Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist – The STiXXclusive Review

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – ever heard of them? If you haven’t, don’t be surprised, because not a lot of people have. The first time I heard of the duo was when Macklemore was chosen to be one of  XXL’s 2012 Freshmen, and people were saying that he was pretty dope, so I checked him out. I wasn’t impressed; like at all. His flow was always off beat and I couldn’t really catch on to what he was talking about, so I was just like “TRASH”, and I moved on from there. In May, when I went to Soundset, he was one of the performers, and I got to witness him really move the crowd, and arguably he had one of the best performances of the day. He showed a great energy, and he was adamant about Gay rights and stuff like that – which is an important issue (it was an election year, so that would be a factor). I still didn’t think much of him until he released his album and I found out that he moved 78,000 units in the first week INDEPENDENTLY! He moved 11K less than Lupe Fiasco, and he didn’t have any major distribution or anything like that. 78K? Independently? Crazy. Kendrick Lamar’s Section.80 did 70K in a year! Now, imagine the type of hustle and dedication you have to have as an independent artist to move close to 100K in your first week with no major promotion or distribution. OR a major co-sign. It’s quite telling of his hustle. Oh, and let me also state that he’s from Washington state (which is 1 of 2 nations that legalized weed). It took me a while to really give in to listening to the album, because I’d been told that it was pretty good, so finally, I bought it on iTunes (just because) and I listened to it.

iTunes Link

            Macklemore on the mic, Ryan Lewis on the beats. It’s not common that we have (in today’s hip hop) MC & Producer duos. Yes, we have rappers that work with producers frequently (Meek Mill & Jahlil ‘Jungle’ Beats, Wiz Khalifa & Sledgren, Drake & 40 to name a couple), but you don’t see duos like back in the day when there was Eric B & Rakim. It’s cool to see, so I was curious as to what kind of sound they were going to bring to the Hip Hop world.

When I began the album with Ten Thousand Hours, Mack (I’m just going to call him Mack) gets into his story a little bit, and just where he’s come in a little over a year (ten thousand hours calculates to 416 days, which is pretty much a year and just under 2 months). The story is about how you got to where you are now. The journey is always more exciting than the destination, but Mack is basically starting off at his current life location and working his way back. Beating on your craft for a long time, you can pan out and earn success. You just have to dedicate yourself to it. That’s what he was going on about in the song. It’s pretty motivational, but again, I had to wrap my head around his flow, because he bounces all over the place. He had a great quote in this song:

No child left behind, that’s the American scheme
I make my living off of words and do what I love for work
Got around 980 on my SAT’s
Take that system
What did you expect
A generation of kids choosing love over a desk

You put those hours in, and look at what you get

            Can’t Hold Us caught me off guard, but in a good way, because he brought that folklore sound and made it work in a hip hop way. I’ve never really heard that style used before, so I commend him for that. Ryan Lewis is a pretty dope producer, and even though it was only the 2nd track, you could tell that there would be a diverse range of sounds that a lot of listeners could rock with. This song is like what you would play at a hoe-down where people would be square dancing and some guy over a microphone would be calling out instructions like: Grab your partner by the hand, turn it in a 5-star spin, pick her up, swing her by the feet, you can’t be messy, just be neatYEEEEHAWWWW! Terrible, I know. The song goes into more emphasis of his coming up and the fact that he’s doing his music simply driven by passion and that’s what he’s always been doing. It has carried him to this point and he’s only going to continue doing so. You start to sort of get a grasp of the title and the theme around the album. The Heist – a heist is a robbery, and (in my best guess) Mack & Ryan are taking the hip hop world by force and holding them up; sneaking in and taking what’s theirs. Nothing can hold them back from getting what they want or spreading their music around (THESE HATERS CAN’T HOLD US BACK). But let’s have more at it with the album.

The most common place for these modern -day hipsters to go to is the Thrift Shop. Now, in Canada, we have this store called Value Village (Shout out to them), and back in the day, you wouldn’t be caught dead in there as a teenager because people would think that you look homeless or poor if you shop there (homeless? poor? shop? Not getting a connection). NOW, those former teens who have become early to mid 20 year olds, embrace the fact that they shop at thrift stores and have so much pride in their ‘original clothes that nobody else has’, and oh oh, there’s more; the whole “oh, nobody was shopping at thrift stores before they were popular” BLAH, BLAH, BLAH! For the record, My mother and I have donated to Thrift stores for years and continue to do so, but I wouldn’t brag about that; it’s just passing along items that we no longer want/need that others may have interest in. Mack, for the whole song, is talking about the thrift style that has embraced the youth today and that he can look better than you while looking like your grandfather and wearing an outfit that cost him $20. Balling on a SERIOUS budget, but you know what? That’s what’s in, and many people can relate to that. Can I? No, but can a few people I know that shop at Thrift stores to get hand me downs instead of fresh brand new clothes? Absolutely, so it’s a great song for that particular reason. It’s a refreshing vibe from hearing about rappers talk about articles of clothing that cost me a funeral to literally look ‘fresh to death.’ No thank you.

