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The project starts out triumphantly with “Ten Thousand Hours,” a reference to author Malcolm Gladwell’s claim that the key to success is 10,000 hours of practice at a task. While the majority of the song is an optimistic celebration, the beat switches up and slows at the end, where Macklemore acknowledges the pain and struggle that present in his life. In many ways, this is foreshadowing for the rest of the album, which juxtaposes the highs against struggles with gaining recognition, addiction, and critiques of society.
Macklemore makes a big deal about his decision to remain independent, even telling a story on “Jimmy Iovine” about his near decision to sign to a major until realizing that it wasn’t what he wanted. This choice is easily apparent on The Heist, where the subject matter and production choices deviate far from the commercial standard. As Macklemore says on “Make the Money”: “Make the money, don’t let the money make you Change the game, don’t let the game change you.”
In a culture where drugs, sex, violence and consumerism are often glorified, especially in rap music, Macklemore provides a different perspective. He explores his struggles with alcohol abuse and relationships, and “Starting Over” is standout track in which Macklemore bares his experience of relapsing three years after kicking an addiction to cough syrup. He criticizes rampant consumerism, and on “Same Love” he makes the bold move of endorsing same sex marriage while condemning homophobia in culture, politics, and especially in the rap world. However, Macklemore is careful never to get preachy; on “A Wake,” where he discusses the exaltation of drugs, sex, and violence, he bucks attempts to typecast him as a conscious rapper: “Ah, I’m not more or less conscious than rappers rappin’ ’bout them strippers up on the pole, copping these interviews are obnoxious saying that it’s poetry is so well spoken, stop it.” And Macklemore makes good on his claim by providing many lighter moments. Some standouts include “Thrift Shop,” “Cowboy Boots,” and “White Walls,” which features a killer verse from Schoolboy Q, on a project where guest artists are almost always reserved for the chorus.
Ryan Lewis also gets his chance to shine. The production on the project is largely instrument focused with piano, strings, trumpets, naturalistic percussion, and even banjo, contrasting a genre increasing influenced by electronic music. Beats often switch mid song and feature extended instrumental interludes. Lewis even gets an entire song to display his contribution in the solely instrumental “BomBom”.
The Heist is a complete and refreshing project. Macklemore forgoes intricate technical rhyming and punch lines for deep and honest introspection, and daring subject matter. Macklemore has triumphantly burst onto the mainstream conscious with The Heist debuting at #1 on iTunes. However, he never forgets where he came from, the pain that accompanied and remains, or compromises his beliefs and artistic integrity. Ultimately, the pace and lyrical style may not be for everyone, but The Heist is certainly worth a listen.
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