The opening scene is riveting. "Let the snare knock the air right outta your lung/The words be your oxygen," commands Macklemore. You're kinda hooked, but you're still unsure. Keep going and you'll come upon a slew of winners lined up for convenience. "Can't Hold Us," "Thrift Shop," "Same Love" and "Make the Money" all impress. And that's just the first quarter.
Later: "We'll give you a hundred thousand dollars and after your album drops, we'll need that money back." That's Macklemore role-playing on "Jimmy Iovine," its title as subtle as a shot of glass to the dome. He wields that flow equally well when aiming it at comedic moments. "Probably should've watched this, smells like R.Kelly's sheets (Piss),"he quips on the clear standout "Thrift Shop."
Producer Ryan Lewis helps keep the album grounded, seemingly drawing inspiration from every genre in existence. Lewis is an able accompanist, except when he's bending his treacly synth drawls to Yeezypop territory. But they're still strong enough to steer a compelling album. I even imagined Jay-Z on "Make the Money."
The theme song to this flick recalls Common Market, Amp Live, Blue Scholars, and other underground kings, all rendered in Beats-by-Dre-ready registers. Then Macklemore and co drape them with always clever, mostly personal, occasionally suitable for 2 Chainz rhymes ("Girl ain't even gold, she just got gold on her [thing that rhymes with bitties"]).
Every beat is meticulously tailored to the narrative it's supporting -- warm backdrops for reflective gems ("Same Love," "Starting Over") and alarms for urgent ones ("Jimmy Iovine").
Collaborations make sense, too. In fact, the co-stars are so precise that they seem random: Schoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, and...oh hey, how did Buffalo Madonna get here? Wait, who is Buffalo Madonna? At least, you can't accuse these guys of pre-packaged songwriting. It's the little things.
One minor point that drives The Heist is Macklemore's ability to acknowledge the full picture. He tends to contrast materialism with caution, ratchetness with prudence, hope with reality. After advocating for gay marriage on "Same Love," for instance, Macklemore notes that "a certificate on paper isn't gonna solve it all, but it's a damn good place to start."
But his best big picture moment comes on "A Wake," a nuanced take on the modern rap and his place in it:"This is an issue that you shouldn’t get involved in
Don’t even tweet, "R.I.P Trayvon Martin"
Don’t wanna be that white dude, Million Man Marchin'
Fighting for a freedom that my people stole
Don’t wanna make all my White fans uncomfortable
'But you don’t even have a f--kin' song for radio
Why you out here talkin' race, tryin' to save the f--kin' globe?'
Don’t get involved with the causes in mind
White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time
So we just party like it’s 1999
Celebrate the ignorance while these kids keep dying"
As The Heist draws to a close and the songs linger on sincerity, I realize that Seattle's Macklemore —an artist I had never heard of prior to this review—is acutely familiar. He's nimble as Kendrick Lamar, inspired as Shad, and recognizably defiant as Lupe Fiasco. His tales verge on self-aggrandizement, but they never come off as didactic. Where Lupe Fiasco's Food & Liquor II tells us what's wrong with society, Macklemore's portraits on The Heist are framed by personal reflections (vis-à-vis materialism, sexuality, addiction, etcetera). This is probably more important than the music itself.
The Heist isn't perfect (production walks a fine line between cohesion and monotony), but it's worth visiting for the vivid confessionals and layers of humor.Top Tracks:
- "Thrift Shop"
- "Neon Cathedral"
- "A Wake"