After Macklemore & Ryan Lewis came together for their first album, The Heist, I was very excited to see what these guys were going to be doing in the future. It seemed to be hip hop with a purpose – maybe not always a purpose people want to get behind or a purpose that in some ways came across as disingenuous, but a purpose nevertheless. It had a poppy anthem in “Thrift Shop” as well as a song “Wings” that were about materialism and, of course, the much praised and maligned “Same Love” as well. Thus, I was highly disappointed when the followup album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, took nearly three and a half years to come out.
In many ways, the sophomore album for the duo falls short of the debut. In listening to it, I don’t hear the same rapping with a purpose I heard in the first album, but more of a personal experiences album that was three years in the making. It opens with “Light Tunnels,” a song about the rapper’s unusual and contested Grammy award from 2014. A good song, but sounding a touch misplaced.
The second song on the album is one of the only real shots at the poppy hit they produced in “Thrift Shop,” but as we saw with the early release of the single, it never had that same success. I also question the distance between the release of the single and the release of the album – there was a lot of downtime. Another attempt at the more poppy single appears to be “Dance Off” with an unusual appearance by Idris Elba. Both of these songs are solid, but not the type that will end up blowing up the charts.
However, there are three songs I would really like to highlight. The first is “Kevin” featuring Leon Bridges. This is one of those times where he gets back to hip hop with a purpose. In this instance, he is taking on the pharmaceutical industry and oversubscribing of over the counter drugs. It has that same sense of taking a stand that we saw in The Heist concerning an issue that is close to himself. I really enjoy the song and Leon Bridges deep vocals make the chorus.
This is another venture into Macklemore’s personal experiences and battles with alcohol abuse. It is a dedication to battling his own personal demons and finding a way to triumph over his own long time addictions. It doesn’t come across as preachy which happens a lot in situations like this, just an example of him overcoming his own problems.
I used to steal my Daddy’s cabernet
Never thought it would turn into a rattlesnake
Thinkin’, everything will be all right
If we could get thru the week
It was a solid example again of hip hop with a purpose and never came across as disingenuous which seems to be the uphill battle he fights going into this album.
“White Privilege II”
This is the song where things get tough. It is an attempted anthem for the Black Lives Matter movement. That is way too political for this blog, so I am just going to give you this link for those that have been living under a rock and don’t know what it is about. Again, this is a moment of hip hop with a purpose but in this song he even states that he isn’t sure if this song will come across as disingenuous coming from him:
The culture was never yours to make better
You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea
Fake and so plastic, you’ve heisted the magic
You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rapped in
Your brand of hip-hop, it’s so fascist and backwards
That Grandmaster Flash’d go slap it, you bastard
I side with those that anytime music gets a positive conversation started, it is for the better. However, this was always going to be a song that sparked a debate. To his credit, Macklemore appears to be a guy unwilling to back away from the debate if he feels it important even if it is something that he knows will be controversial.
Let’s get down to the brass tax, though. If you enjoy the spoken word style of hip hop and the fantastic production of Ryan Lewis, all of that is still in This Unruly Mess I’ve Made. If you enjoy hip hop with a purpose, back to the time of the 80’s and 90’s, this album may be for you. However, it doesn’t have the same flair or quality of The Heist. I will call it a solid follow-up, but I was really hoping for more, especially after the long hiatus the duo took after the first album.