So far, this album is pretty good, and of course having to listen to it repeatedly, you get a better feel and understanding of the album. This isn’t your traditional hip hop album with big name productions and huge features, but this is an album that has messages in it that bring it back to the days when you could just sit down and decipher the understanding of it – that’s why I love hip hop. Thin Line has an underlying message that deals with the music industry and portraying it as a woman, which many rappers do and have done forever. Nas famously said:

On my second marriage, hip hop’s my first wifey
And for that, we not taking it lightly
If hip hop should die, we die together
Bodies in the morgue lie together

So, that is just one example of how hip hop is portrayed as a woman, but the battle that Mack was dealing with in this song was that he was constantly going back and forth with his love of hip hop, meaning his love of her. It’s a common theme to associate being a rapper in the industry to being in a marriage, because it’s pretty much the same thing for a lot of people. The main characteristics are love & commitment. This is no different in this song.

Earlier on, I brought up that Mack supported the Gay Rights movement at Soundset (he wore a ‘Legalize Gay’ tank top), and a song on this album came on and it touches on this subject, which is important in today’s Western culture. Same Love breaks down Mack’s personal experience when he thought he was gay as a kid (turns out he wasn’t), and that even though he’s straight, there are many kids that have the same characteristics as him with the exception of sexual preference. Going into how the American government feels about same sex and even referencing the Bible shows the ‘old school’ way of dealing with the issue, and the sad part is; it’s still being fought today, when really, we should be embracing it as a whole already. Being Gay isn’t a flip of the switch or something that you choose (technically everyone has a choice), but for the majority of it all, this is a conscious song that really speaks FOR that demographic of people, and I felt that Mack did a good job in delivering the message for this song. He also brought up the fact that it’s used over the internet as a derogatory term and that Hip Hop ignores the term and just brushes it off to the side; also that it has caused wars because of religious reasons. It’s a deep song and it’ll make you think (or not, depending on your stance) about how the Gay community is treated in the world, although slowly but sure, it’s getting better.

Make The Money sounds like it’s a continuation of Ten Thousand Hours, because Mack talks about the same stuff when it comes down to beating on your craft and going after what you want, while keeping true to yourself and not changing for anyone else. More motivating music to uplift you and whatnot; go make the money, don’t let the money make you is the line that draws emphasis from the song. It’s another good one, nonetheless.

Neon Cathedral is probably one of the better songs on this album. Allen Stone (if you haven’t read the Profile on him, read it if you don’t know him) did a great job on the feature providing the soulful depth to back up the powerful image of the song. It’s definitely my favourite thus far. Religion – yet another theme that is common in music, and is more adamantly used with the newer rappers who seem to be more vocal about it. Neon lights are everywhere like liquor stores, motels, bars, strip clubs, and whatever other example you can come up with. Cathedrals are like holy sanctuaries that you can go to for seeking peace within yourself and often forgiveness. People choose motels, liquor stores, strip clubs and bars as their religious congregations; their cathedrals. Religion is found through their various ways, and that’s what Mack is talking about on this song. Great song, and again, more messages being applied that people can relate to and appreciate.

BomBom is an instrumental song that is up-tempo, but has a jazzy feel to it, and then when you have a bunch of other instruments thrown into it, it’s a great time. Reminds me when Tyler, the Creator had AU79 on Goblin as sort of like an interlude, but it was a full length song with no words. Great intermission music.

Being in a room strictly surrounded by White Walls can be soothing or it can make you go crazy, but this isn’t about a room, it’s about a car. This is the ‘gloating’ track that emphasizes a car – a nice all white Cadillac car; riding around, showing off, what better feeling right? There’s nothing spectacular about the song, but a feature from TDE’s own ScHoolboy Q provided a change up from the style of the album that it had been currently driving, and you need some gangsterism in there if it’s a hip hop album in some ways, so having him on there was pretty cool, but aside from that, it wasn’t anything on that wow factor.

Wouldn’t you know that there would be another TDE feature on the next song? Ab-Soul makes an appearance on Jimmy Iovine, and for those who don’t know who Jimmy is, he’s the creator of Interscope Records (ironically the same label that TDE signed with just recently), and this song is about the record industry and pretty much taking it by storm. Making it in the record industry and getting a deal is the dream for small-time rappers when they start off because that’s when you “make it.” There are pros and cons to the industry and Mack shared his experience meeting with (I’m assuming) top executives at Interscope and as they’re breaking down the actualities of his contract, he realizes that going major isn’t right for him because of the negative effects it would have had on his career. It’s pretty crazy that there’s so much that people on the outside don’t know about the wheeling and dealing of the music industry. This was a great song to describe that in a way.

