THIS UNRULY MESS I’VE MADE by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Genre: Pop Rap
Favorite Tracks: The first three seconds of “Brad Pitt’s Cousin”
On January 1st of 2016, I published a piece discussing the lessons I learned from listening to 1,000 albums in 2016. Although you should read it, I’ll sum up the general implicit conclusion: it’s OK to like the things you like, and you shouldn’t let the tastemakers and tastemongers of the world make you feel as if your preferences and predilections are somehow lesser because you can’t list obscure lo-fi Yugoslavian black metal off the top of your head. Well, although it pains me to say it, after listening to THIS UNRULY MESS I’VE MADE, I’m left with no choice but to amend that sentiment. It’s OK to like the things you like, and you shouldn’t let the tastemakers and tastemongers of the world make you feel as if your preferences and predilections are somehow lesser because you can’t list obscure lo-fi Yugoslavian black metal off the top of your head, UNLESS YOU’RE STILL REPPING MACKLEMORE AFTER HEARING THIS NECROTIC, ABJECT, PUTRID BLASPHEMY AGAINST THE INSTITUTIONS OF HIP HOP AND MUSIC IN GENERAL.
This is technically a bonus track, but Jesus Christ…
Macklemore has taken the tacit approval of white suburban teenagers that were happy someone was finally connecting to them through raps acknowledging the fact that they were tasteless culture leeches who dressed in quirky clothes to disguise their nonexistent personalities and ran with it to the finish line, where he now fashions himself some sort of viable commentator on modern social trends and issues. Or at least, that’s what his marketing campaign would suggest, with “progressive” and “powerful” releases such as the infamous “Same Love” and the recent “White Privilege II.” I’ve done you a favor and compiled some of the most impactful lyrics over the course of THIS UNRULY MESS I’VE MADE:
“I went to the moped store, said ‘Fuck it’/ Salesman’s like ‘What up, what’s your budget?’/ And I’m like ‘Honestly, I don’t know nothing about mopeds’/ He said ‘I got the one for you, follow me’” (“Downtown”)
“Made an Instagram for my cat/ And my cat doesn’t even rap/ And got more followers than you/ Hold up, let me get my cat a bar/ She’s filthy, hey Cairo come here baby/ (Meow) Now my cat’s more famous than you ever will be” (“Brad Pitt’s Cousin”)
“I woke up, threw some sweat pants on/ Then I fed my cat and then I walked to the mini mart/ And I really want a donut, shouldn’t get a donut/ Bought a donut, fuck it man it’s really hard” (“Let’s Eat”)
What’s frustrating is that Macklemore almost seems to be on the precipice of realizing he’s a complete waste of space with nothing legitimate to say, content with churning out half-assed ruminations on what it’s like to be white and alive in 2016 (how exciting). If this were the case, he would be like Lil Dicky, and I could rest easy at night knowing that soon society at large will deservingly quarantine him into obscurity, tired of the joke and excited for the next memester fuckwad to release a “clever” or “fun” music video on Youtube. By continuing to make the news with his occasional attempts at addressing larger issues, he’s pulled the wool over all of our eyes, incorrectly positing himself as a hip hop artist with a “message” and “voice.” Don’t you realize that this boy just won’t stop softly intoning his jagged verses from the twilight of what can appropriately be considered hip hop emceeing into our ears, despite the fact that the majority of this album consists of inconsistent, nearly incoherent, superficially quirky interjections about absoFUCKINGlutely nothing?
“Downtown” is about the electrifying and unique subject matter of living in urban environments, only “notable” for dragging out virtually every ’90s rapper we don’t give a shit about to rev up their rusted engines, overselling verses such as, “Pulled up, moped to the valet/ Whitewalls on the wheels like mayonnaise” to hide the existential void that inevitably hits upon the realization that Macklemore has more money than you despite jumpstarting the genre that his aural cancer continuously defecates on.
On “Brad Pitt’s Cousin,” we are treated to blase recitations of his wealth and success, with such appetizing lyrical acrobatics as, “My dick named Ron Burgundy/ I’m bad news with a pan flute” and “Shoutout to the homie D/ Who’s D? Deez nuts.”
“Dance Off” is about the fresh and innovative topic of white people dancing (hahahahahahahahahahha!!!), which features the ill-advised and vomit-inducing participation of Idris Elba intoning a challenge to a dance off, the content of which spends an uncomfortable amount of time honing in on Macklemore’s obsession with sexualizing geriatrics (“Your grandma, that’s a bad mama jama / She doing the banana, grabbing my trunk like a hammock / Mmm, she like the funk, god dammit, she can handle it / She tugging my dick, I’m feeling a little bit inadequate” and “Your grandpa got a cock like a ham hock / Hella old, hella long, looking like Matlock”).
But perhaps the most egregious misstep contained on the album (and that’s saying a lot) is “Let’s Eat,” a song about procrastinating on a diet that sounds like something I would have written as a parody track in high school health class because I didn’t want to make a poster for a project. I don’t have the time or space to quote specific lyrics, because the song from front to back is cornier than Nebraska and a complete and utter refutation of artistic merit.
