“I will not be a statistic, just let me be
No child left behind, that’s the American scheme
I make my living off of words
And do what I love for work
And got around 980 on my SATs”

The opening track on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new album, The Heist, is titled “Ten Thousand Hours.” The title references Malcolm Gladwell’s theory regarding what makes someone extraordinary in their field, as presented in Outliers. While Gladwell’s theory is not universally accepted, Macklemore’s point is well taken—achieving greatness takes tremendous amounts of work.

Macklemore and Lewis are not your run-of-the-mill rapper/producer duo. The Heist entered the iTunes sales list in 1st place, and the Billboard 200 Chart in 2nd, but instead of idealizing drug use and material wealth, and mocking “faggots,” Macklemore speaks in support of the gay rights movement, critiques consumerism, and speaks openly about his struggles with drug abuse. It’s a fresh breath of air into a genre that has gradually become a parody of itself.

Tracks worthy of particular note are the aforementioned “Ten Thousand Hours;” “Same Love,” in which Macklemore speaks out in support of gay marriage; “Wing$,” a reflection on his childhood obsession with brand name basketball shoes; and “Starting Over,” featuring Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses. The latter gives the listener a candid look into Macklemore’s struggles with drug abuse, his three years of sobriety, and the way in which he felt that he had let himself, his parents, and his fans down when he relapsed. “If I can be an example of getting sober, then I can be an example of starting over,” he repeats, as Bridwell brings the song to an end.

The album is not entirely without potential for improvement. The chorus of “Thrift Shop” sounds like it were written by a fourteen-year old, and ScHoolboy Q, the guest rapper on “White Walls,” reverts to the age-old theme of “white hoes in the backseat snortin’ coke.” With his reflection on homophobia in hip hop, one would think that Macklemore would be more proactive in keeping demeaning descriptions of women—arguably as big of a problem in the genre as is homophobia—off his album.

But we have a tendency to get nitpicky when someone is trying to make a difference. The Heist takes hip hop in a new direction. Other rappers have tried to do the same, but Macklemore and Lewis are unique in the mainstream success they have gained in doing so. Perhaps the genre is finally ready for this change. The album is filled with more solid tracks than there is room to describe here, and Ryan Lewis’ extraordinary production skills certainly warrant his name’s appearance on the cover alongside Macklemore’s.

 

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