Release Date: Feb 26, 2016
Record label: Macklemore
Genre(s): Rap, Alternative Rap, Pop-Rap
Call it the "difficult" third album from Seattle's Macklemore, or the second LP from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, but however the discography is counted, This Unruly Mess I've Made is the release that follows the Grammy-winning, massively successful The Heist, the one that introduced this pop-rap rapper/producer duo to most of the world, meteoric rise and all. That platinum albatross started hanging off the duo early on, and Macklemore's declaration that Kendrick Lamar should have won the Grammy instead certainly foreshadowed how LP two, or three, was going to be "difficult," but Unruly is surprisingly good at dealing with guilt and expectations, exorcizing its demons in a way hardcore fans can enjoy, and casual listeners can avoid. Put the needle to the record and "Light Tunnels" featuring Mike Slap takes the listener on an elaborate, unrelatable journey through music award shows and the hypocrisy of fame.
Macklemore is no imposter. Yeah there’s the iron board rigid flow, strengthened by an unmasked suburban accent; the incessancy to dress like it’s Halloween in the lowliest day of May; or the intelligence to utilize pop hooks on every turn but make no mistake. Nationwide fame hasn’t made the ambidextrous rhymer any less of a proponent of the culture.
Macklemore :: This Unruly Mess I've MadeMacklemore LLCAuthor: Sy ShacklefordThe Seattle-based Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have become a polarizing duo within the hip-hop community as well as across pop music landscape in general. They started in the underground which is where I first heard Macklemore via "Close Your Eyes" on CunninLynguists' 2009 release "Strange Journey, Vol. 2".
Two people whom there will never be a consensus on are Kanye West and Macklemore. Their very artistic existence represents the division that imbalances us as human beings in society; they are repelling magnets, the opposite ends of a spectrum, regardless of what you think those ends represent. Macklemore is the least Kanye person in hip-hop, and vice f**king versa.
‘Downtown’ is easy to love, a popping ‘Uptown Funk’-a-like about owning a moped that enlists three oldest-of-the-old-school New York MCs – Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz. Equally fun are the comic knockabout ‘Brad Pitt’s Cousin’ (“Every white dude in America got the Macklemore haircut…”) and dotty electro-shimmy ‘Dance Off’, featuring Dre collaborator Anderson .Paak and – brilliantly – Idris Elba. At the serious end of the scale is ‘White Privilege II’, a nine-minute suite that tackles police brutality, latent racism, cultural appropriation and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' 2012 breakout, The Heist, was a heartwarming underdog success story. A true son of Seattle, Macklemore does a fair amount of hand-wringing over his fame on this long-awaited follow-up: The album opens with "Light Tunnels," which makes winning at the Grammys sound like a winter shoveling snow in a Soviet gulag, and songs like "Brad Pitt's Cousin" and "The Train" work the same self-pitying theme. "Make better music," he wills himself on "Bolo Tie." And sometimes he does, especially when the beats turn soulful and artists like Leon Bridges and Chance the Rapper swing by for assists.
"You got robbed," begins the most guilt-ridden apology of the 21st century. "I wanted you to win. You should have. It's weird and it sucks that I robbed you." The screencap seen 'round the world explains the duality of Ben Haggerty, aka Macklemore, whose unexpected mainstream appeal has enabled him and his music partner, Ryan Lewis, to rise to the top of the industry.
Besides Kanye West and Iggy Azalea, Macklemore has become one of the most controversial rappers in modern hip-hop. Ever since The Heist bested Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City at the 2014 Grammy’s, his actions only make him more divisive in the public eye. His first controversy began only hours after winning a Grammy for Best Rap Album, when he sent out an awkward apology to the Compton emcee that felt forced and awkward.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ new record, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, opens with a vivid portrait of the emcee’s memories of the 56th Grammys. “Light Tunnels” makes for a solid confessional that shows Macklemore struggle with the phoniness of award shows and fame. The Seattle emcee spends the first half of the track deriding the event, but ultimately realizes an ironic truth: He wants “to make sure I’m invited next year/ To the same damn party.” Macklemore loosely positions this record as a My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy-esque meditation on celebrity.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the rapper and producer duo behind disturbingly overplayed 2012 hit Thrift Shop, know how to get under people’s skin. Not via incendiary lyrical content or Kanye-esque proclamations of greatness, but by being really bloody annoying. Garish TV theme-tune-style melodies, Macklemore’s contrived, am-dram-ish tone, and lyrics that lie outside the boundaries of sense coagulate into writhing and indestructible earworms.
Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore, is the jock in your high school who spent the next four years trying his best to convince you that he’s not like those popular kids. He’s already spent much of his music career being a disruptive voice in hip-hop — most memorably shitting on its wealth signifiers while illustrating his interest in secondhand clothing — and turning would-be think pieces on same-sex marriage or alternative rap’s imperative return into Top 40 hits, practically soundtracking every exam-crammed college dorm across the land.
It’s hard to mention the current state of hip-hop without bringing up Macklemore’s name. The 32-year-old Seattle native took the rap game by storm in 2012, alongside producer Ryan Lewis, with the debut LP, The Heist — all while remaining an independent act. The jazzy horns of “Thrift Shop” or the chorus chant of “Can’t Hold Us” were inescapable soon after.
Few celebrities exemplify the phenomenon of backlash quite like Macklemore. When The Heist was released in fall 2012, Macklemore was hailed as an indie rapper who found mainstream success without giving in to major label hierarchy, and praised for advocating for marriage equality on “Same Love.” But by January 2014, when he inexplicably beat Kendrick Lamar, Kanye West, Drake, and Jay Z for Best Rap Album at the Grammys, the tides had turned considerably. Macklemore’s success is now viewed as a mere product of his whiteness, and people have come to wonder if “Same Love” was more of a cynical ploy to gain fans in the LGBT community than a true show of support.
It seems as if Macklemore anticipated the coming of his second album more than hip-hop fans. This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, judging by the title, is an incredibly poignant piece on the artist and the issues his success has caused among various communities. Or, I should say, that’s what Macklemore wanted it to be. The final result is one that aspires to achieve more than it actually does.
Success is a cruel mistress for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis on their conflicted, cameo-stuffed follow-up to “The Heist.” Macklemore’s ambivalence about fame casts a shadow on the wildly overproduced album, marked by jarring tonal shifts. “I wish I could go back to the day before I became famous overnight,” he raps on the jaded, double-speaking “Need to Know,” either waxing nostalgic or subconsciously paying penance. “Light Tunnels,” a tedious takedown of the media and celebrity culture, ends with self-flagellation for secretly desiring a spotlight in the circus.