Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released their unforgettable, number one Billboard Hot 100 hit “Thrift Shop” over four years ago. Fast forward to 2016: when the hip-hop duo released their fourth album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made on Feb. 26. Among other notable artists, Ed Sheeran and Chance The Rapper are featured on this album.
“Thrift Shop” jumpstarted Macklemore and Lewis’ careers. With his succeeding albums, however, Macklemore proved to the world that he was not a one-hit wonder. The Heist was a hugely successful album with hits like “White Walls” and “Can’t Hold Us.” In contrast, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made turned out to be a complete flop.
“Try-hard” is the only phrase that can accurately describe this album. It’s apparent that Macklemore was merely trying to stay relevant after The Heist’s huge success—a plan that completely backfired.
Successful music reaches its listeners through its messages and artistic quality. In this album, however, the messages did not translate and the music was lost. At times, it felt as if Macklemore were talking in a conversational setting rather than rapping in a studio.
It’s tough to say which was worse: the music or the lyrics. “Downtown” raps about mopeds to the beat of funk music—a true tragedy of a song, in my opinion. The song itself is a gag inducing, peppy version of “Uptown Funk,” and it’s hard for me to see how this song could appeal to any demographic.
“Brad Pitt’s Cousin” was arguably the least understandable song on the album. In the song, Macklemore jokes that he’s Brad Pitt’s “ugly” cousin, calling out to all his “Angelinas.” What was supposed to be a lighthearted, funny song only worked to reveal Macklemore’s completely bizarre, unsympathetic sense of humor.
“Let’s Eat” is a track that centers on dieting, in which Macklemore raps, “My girl shaped like a bottle of Coke/ Me? I’m shaped like a bottle of nope.” This song was embarrassingly terrible, highlighting Macklemore’s declining songwriting abilities.
Lastly, “Buckshot” focuses on how Macklemore grew up in a poor and vandalized property with graffiti—a song which directly contradicts his persona. In “Buckshot,” Macklemore identifies with the poverty-stricken population that many rappers come from and use as inspiration in their music. In “White Privilege II,” though—and seemingly the rest of his music—he identifies with a more privileged population that has never had to overcome hardships. If a rapper does not know who they are, how is their music supposed to be understood, let alone appreciated?
In the past, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have been known for cleverly bringing social justice issues to light through their music, as seen in “Same Love” featuring Mary Lambert. “White Privilege II,” however, is just short of a disaster. Macklemore raps for nearly nine minutes about the different opinions surrounding the current racial climate, addressing issues from culturally appropriated rap to marching as a white man in Ferguson protests.
“Black Lives Matter” is chanted throughout “White Privilege II,” along with people voicing their opinions about the movement. Miley Cyrus, Elvis Presley, Iggy Azalea and Mike Brown are all somehow mentioned in the same verse. While dissing other artists through a song is not a new phenomenon, it can be tasteless—especially when done in a song that deals with such heavy topics as the shooting of Michael Brown. The track comes off as tacky and Macklemore seems like another white male trying to convince others of his understanding of the black struggle.
This Unruly Mess I’ve Made was exactly what the title implies—a complete and utter mess. Connecting with listeners seemed to be the main struggle of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ album, with bad songwriting and poor musicality not helping their cause. While there may be a few tolerable songs off this album, overall, it gives white rap a bad name.