Macklemore, Ryan Lewis release new album, 'This Unruly Mess I've Made'
NEW YORK, USA – When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis triumphed at the 2014 Grammys, the hip-hop duo stunned much of the music industry through a gesture rarely seen in the vain celebrity world – apologizing, with evident sincerity, for winning.
Macklemore, who is white, made public a text message he sent to Kendrick Lamar, saying the rising African American star had been "robbed" for losing to the duo for Best Rap Album.
The second album by rapper Macklemore and producer Lewis – This Unruly Mess I've Made, released on Friday, February 26 – is in some ways an hour-long extension of the sentiments behind that text message, expanded to reflect on the state of an America wrestling with questions of racism and inequality.
Always a surreal feeling to put your art out into the universe. I feel such a mixture of emotions right now. 1.5 years went into this project. So many ups and downs. Breakthroughs and obstacles. Conversations, debates, questions. At times I thought it would never see the light of day. But it's here. Thank you to everyone that's waited. That has been a part of our music. Our lives. That have been to a show. That have shared a song. You guys made this music what it is. No label. No investors. Just people that believed in the art enough to stand behind it.... I just want to say thank you. To the fans that have ridden with us. Through everything. From an underground rap group, to pop stars to... Whatever we are now. They'll always try to put boxes around art. Label. Good/bad. Compare/contrast. Make sense of it through their lens. But at the end of the day, I just care about the people. The ones that got us this far. I hope YOU resonate with it. That something grabs you. Makes you think. Question. Laugh. Dance. Inspire. Feel something. That's what music is for.. I'm truly proud of what we made. From here on out, it isn't just ours anymore. It belongs to the world. And now we get to travel around from stage to stage and celebrate with y'all. Im so grateful... THIS UNRULY MESS IVE MADE. #TUMIM #sharkfacegang. Please spread the word. -Ben
While many rappers are infamous for their lyrical boasts of personal greatness, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have instead crafted a style that is essentially anti-braggadocio, with the duo consumed by self-doubt.
On "White Privilege II," Macklemore – who has emerged as the most critically acclaimed white rapper after Eminem – speaks of his mixed emotions as he joins a rally following the 2014 shooting death of black teenager Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.
"My success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson," Macklemore raps, referring to the white officer exonerated in Brown's killing.
"We want to dress like, walk like, talk like, dance like, yet we just stand by / We take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives?"
Macklemore accuses by name two white stars, Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea, of exploitation of black culture in the song, which at nearly nine minutes runs far too long for standard radio airplay.
In the song, he wonders whether it is appropriate to speak at the rally. Taking his inner debate to another degree, Macklemore has publicly questioned whether he should have written "White Privilege II" at all.
Moving from gay rights anthem
The layered reflection contrasts with the more earnest advocacy in the duo's 2012 signature song, "Same Love," which became an anthem in the campaign for gay marriage equality.
Macklemore is acutely aware of the paradox, wondering on the latest album whether "Same Love" made the duo appear safe to white listeners who might instinctively sense danger from African American rappers.
Yet on This Unruly Mess I've Made, Macklemore lays bare plenty of alternate sides. "St. Ides," one of the most musically striking tracks set to a minimalist guitar, explores his struggles with drinking, while "Buckshot" recounts the 32-year-old's former life working at a Subway sandwich shop and spraying graffiti on the side.
On "Growing Up," Macklemore looks ahead with excitement and trepidation to his new role as a father.
"Study David Bowie, James Baldwin and Tupac," he offers among future pieces of advice for his daughter Sloane.
The album is not without its more banal topics such as on "Let's Eat," an ode to his appetite.
"I never knew what a carbohydrate was / Turns out that it's all the snacks I love," he observes.
Indictment of pharmaceutical firms
Yet Macklemore also tears into the US health care system on "Kevin." A tribute to a friend who died from a painkiller overdose, he indicts pharmaceutical companies he charges with putting profits first through excessive prescriptions.
"Doctor, please give me a dose of the American dream," sings soul artist Leon Bridges, one of a number of guests on the album who also include English songwriting sensation Ed Sheeran, hip-hop stars KRS-One and Chance the Rapper, and Mexican indie singer Carla Morrison.
This Unruly Mess I've Made opens aptly with a sinister retelling of the 2014 Grammys, where Macklemore and Ryan Lewis won four awards including Best New Artist – again defeating Lamar, who belatedly won recognition at the latest Grammys this month.
Macklemore fidgets being so close to the stars and voices disgust at the made-for-television media spectacle – "Watch celebrities take selfies with celebrities."
Yet Macklemore again feels conflicted and admits, "I wanna make sure I'm invited next year."
And whatever the criticisms of consumerism, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are not resisting major companies. The album release party Friday will be live on Amazon in a first music streaming exclusive for the retail giant based in the duo's hometown of Seattle. – Shaun Tandon, AFP/Rappler.com