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Album review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are too self-absorbed to have any fun

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are less an unruly mess and more of a calculated display of zeitgeist-setting pop-rap.
Macklemore, left, and Ryan Lewis. Photo by Jason Koenig
Macklemore, left, and Ryan Lewis. Photo by Jason Koenig

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

(Macklemore LLC)

Two and a half stars

Being a white rapper in 2016 seems to invariably involve a continuing struggle of overly in-depth self-analysis, unnecessary attempts at justification and painfully white guilt.

So it is on This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, the second album from Seattle rapper Macklemore and his production pal, Ryan Lewis.

The runaway success of the duo’s 2012 debut The Heist – propelled by chart-topping signature tune Thrift Shop – has only heightened the mirror-gazing self-loathing.

True, it’s fitting that a rapper so used to turning the lens of introspection on himself would use the “difficult” second album to dissect their rise to fame. But Macklemore finds himself caught between a desire to win the respect of hip-hop aficionados, and an innate ability to write exactly they sort of quirky pop songs that ensure that the novelty-hit accusations and suspicious glances keep flooding in.

That’s perfectly encapsulated on the single Downtown, which has proved itself one of the rare, exhaustingly rotated hits of the past year that doesn’t make you want to immerse your head in a bucket of acid every time it comes on the radio. It’s a splendid, bombastic pop song about the joys of moped driving, aided by a silky, arena-rock chorus from Foxy Shazam’s Eric Nally. But three other names on the guest-list – rap godfathers Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee and Grandmaster Caz – betray Macklemore’s desperate desire to legitimise his art.

Two tracks later, Buckshot continues the mission to prove old-skool hip-hop credentials, enlisting golden-age-of-hip-hop names KRS-One and DJ Premier, but despite being a decent demonstration of boom-bap rap, it makes Macklemore seem more like a fanboy than a true contemporary.

Perhaps the quest for earnestness might be aided by easing up on collaborations with the likes of Ed Sheeran – a man seemingly on a mission to set some kind of world record for guesting on the most-disparate albums possible. Growing Up is another slice of his dialled-in blue-eyed soul.

Elsewhere, one of the most promising guests, Chance the Rapper passes by without making much of an impression on Need to Know, with Macklemore sounding like an emo-band singer attempting to rap his personal diary. Dance Off, featuring actor Idris “Luther” Elba and Anderson Paak, is at least flat-out ridiculous – and somehow all the better for it.

Ultimately, Macklemore and Lewis are less an unruly mess, more a calculated display of zeitgeist-setting pop-rap. If they could stop their hand-wringing for more than five minutes, maybe everybody else could enjoy the party without fear of emotional reprisals.

aworkman@thenational.ae

Updated: March 7, 2016 04:00 AM

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