There aren’t many artists I feel a closer connection to than Macklemore. That really says something seen as I’ve never met him nor do I know anything about his life other than the subject matter of his music. I remember when the Wenzel brothers introduced me to him in 2011. The first songs I listened to were Irish Celebration, And We Danced, and Otherside. I enjoyed all three but the latter really struck a cord with me and another fan was born. Going into our senior year of high school three of my friends and I listened to Macklemore almost exclusively. With Mike a country boy, Lyndon and I bassheads in the making, and Chris somewhere in the middle it was hard to find something we all could agree on. That quickly become Mack. The Heist still means the world to me and is maybe the only album I’ve ever really lost myself in. It also evoked an immense pride and excitement for what he and Ryan had accomplished, winning best rap album of the year (and other awards) while staying independent. Even as I say it out loud it sounds weird, feeling proud for a couple guys who have millions of fans now but I think that’s what happens when you connect with someones art so strongly. To have songs like Wing$, Same Love, Jimmy Iovine that all focus on a story or message on the same album as Thrift Shop or Can’t Hold Us that are goofy and satirical is creative genius. This past summer Macklemore released Downtown (probably the funniest song from the duo) and my excitement for This Unruly Mess I’ve Made peaked. Well this past Friday it came out and I’m going to share some of my thoughts on it. My favourite aspect about music as an art form is how different my interpretations and connections can be when compared to the artist’s. That’s really what makes it special so if you haven’t yet listened to it please go do that before continuing. Not that I think I’m a persuasive writer, rather that going in with a blank slate will yield a more enjoyable experience and you’ll be able to form your own opinion without comparing to mine. Anyway, let’s jump in.
First off, as a whole I really love it. It has more of their satirical nature in conjunction with societal and industrial commentaries that hit better than ever before. Subjectivity. It’s why Justin Bieber and Megadeth can both be successful. These two created a hip hop album out of topics like The Grammy’s, the pharmaceutical industry, and being a father. Not what you would usually picture when you think of rap music. My experience with the genre has always been with guys such as Eminem, Wiz Khalifa, Drake, and Kid Cudi. They obviously all went through times of coming up through the industry but I wasn’t around to see it. By the time I was a fan they were all household names in the music industry. As such I think when guys are on top of the world their content can become repetitive. In contrast, when Drake and Meek Mill were experiencing some creative differences Drake released Charged Up and Back To Back which was some of his best work. It was fuelled by emotion and personal investment. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis bring that emotion into everything they create, they are some of the most genuine artists that I know of. They sure make it easy to support them when they cover topics others are so hesitant to touch on. Now besides all that good stuff I have an interesting recommendation when experiencing the album. Listen to it backwards. I’ve probably listened to it back to front five times and front to back three. I don’t know how to explain it, I just get a very different vibe listening in the reverse order and think it’s more enjoyable that way. As such I’m going to touch on each track in reverse order because why not.
13. White Privilege II – The most direct societal message on the whole album with multiple issues crammed into a nearly nine minute song. Displaying emotions of empathy, anger, and confusion you can hear interviews and news clips playing throughout portions. The premise is a protest that Macklemore has seemingly joined and is unsure of how to show his support and sympathy. It also visits the issues of police brutality and double standards of the law. He then rips on twitter warriors who believe starting a hashtag is making a difference and implores us all to look deeper at the music, clothing, and lifestyle we have adopted from black culture. Without spoiling much of the rest I think it’s a great wake up call for anyone that believes these aren’t issues we all have a part in seeing end. Saying nothing can be just as bad as being involved. It enables racism to persist in 2016. I’m sure it will have it’s critics just as Same Love did but that makes it even more important.
12. The Train – This song hit me in the face like a sack of bricks. It’s all about struggling to stay in touch with family, friends, and loved ones. Having lost my grandfather about a week before it hit a nerve as I was and am still feeling some pretty big regrets in regards to staying in contact. It’s a beautiful collaboration with Carla Morrison that has brought me to tears a few times now and will always be a tough one to get through. Unfortunately it’s something we all experience to a degree. Relationships take work so appreciate the people that make the effort.
11. Bolo Tie – I really applaud Ryan, the beat is beautifully crafted. It maintains a chill vibe while feeding into the emotion of YG and Macklemore’s vocals. When listening to the album this way I think it acts as a perfect ramp up into the next couple tracks. Therefore you’d think it should work just as well in the actual order, and for most people it probably does. I just prefer this way.