“Alright,” you say, “clearly Macklemore is just having fun on these tracks, doesn’t he talk about—.” I raise my hand, interrupting you so that you don’t have to waste your breath. Macklemore makes it abundantly clear that he’s sad about white kids are taking a lot of prescription pills these days. Despite the easily ignorable, deliciously suburban, privileged middle class struggle that this represents, Macklemore presents these themes in the most obvious, heavy-handed manner possible.
“Might as well go crack a seal and might as well go chug a bottle / Might as well go pop a pill and band-aid that problem / And escape this world, vacate this world / Cause I hate myself / No praying’s gonna cure this pain” (“Kevin”)
“Wonder why my generation poppin’ pills and poppin’ percs / And got some weed and got some purp / And got some bars and got some syrup” (“Need to Know”)
I don’t feel great about poking fun at Macklemore’s progression out of alcoholism, but let’s consider how he addresses these intense personal struggles.
“Used to steal my Daddy’s Cabernet / Never thought it would turn into a rattlesnake” (“St. Ides”)
“I’m finally sober, no lime Coronas” (“Let’s Eat”)
THIS UNRULY MESS I’VE MADE also features Macklemore’s disingenuous, quite literally unbelievable discussion of the “struggles” he faced while pursuing a rap career.
The hard, biting milieu of the streets of Seattle somehow don’t manage to carry through on, “I used to work at Subway / Seven bucks an hour wasn’t much money / But I be rapping and kicking it on my lunch break / Like ‘I’mma make it out this motherfucker one day’” (“Buckshot”), and the supposed rough-and-tumble environment he grew up in isn’t properly represented with, “Just copped that new Boot Camp tape / The neighbors keep complaining ‘bout too much bass” (“Buckshot”). Besides, all of this is undercut by the gem, “In a mansion, picking out a chandelier/ But got a bone to pick with the man in the mirror / Questioning the purchase while I’m standing there” (“Bolo Tie”). If that weren’t bad enough, Macklemore also doesn’t manage to avoid falling into that trap wherein white hip hop artists bitch and moan about shallow, mediated culture, coming across like a high school slam poet that thinks Kanye West is too black to listen to (“Light Tunnels”). Equally enraging are lines such as, “I used to smoke that purple weed / Sip a bunch of purple drink / That shit did not work for me / And now I just sip herbal tea” (“Brad Pitt’s Cousin”) and “I recommend that you read ‘The Alchemist’” (“Growing Up”), striking an oddly strident, self-absorbed tone and ensuring that any self-respecting hip hop fan will laugh at him for the rest of time immemorial.
I like two things about this album. The first three seconds of “Brad Pitt’s Cousin” feature a warped, twisted, vaguely Carnatic vocal sample that bespeaks of production maturity on behalf of Ryan Lewis, and KRS-One’s guest verse makes me feel like I’m listening to an actual hip hop effort and not the puffed-up, pointless ramblings of a white clown with a fade haircut. Unfortunately, as far as production goes, that proves to be the last segment of any discernible interest, as Ryan Lewis seems adamant that his half-assed “throwback” sound of piano, horns, and clean electric guitar is important enough that we’re exposed to it on a nauseatingly large scale, and the occasional snippets of trap-influenced production (“Dance Off,” “Bolo Tie”) sink faster than the Titanic on behalf of Macklemore’s resolute impotence as a presence on the mic worth paying attention to. Otherwise, Macklemore is only remotely tolerable when he’s just barely competent enough to be ignored, and as such, “St. Ides” and “Growing Up” are the most forgivable tracks, as they don’t inspire emotion either way.
Now then, “White Privilege II” is impossible to ignore, largely in part to its clickbaiting, rabble-rousing reveal and discussion to generate absolutely any interest in the album, but I digress. I don’t hate it, and half of it is even worth paying attention to. The choir-oriented chorus and blaring horn line at least tip a hat to artists like Kendrick Lamar, and the first verse does, in fact, manage to navigate Macklemore’s horrific interpretations of rhythm and rhyme in his vocal delivery to impart an uncomfortable and important issue upon the listener. It’s a valid calling-out of white people who recreationally support social movements such as Black Lives Matter while continuously remaining unsure of whether they can or should help. Hell, Macklemore even manages to inject some virility into the chorus, the first time on the album the listener will find themselves even remotely engaged. And then the second verse hits. Macklemore isn’t necessarily incorrect in calling out artists such as Miley, Elvis Presley, and Iggy Azalea for appropriating black culture, but he absolutely loses credibility when you consider he criticizes, “all the watered down pop-bullshit version of the culture, pal” after giving us a track about a grandma touching his penis and making an Instagram post for his cat, and claims that, “hip hop has always been political, yes / It’s the reason why this music connects” after flushing three minutes and 12 seconds of our lives down the toilet with his belief that he looks like a less attractive Brad Pitt. As such, I can’t help but turn the questions, “You speak about equality, but do you really mean it? / Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?” right back on him.
On the aforementioned track, Macklemore includes a verse wherein a white mother tells him that he’s the only rap she’ll let her kids listen to. And that’s all Macklemore deserves to be, hip hop that your mom feels comfortable with. On “Bolo Tie,” Macklemore includes a bite at his haters and demanding fans: “Man, make better music.” Well, I’ll be here waiting.
Verdict: Do Not Recommend