Album Review: The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

Out now

It’s too late to say Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will be huge. Their debut, The Heist, rose to the No. 1 album position on iTunes shortly after release Tuesday. It’s a deserved peak. The album, as I view it, steals back hip-hop, transporting it from endless phony posturing back to more authentic territory without sacrificing an ounce of fun.

Here is my track-by-track analysis of The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis:

1. “Ten Thousand Hours”. This intro track paints Macklemore as serious about his craft, confident, independent, and unconcerned about the approval of the music establishment (i.e., labels, Pitchfork, etc.). It sets the stage for the greatness to come.

2. “Can’t Hold Us” featuring Ray Dalton. A clappin’, dancin’, jumpin’ joygasm of sound. Early proof on this album that Macklemore is more than just consciousness. A live staple.

3. “Thrift Shop” featuring Wanz. A goofy, engaging reflection on self-style that is humorous and thought-provoking and the opposite of everything in today’s commercial rap. As good as the song is, the video eclipses it.

4. “Thin Line” featuring Buffalo Madonna. Macklemore describes love as a “snake pit” in this breakup song that is neither as lively or lyrically adventurous as the two songs that came before.

5. “Same Love” featuring Mary Lambert. One of the finest tracks of 2012. Read my full track review here.

6. “Make the Money”. Macklemore’s message about priorities is strong. So is DJ Ryan Lewis’ production filled with strings and horn flourishes. A worthy album cut.

7. “Neon Cathedral” featuring Allen Stone. Macklemore has been forthcoming in the past about his struggles with alcohol on the track “Otherside”. “Neon Cathedral” is a soul take on his demons with fellow Seattleite Allen Stone – he of the granny glasses – delivering the requisite pained guest vocals.

8. “BomBom” featuring The Teaching. A pretty, piano-driven instrumental that feels out of place on this record.

9. “White Walls” featuring Schoolboy Q. I like Q’s solo stuff but this is a curious choice considering his subject matter is often bleaker and blunter than Macklemore’s. His guest appearance on “White Walls” is no different as he talks about snorting coke in the back of a Cadillac with ho’s. It just feels wrong, given the context.

10. “Jimmy Iovine” featuring Ab-Soul. The second of back-to-back guest appearances from Black Hippy collective members. Ab-Soul functions as a hype man here for Macklemore’s retelling of his experience with Interscope. Macklemore’s sped-up flow, the way he fleshes how his dream turned out not to be what he hoped, and the song’s punchline are all gripping.

11. “Wing$”. An older track that remains one of Macklemore’s finest. His dissection of his personal obsession with Nike shoes as defining objects in his life is impassioned, authentic, and brave. The kids’ choral group gives the chorus added weight.

12. “A Wake” featuring Evan Roman. Some will point to this track as proof Macklemore is a conscious rapper, a negative connotation. I see him as real, with his eyes open to the world, unafraid to speak uncomfortable truth. One of my favorite tracks on The Heist.

13. “Gold” featuring Eighty4 Fly. An enjoyable enough track but could have been moved to the deluxe edition and this album would not have lost much.

14. “Starting Over” featuring Ben Bridwell. Another substance abuse track that finds success in Macklemore’s sincerity. Where this track falls, though, is Bridwell’s unnecessary chorus. I get the Band of Horses’ connection (vis a vis Seattle) but this feels like a crossover attempt that doesn’t hit.

15. “Cowboy Boots”. A countrified curiosity but a bizarre choice as this album’s closer.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis made a winning debut album consisting of great singles (i.e., “Same Love”, “Thrift Shop”) and a wealth of strong album cuts. On The Heist, Macklemore established himself as a talented new voice in hip-hop with plenty to say. Where the album falls short are in some of its guest appearances and editing. Those criticisms aside, The Heist is one of my favorite albums of 2012.

If you enjoyed this post, you might also enjoy my others about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, including my review of their Oregon State performance earlier in 2012 and their 2011 Musicfest Northwest show.

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