Published Mar 03, 2016When Macklemore and Ryan Lewis announced the release of their sophomore effort, This Unruly Mess I've Made, a tracklist featuring hip-hop royalty like KRS-One, Grandmaster Caz and DJ Premier suggested an attempt by the duo to appeal to the genre's traditionalists. Whether the attempt was actually successful is debatable, but the Seattle duo remain true to the selves they presented on their 2012 debut, The Heist.
The unruly mess the duo speak of is their superstardom and its inherent conundrums. The album's opening cut, "Light Tunnels," finds Macklemore condemning the voyeurism and sideshows of celebrity, yet admitting his desire to maintain his status, while "The Train" laments bonds with loved ones broken at the hands of career obligations. The former presents and dissects a dichotomy few at Macklemore's level are willing to confront, and he tailors his flow and delivery nicely in discussing each side of the proverbial coin. The latter presents a similar conflict, ending with Macklemore reluctantly owning his decision to put himself first, and it works.
Being a (relatively) new father, Mack also takes time to impart some wisdom to his offspring on the Ed Sheeran-assisted "Growing Up," and warns his daughter about the balancing act he's got to perform: "Got a whole world to sing to and you at the same time." As on "The Train," he may not flow on the song, but the affecting lyrics about unconventional parenting and the closing horns and harmonies make it one of the album's standouts. Simply put: whether it follows hip-hop convention or not, authenticity speaks volumes.
As a proper followup to their chart-topping debut, the duo provide some humour ("Brad Pitt's Cousin" and the diet-dreading "Let's Eat"), as well as some dance-worthy material with "Downtown," featuring founding fathers Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel, and "Dance Off," with Idris Elba's vocals strangely reminiscent of Vincent Price's on "Thriller." And yet, one can't shake the urge, listening to "Downtown," to break out original records by the greats instead; even DJ Premier's scratch hook on "Buckshot," which follows a killer 16 by KRS-One, comes off as little more than a tease of the past. Simply put, this won't be the album that converts staunch old-school preservationists.
If anything, Macklemore's at his best when he's facing forward, doing what he does best without having to prove his credentials. Fortunately, he does that plenty here, coupling carefully varied subject matter with Ryan Lewis' piano-heavy beats and horn arrangements to make this Mess he's made far from unruly. The heads just might be slightly disappointed. (Macklemore LLC)