.

    Well hip hop, guess what, that day is here. And I will always remember the day this album dropped as the sea change.

    Sure, Cudi is out there, Lupe and Talib are sending a positive message, and ab soul, danny brown, kendric, hopsin and others are rowing in this direction. But this album is just on another level. Moving . . .thoughtful . . .honest. . . creative. As a person who has struggled with my own vices, a dad with kids, a husband who wants to be a better man – this album honestly reduced me to tears . . . a first for hip hop.

    The closest thing to this I can remember is the day that Nirvana dropped smells like teen spirit. I remember watching that video, and just thinking wow. I have never seen anything like this . . .so refreshing . . .just incredible.

    For those of you who may be to young to remember, I would just tell you to pull up the Cherry Pie Video from Poison (#1 on the charts the day before Nirvana’s album released) and compare it to Smells like teen spirit.

    And then pull up Two Chainz “birthday song” and compare it to Mac’s “same love” or “Thrift shop.”

    Its a new day in hip hop, and its future is brighter thanks to Macklemore.

  • RealHipHop

    The history of music has always been about dramatic evolution. Someone coming along and breaking the mold and steering each genre in an entirely new direction that forever changes it for the better. The day the Beatles dropped Sgt Peppers on Rock and created and began a new era. The day Nirvana dropped Nevermind on the world, and effectively ended the glamour rock era with a single song.

    Well hip hop, guess what, that day is here. And I will always remember the day this album dropped as the sea change.

    Sure, Cudi is out there, Lupe and Talib are sending a positive message, and ab soul, danny brown, kendric, hopsin and others are rowing in this direction. But this album is just on another level. Moving . . .thoughtful . . .honest. . . creative. As a person who has struggled with my own vices, a dad with kids, a man who wants to be a better person – this albumn reduced me to tears . . . a first for hip hop.

    The closest thing to this I can remember is the day that Nirvana dropped smells like teen spirit. I remember watching that video, and just thinking wow. I have never seen anything like this, its new, refreshing and incredible.

    For those of you who may be to young to remember, I would just tell you to pull up the Cherry Pie Video from Poison (#1 on the charts the day before Nirvana’s album released) and compare it to Smells like teen spirit.

    And then pull up Two Chainz “birthday song” and compare it to Mac’s “same love” or “Thrift shop.”

    Its a new day in hip hop, and its future is brighter thanks to Macklemore.

    • Joel

      this is insanely overly dramatic

      • Nelson Espe

        No its not. Macklemore is truely amazing. He is near Eminem level.

  • irrelevant

    How the fuc k can you give this man a XL in lyrics only comon XXL your better than this.

  • Slim

    Near classic album

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Josh-Kriese/679741033 Josh Kriese

    This deserved a XXL

  • Krovvy

    So, there was a point where Royalty was my most anticipated release of the year. I didn’t think anything could beat it… and then I heard this. Bravo, Macklemore. This is what hip-hop should be.

  • SCofW

    Not a bad album, macklemore is good, something bout his flow that doesn’t quite get me hooked though. GKMC is likely to be the best hip hip album of the year in my opinion, Kendrick’s on another level. Also, for those that are into conscious rap with slick production check out @peace from NZ.

  • Tedro

    It’s music. If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. What is up with all the internet anger? I don’t like heavy metal music but I don’t just hop on a website and hate on it. Grow up some of you folks. Peace and love.

  • sirk

    ONLY XL WTF THIS IS BULLSHIT? THIS IS ONE OF THE BEST ALBUMS I’VE EVER HEARD IN MY ENTIRE LIFE AND YOU ONLY GIVE IT XL?!

  • marc

    I have to strongly disagree concerning nearly every aspect of this review. I don’t mean to troll, but I have to say that this music strongly irritates me, with all due respect to those who enjoy it. Just was not made for me.

    • Nelson Espe

      Then you are a moron. The Heist is a classic album. Macklemore deserves his success. I been watching him for about 7 years. Guy is a one of the best rappers there is. You must be a homophobe

  • Spike_Speigel

    I love Kendrick’s album and it deserved its score. But I think this deserved an XXL, too!