11:56 AMMacklemore's new album is an 'Unruly Mess'
We were rooting for you, Macklemore.
After busting onto the scene in 2012 with Thrift Shop, the Seattle rapper seemed poised to become more than just a novelty success. With the help of producer Ryan Lewis, he scored other hits (Can't Hold Us, Same Love) and picked up four Grammy Awards, including best new artist and rap album (debut The Heist).
With the acclaim has also come inevitable backlash, mostly stemming from the fact that Macklemore is a white rapper with a pop-leaning sound — seen by many as unworthy of winning Grammys over black hip-hop heavyweights Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West. It's a topic that he has since addressed, telling radio station Hot 97 that, as a white rapper, "You need to know your place in the culture."
But no amount of thoughtful discourse or good intentions can save This Unruly Mess I've Made (*1/2 out of four), the hip-hop duo's disjointed new album featuring some of the most laughably bad lyrics to come out of any genre in recent memory.
The album starts ambitiously enough with Light Tunnels, Macklemore's six-minute diatribe about his disillusionment with awards shows and celebrity. "I'd rather run out of my 15 minutes than have life pass me by and I forget to live it," he declares over a triumphant blast of horns and hand claps. Although his musings on fame are hardly insightful ("They want nipple slips / because they live for clicks / this is economics"), his conversational flow carries the song to its aching finish.
From there, the album is a bizarre pastiche of styles and ideas, none of which ever seem to gel. Downtown, the lead single and early top-20 hit, falls flat as both an Uptown Funk and Sugarhill Gang knockoff, while boom-bap record Buckshot trips over its own clumsy lyrics ("I'mma paint a better world until the cans are empty").
Brad Pitt's Cousin and Dance Off are self-aggrandizing and silly, and perhaps Macklemore's best attempts at going viral since Thrift Shop. But there's no escaping the embarrassment of Let's Eat, an asinine ode to junk food and getting ripped. (Sample lyric: "I never knew what a carbohydrate was / turns out that it's all the snacks I love.")
Mess works best when Macklemore brings in star power and gets confessional. For those who have lavished praised on his The Life of Pablo feature, it should come as no surprise that Chance the Rapper delivers yet another album-best verse on the low-key Need to Know. And while the Ed Sheeran-assisted Growing Up, written for Macklemore's newborn daughter, is weighed down by greeting-card sentimentality, Kevin and St. Ides offer refreshingly unfiltered takes on addiction, recovery and loss.
He saves his most politically charged song for last. Though self-important, White Privilege II brings Black Lives Matter and cultural appropriation to the forefront of Macklemore's music, asking, "We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?" It leaves Mess on a meditative note, but also makes us wonder why he waited 13 tracks to say anything of real substance.
Glimmers of his talent do occasionally shine through the Mess, but for fans waiting to see Macklemore prove himself as a legitimate force in hip hop, this album isn't it.
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