Remember your first pair of sneakers? The feeling you had when you put them on and you felt like a new person? That feeling of new birth and that you were the top of all of your friends? It’s a good feeling, isn’t it? Mack described his first feeling on Wing$, and that sense of rejoice and invincibility he had with the shoes, but a violent childhood experience involving shoes changed his attitude a bit. Shoes have become more and more popular over the years. In an age where you have to pre-order shoes and people stand hours in line for them just to re-sell them or wear them for a month, it’s pretty crazy how people have become enslaved to the power of a dollar and a brand name. This song deals with the progression of a young Mack to an older Mack and just what matters to him. It’s more than just the shoes, but it’s more about the mindset that he carries with it. It’s a great song, and again, I respect the message. Don’t be a sheep, create your own trends.

Our society has grown insensitive to issues around us when things are more and more bluntly in our faces.  A Wake is basically a viewing where you look at a dead body before the actual funeral ceremony. It’s a chance to pay your last respects to the dearly departed. Mack symbolizes a wake as our society, and we’re just watching it die – whether it’s because of the oversaturated hip hop on the airwaves, or because Mack is an artist his fans don’t want him to get involved with political or cultural issues that will make others upset, or because of the amount of offensive videos on YouTube or Worldstar Hip Hop. There’s a lot that is contributing to the slow death of society, and that’s the message I’m getting from when Mack compares what life was like 20 some-odd years ago to right now. It’s pretty meaningful when you think about it.

Gold is a precious piece of treasure that has been around for years on end; it has been fought over, it has been worshipped, and its value is something that is compared to the likes of royalty. Gold is a sign of wealth and luxury, and as long as you have that, you can’t lose in the public’s eye, and if everything is Gold, then imagine what the world would be like. Everyone would be on the same level, because it’s all golden. Winding down, this song has meaning, but I didn’t particularly like it because of the beat. Production was eclectic, but diverse for the whole album, so there were definitely more songs that I was feeling more than others, and this was one that I didn’t vibe with that much.

Sometimes we deal with issues, we conquer them, but then we fall and fail. The key is not to stay down and quit, but it’s about Starting Over, and in this penultimate song, Macklemore talks about his own struggles with his addiction (which I didn’t know prior to) and the fact that he was sober for 3 years and then went back to that life. He had to start over and get his life back. Life is full of 2nd chances, but not everyone gets one. Mack did, so he took advantage of it, and music is a way that he’s been dealing with his struggles and it helped them. I like this song because EVERYONE has challenges; EVERYONE has issues, and more often than not, we want 2nd chances to make up for mistakes we may have made. It’s possible, and we’ve seen examples everywhere. This song is just another inspiring tale of self-discovery, reflection and overcoming the odds to make something better out of a poor situation.

The last song – Cowboy Boots. This song sounds country as it is with a hip hop vibe, again showing off the production diversity on the album. You only have your youth once, so you make the most out of it. Live life to the fullest and enjoy yourself, because when things get tough and you no longer have a sense of direction, you need to stay motivated and passionate about where it is you want to go and what you want to do, instead of ending up at a bar drinking your life away 9just an example). Mack ends off the album on a positive note, as he has kept the majority of this album positive already. It’s important that you be yourself, and that’s what he was preaching for a good chunk of the album. You can do what you want and be who you want as long as you’re true to yourself and remain passionate about it. It’s all in your hands, and Macklemore did a great job on keeping it honest and putting in a way that you can tell he was being true to himself.

This album came out of nowhere, and it was better than I had expected. The reason being is because behind the flow that I couldn’t catch on to at first, Macklemore says some deep things about society and relevant issues that people are talking about today: Gay rights, Safe sex, social media and its influence on society, and even the nature of the record labels. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis did it their way and made it work. The proof is in the sales, because they did everything by themselves and this album is driven with messages that people can sit down and appreciate. If you give it time, this album will get noticed more and appreciation for it will continue to go forth. This is one of the better albums to come out this year, and I encourage everyone reading this to give it a listen if you haven’t already. I’ll definitely have this on rotation just to give me a reminder that you can make it by doing it your way and remaining true to yourself. The hard work pays off, and I continue to see examples of that. Apply positivity into your own life, and good things come out – it’s really that simple. Thank you for reading the review & respecting the opinion, but for now

That’s My Word & It STiXX

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