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There may well not be an artist in the 2010s that has simultaneously been both as cool and uncool as Macklemore. With producer Ryan Lewis in tow, the two have spent their brief but vital time in the sun dropping hits about op-shopping and equal rights, of materialism and missions in life.
Their debut LP, 2012’s The Heist, propelled them into superstardom – but it also painted targets, writ large across their backs. For every Grammy win and Billboard topping, there was another think-piece or Twitter essay about these cold-arse honkeys making Kidz Bop rap for mass consumption. Nearly four years on from The Heist‘s release, one knows fairly definitively where they stand on the matter of these gentleman.
A heads-up before venturing into This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, their all-important follow-up: Your stance on them is highly unlikely to change upon completion of listening, should you choose to accept your mission. That’s not to say that we’re dealing with The Heist 2.0, per se, but this is an album that definitely picks up where its predecessor left off. Think of it as an extension and a continuation of the ideas, ambitions and stylistic approach established with the release that also ostensibly served as their introduction to a wider audience.
Yes, said continuation is for better and for worse. There is plenty of ammunition for both sides of this tag-popping cold war. Detractors may well take tracks like the goofy club-banger pastiche Brad Pitt’s Cousin or the kitschy Dance Off, which features distinguished actor Idris Elba (no shit) doing his best Shatner-esque spoken-word recital, and dutifully roll their eyes at each song’s inherently-puerile nature. Those that have found charm and merit in their work before, meanwhile, will simply accept tracks like this as the kind of dorky, whiter-than-sour-cream fun Macklemore and Lewis are known to have – hell, it’s not even their first song purely dedicated to dancing. They’ll instead draw their focus towards more tender moments, such as the soulful and sweet Kevin, featuring a stunning Leon Bridges hook; as well as the thoughtful Need to Know, which sports man of the moment Chance the Rapper in yet another great feature less than a month after his show-stealing Ultralight Beam verse on Kanye’s The Life of Pablo.
Both parties are able to meet in the middle, on occasion – even with the Ed Sheeran boost and the good fatherly intentions of Growing Up, it’s arguably the most bland track the duo have ever committed to record. It’s also hard to deny the passion and emotion that runs through White Privilege II, which has less opened a can of worms as far as discussion around its core issues is concerned and more ripped the in half and splattered the worms onto a blank canvas. Who’d have ever guessed that Macklemore would become most confrontational when he turns the looking glass onto himself – see opener Light Tunnels, for further self-analysis at a substantive, significant level.
Whether you were the first to rush to triple j’s Facebook page on that fateful day in 2013 and decry the death of music as Thrift Shop topped the Hottest 100 or you were the first to hop on a moped and blast Downtown for all to hear, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made will continue to validate your feelings. It’s not a reinvented wheel that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are presenting us – merely one that keeps turning. It’s functional and will get you where you need to be on either side of the fence. Take from it what you will, internet. It’s yours now.
Watch: MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS – KEVIN (FEAT. LEON BRIDGES)