AUDIO: This Unruly Mess I’ve Made – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis


This Unruly Mess I’ve Made should definitely win the (mythical) Grammy for Most Aptly-Titled Rap Album.

Next year for that, though.

For now, tiptoe with the greatest of care through the online landscape lest your kicks become soiled with the mess of “White Privilege II” think pieces and — soon to come — album reviews of TUMIM.

Full disclosure: I haven’t listened to the thing in its entirety yet so I’ve no authority on making any sort of grand statement about the record. Suffice to say I was underwhelmed by the aforementioned “WPII” — it’s never interesting to watch or listen to white people struggle through their privilege, least of all when the catalyst for the testimony appears to be outside criticism and internalized guilt. It is possible for a pop artist to make a thoughtful, effective song about something as abominable as white supremacy that falls under four minutes and qualifies aesthetically for radio play. When it comes to provocation, I’ll take sneaky subversion over cheap scholarship six days a week and twice on Sundays. Our most interesting pop stars of the day pull it off with ease. Macklemore is not one of them.

He is, however, a capable rapper who, when relying on his natural humor and charm, can make truly fun songs. “Thrift Shop” previously, and “Buckshot” — featuring eyebrow raising guest appearances by DJ Premier and KRS One — here. Mack and RL are best when they stick to that formula.

One of my resolutions for the still relatively new year, is to try to reserve judgement against Ben Haggerty the human being; polarized energy is the last thing we need in our already overheated political environment. Instead, judgement should fall with impunity against a world that causes us to need to have these conversations. To be forced into a reckoning by a societal landscape in which the existence of a middling song like “White Privilege II” actually makes for a better place, is a much greater atrocity than seeing mediocre pop music dominate your Twitter feed.

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VIDEO: “Downtown” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz, & Eric Nally)

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis make their grand re-entrance to the scene with “Downtown,” a viral-friendly, absurdist’s fantasy shot in and around downtown Spokane, WA. Yes, those are living hip-hop legends Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz rapping back-up. And yes, that’s Ken Griffey, Jr. recreating his famed 1989 Upper Deck rookie card portrait. It doesn’t all make sense, but then neither does Mack and RL’s insane trajectory in pop music. You’d be at least partially dead inside if you didn’t smile at this one.

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AUDIO: “Growing Up (Sloane’s Song)” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (feat. Ed Sheeran)

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis - Growing Up

Macklemore — Seattle’s most platitudinous rapper — dropped a new song today about being a new dad. It is filled with the kind of advice that only the greatest of Hallmark card authors could pen. Guest Ed Sheeran urinates liquidized pop gold all over the thing.

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NEW MUSIC: “Arrows” – Fences (feat. Macklemore; prod. by Ryan Lewis)

Seattle indie rock favorite Fences dropped this new track with Macklemore yesterday. Produced by Ryan Lewis, it’s from the band’s forthcoming Lesser Oceans. You might remember this trio collaborated previously on a remix to Mack and RL’s hit “The Otherside” from their VS EP. That seems so long and many lifetimes ago. Sigh.


THOUGHT BUBBLE: Macklemore’s Kendrick Tweet

Before we get to my thoughts on the tweet that nearly blew up the rap internet:

I’ve been enjoying this series of documentary shorts that followed Macklemore and Ryan Lewis around the globe last year during their Fall World Tour. The clips have been insightful, entertaining and, at times, even uplifting. Episode five (above) went up yesterday and concludes the series. It’s worth spending the 22 minutes to watch.

And now, because I can’t leave well enough alone…

Regardless of how you feel about Macklemore’s success — recently manifested in the four “gold sippy cups” he collected in Los Angeles this past Sunday — the big takeaway from the Kendrick Lamar tweet is that the man’s life has become one massive no-win situation. Being white, and a rapper, and blah blah blah, leaves him open to unique criticisms that otherwise aren’t applied to many of his pop star peers.

Having said that, I think most of the critiques are warranted — the smart ones, anyway — and, ultimately, valuable in the grand scheme of things. The fallout from Macklemore’s success, as it pertains to the non-white and non-heterosexual communities especially, is a messy business. There are bigger societal concerns at play here that have nothing to do with Macklemore the person, and everything to do with our culture’s frustrations and fears. It seems Ben Haggerty has become America’s favorite proxy for its grievances which is spurring mass conversation.

I don’t know Macklemore personally. I shook his hand and spent about ten minutes in a room with him a few years ago, but we never shared a conversation. But by all second hand accounts from people who do know him, he sounds like a good guy. Even when he participates in stunts that draw a raised eyebrow — editing down “Wings” in order to fit the NBA’s All Star Game marketing agenda; playing a role in the dubious mass wedding at the Grammys; the curious tweet to Kendrick Lamar — I never really doubt his honesty. In these scenarios it seems like he’s either being earnest to a fault, or led to participate by the sort of denial that could only be catalyzed by a sudden and disorienting amount of fame. The machine that he’s chosen to dance with is unforgiving and dispassionate and cares nothing for an artist’s personal principles.

With regards to the Kendrick tweet specifically, what was probably meant as a generous and heartfelt admission came off as an awkward and ill-advised form of damage control: a way of diffusing some of the anger “real” hip hop heads may have felt about Kendrick not winning the award. But if we’re being honest here, those so-called “real” heads already know what time it is. They don’t need Macklemore to tell them Good Kid M.A.A.D. City should have won, and they don’t need him to explain the function of these awards which are handed out annually in what essentially constitutes a magical pop culture vacuum. To make his message to Kendrick public was to insult the intelligence of the hip hop literati.

So consider the tweet a simple misstep in a career that will likely continue to be filled with them. Macklemore is a white rapper who was just certified as the best in his field by the biggest music awards show in the world. He will stumble again because the field he’s playing on is the slipperiest slope of all.

[Update, 1.30.14, 7:15am PST: Kendrick’s even-handed, democratic and existential response.]

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VIDEO: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Perform Live on a NYC Bus (Grammy Promo)

I’m surprised there weren’t more “Oh, shit!” faces from the hapless commuters. Then again, New Yorkers are surprised by very little. The reaction from the girl waiting at the bus stop when Mack and RL get off is priceless, though.

Catch the duo performing at the Grammy’s on January 26 and scan this here list for a grip of nominations. Good lookin’ out, fellas.


VIDEO: “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis World Tour: Episode 1” – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (presented by Buffalo Jeans)

Mack and RL are touring fools. Click here for an accounting of the remaining US leg of their Fall World Tour. This is episode 1 of 5 in a documentary series chronicling their adventures; it takes place in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich, and Paris.