The dynamic duo of Seattle rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis is back with the follow up to 2012′s epic The Heist. Four years later, they’ve come back with a new, controversial effort with This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, covering topics that some artists in their position won’t tread in. The album is eclectic and different, but there are some sour moments on it, too.
The album begins with the honest ripping of the media, ‘Light Tunnels’ featuring songwriter Mike Slap. The song trashes the whole award show scene, Macklemore stating savagely, “They want talking topics, they want trending topics / They want outfits to be outlandish, they want sideways glances / Beef and problems, they want nipple slips / Cause they live for clips, this is economics.” The instrumental is classic for this project, many different levels, the first verse featuring urgent strings and opera singers on top of a thick bassline and beat before kicking into a droning beat section and finally a piano-led ending. There’s always a lot going behind the lyrics that you’d miss if you weren’t focussing on one or the other. Next comes the funky take on ‘Uptown Funk’, ‘Downtown’ with a whole slew of guests. The song has a lot of groove and is just really infectious - it’s like this album’s ‘Thrift Shop’. It’s a fun song to just groove too and is endearingly annoying (in a good way). The music video is pretty huge, too. Other great moments on the album include the heartwarming message to Macklemore’s child, ‘Growing Up (Sloane’s Song)’ with Ed Sheeran and the hard-hitting ‘Kevin’ featuring Leon Bridges that addresses overdosing and suicide.
The album’s biggest moment, and perhaps most controversial, is the closure track, the nearly 9-minute commentary of ‘White Privilege II’. The song addresses the Black Lives Matter movement as a whole, addressing both the ideas of finding equality and the struggles of being a white man in a predominantly black genre. With its impressive length, it covers a lot of subjects and has five clear sections. The first section is a contains a soulful melody behind Macklemore’s addressing how the struggle for racial equality goes both ways - it’s hard for white people to take part when they’re being “targeted”, in a sense, when trying to have a voice. The second part takes place in a bar, with a mom talking to him about how his music sends a positive message as opposed to the rest of hip-hop. Then comes a short sample bridge where different individuals speak their mind on white supremacy, one notable quote stating it pretty clearly: “I have an advantage? Why? Cause I'm white? What? No.“ Then breaks into a more dramatic section filled with a keyboard and synths that discusses the influence of white culture taking from the black culture. The final section features singer Jamila Woods, and features more interviews being sampled as it segues into the track. ‘White Privilege II’ is more of a conversation than it is a hip-hop feat, almost as if Macklemore is discussing his position with himself. It’s bound to be a reference in the whole movement for a time to come, and it’s interesting to hear a white artist address this in hip-hop.
Despite some powerful moments, a lot of this album just makes you ask... “What?” Songs like ‘Let’s Eat’ and ‘Brad Pitt’s Cousin’ are just so left-field, it’s hard to find endearing. The track ‘Bolo Tie’ is the closest this project has ever gotten to the stereotypical rap scene and fails to include that Macklemore touch. ‘Dance Off’ features Anderson .Paak and Idris Elba, and, while incredibly strange, does have some appeal. There is such a big divide between the songs with powerful meanings and the less serious songs, it feels like the duo couldn’t decide how to formulate the album. The album has good intentions, but doesn’t fall up all the way through.
This Unruly Mess I’ve Made may not be as cohesive an effort as The Heist, but it is an enjoyable listen. There are some incredible moments on it, but also some very strange ones, as well. It’s made it’s mark, though. That’s the important thing.
Favorite Tracks: White Privilege II, Downtown, Growing Up, Light Tunnels
Least Favorite Tracks: Bolo Tie, Let’s Eat, Buckshot