Danny Licht, culture editor
Last week every social network I use was rife with posts about “The Heist.” With just those two words, some followed by a heart, each garnered hefty attention and thus each appeared on my newsfeeds. So I googled it and uncovered this world of Macklemore, whose new album, “The Heist,” produced by some guy named Ryan Lewis, captured the attention of the virtual world.
As I get older I find it increasingly difficult to relate to pop culture, and for that “The Heist” serves as a benchmark. I first heard one of its most popular songs, “Thrift Shop” (feat. Wanz). Like Shakespeare’s “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” sonnet, the song begins with a line that serves as both a question and a challenge: “Hey Macklemore, can we go thrift shopping?” Though, unlike Shakespeare’s sonnet — hey Macklemore, shall I compare thee to a Shakespearean sonnet? — the rapper’s verse is little more than shallow slapstick. He notes, for example, that he should have washed his leopard mink because he’s at a club, surrounded by girls, and he “smells like R. Kelly’s sheets.” Then, for listeners unfamiliar with R. Kelly’s 2002 incident in which he urinated on a minor, Macklemore ruins the already unfunny joke by whispering the more-vulgar form of “pee.”
Beyond the ingratiating horn riff that prevails in “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore tells his personal views on homosexuality, in “Same Love” (feat. Mary Lambert). The song is a social commentary told in modern slang. It whistle-blows fellow hip-hop artists and YouTube commenters for using terms like “Man, that’s gay,” which “gets dropped on the daily.” He argues against their dislike for homosexuals with the Divine’s words, saying that “God loves all his children.” Like the Black Eyed Peas’s 2004 “Where Is The Love?” before it, “Same Love” sends a good message via clichés.
“Ten Thousand Hours,” the album’s track that makes me chuckle most, chronicles Macklemore’s road to fame. It’s based on the 10,000-Hour Rule, popularized by New Yorker staff writer Malcolm Gladwell in his acclaimed book “Outliers: The Story of Success,” which states that if one spends 10,000 hours practicing a task then he can be good at it. Macklemore has presumably spent that amount of time writing mediocre music. At one point in the song the rapper chants, “I observed Escher, I love Basquiat, / I watched Keith Harring; You see I study art.” At this point the listener is expected to applaud. I give him a standing ovation.
Other highlights from the album include “Wing$,” which uses various sneakers as a metaphor for success, and “White Walls,” which discusses the trials, tribulations and successes of speeding in a Cadillac. It is a shame that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis spent so much time writing about success when they should have taken that time to write original music. To their credit, however, the album is aptly titled; “The Heist” steals contemporary platitudes and hackneyed hip-hop templates from its KIIS FM relatives. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s new album is both the product and epitome of modern pop, and that’s really sort of sad.