10. Let’s Eat – A good introduction into these guys humour. Doesn’t take itself too seriously, or at all for that matter. I’m not crazy about it but it’s nice to see their lightheartedness.
9. Dance Off – Or should I say Thriller. That’s the vibe I get right off the bat anyway. It sets the stage for what might be most fun on the whole collection. It’s equipped with goofy lyrics and background clapping and chanting that helps paint a vision of any dance circle you’ve ever been apart of. There’s always that one guy that’s a little too confident in his abilities, gets shown up, and goes back for more. Props to that guy I wish I had your blind confidence.
8. Need To Know – What’s that age old saying? “Mo’ money, mo’ problems”? Well I think this is perfect insight into the meaning behind it. The temptations that come with fame aren’t always worth it. Definitely one of my favourite tracks on the album with the funky vibe of the saxophone and piano combination. Again, the transitions are done perfectly, going from Dance Off to St. Ides which have two very different sounds isn’t easy to do and they nail it.
7. St. Ides – I think there’s going to be many different interpretations of this one. For me it brings about memories of being immature, making poor choices, and having a carefree lifestyle. For someone that has lived in their hometown their whole life and experienced the changes between adolescence, young adulthood, and parenthood the connection may be deeper. Regardless, it conjures up some very nostalgic thoughts and feelings for simpler times.
6. Kevin – Drug abuse and addiction are topics Macklemore has worked hard to raise awareness of. If you haven’t heard Otherside he tells a sad story of his own experience with addiction and makes mention of three lives taken by oxycontin. Kevin is another dive into the pharmaceutical companies and how society has been tricked into believing in their methods. I personally have and know many others who have abused prescription drugs. It is not uncommon, and is incredibly dangerous. It’s a cautionary tale and one I connect with having brushes with addiction. I woke up one day and realized that wasn’t how I wanted to live my life. Not everyone is so lucky. If you’re struggling with addiction talk to someone you trust, it really does help.
5. Growing Up – I can’t imagine being a father. I can barely take care of myself never mind another little being. Whereas the idea of always growing and trying to be a better person is something I’ve really tried to implement in my life. Never quit learning, everybody has an opinion or viewpoint you can learn from, good or bad.
4. Buckshot – A story of Mack as a younger man tagging anything in sight. Graffiti is something that I always wondered how people accomplished and even applauded some of the areas these guys got up to. There’s this one bridge on the highway in Calgary that every time I saw would imagine these guys holding another dudes feet while he hangs upside-down in the middle of the night. I’m sure that’s not actually how it happened but what if.
3. Brad Pitt’s Cousin – If Need To Know is my favourite this one is a close second. First of all his cat makes an appearance which is just hilarious then, “Bradley, he’s cuzo.” Point is it’s just a fun, lighthearted song. Making mention of herbal tea and chicken wings in the same line is recipe for a banger. Throw in a text conversation with God himself and nothing’s going to top this one. Ever.
2. Downtown – I just… What do you even say about this. If you haven’t seen the video do yourself a favour and go watch it. It’s so ridiculous I love it. My favourite line has got to be “Neighbours yelling at me like ‘You need to slow down.’ Going thirty-eight, Dan, chill the fuck out, mow your damn lawn and sit the hell down.” Pay special attention to the video during that, Mack’s face kills me every damn time. It’s a song about mopeds and going downtown, obviously. What’s not to love.
1. Light Tunnels – The only song I’m really split on. It’s a great song, that’s not what it is. What has me considering both sides is his/their interpretation of celebrities and more specifically the music industry. While he is absolutely correct each and every award show is a business that survives on clicks, mentions, and views, ripping on an industry that allows you to put food on the table seems a little odd to me. I would also venture to guess that the two of them aren’t the only ones that feel the spectacle of it all is obnoxious. I appreciate the candour though, not many would have the balls to win best rap album and then write a song about the whole awkward experience. Plus there’s a name drop, and we all know how much I love those. That’s another reason why I think it’s better to end with this song rather than White Privilege II. Both being very strong statements this one just being more of a finale in my mind, ending with “this unruly mess I’ve made.”
I’m sure most of you had already heard of the genius combination that is Macklemore and Ryan Lewis but if you hadn’t I hope listening to This Unruly Mess I’ve Made gave you the desire to go back and listen to some of their earlier work. I’m a big fan, clearly, and have a deep respect for their honesty and creativity. Using their fame to bring attention to issues that effect us all is a very powerful statement to their character.