Critical Voices: Macklemore, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made

March 15, 2016


Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have not released an official album since “The Heist” in 2012, which contained hits like “Can’t Hold Us”, “Thrift Shop”, and “Same Love” and thrust them into the spotlight. Their new album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, shows a different side of Macklemore, one that is vulnerable but at the same time very confident.


Released on February 26, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made ranges from the upbeat to the rebellious. The album opens with “Light Tunnels,” a great debut, in which Macklemore expresses his disgust with award shows, especially the Grammys. He complains about having to detox, how the makeup people make him look too orange, and how the entertainment industry is incredibly fake and youth-oriented. He calls out how insecure the media is, always afraid to speak and afraid to be their true selves. Despite the fact that he complains the whole song, he still wishes to be invited back next year, because he knows himself better than anyone else.

Unfortunately, some of the songs do not measure up to Macklemore’s hits. “Downtown” appears to try and imitate “Uptown Funk” by Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson but does not have the same allure or catchy lyrics. Similarly, “Brad Pitt’s Cousin” makes the mistake of mocking Hollywood royalty and relying on trite jokes. He references “Deez Nuts,” a joke that has been dormant for months, and riffs about Angelina Jolie. His lyrics are cheesy at best, and his attempt at being funny like he was in “Thrift Shop” falls flat.

Fortunately, the album has many songs that keep it afloat, such as “Growing Up,” for which Ed Sheeran sings the hook. In this song, Macklemore reflects on raising his young daughter, Sloane, who was born in May. In the song, Macklemore advocates for women’s strength, and how he wants to be an active participant in his daughter’s life, not just on FaceTime. He gives her important life advice, like what to do if she has her heart broken, and tells her to always tell the truth, listen to her mother, and learn to be selfless.  Sheeran’s sultry but beautiful vocals combined with Macklemore’s important advice make this a track that everyone should listen to, whether one has a child or not.

Another zenith of the album is “Need to Know,” which has Chance the Rapper provide vocals. Macklemore uses this track to criticize capitalism and to discuss the truth that people need to know before becoming famous. Chance discusses his daughter as well, stating that he is “Already afraid too tight clothes”, since, like most fathers, he wants to keep her safe and away from anything that could harm her. The duo states that the rise to fame is difficult and feels fake, and their raw truth is very interesting and makes one want to learn more. Humans typically do not want to know the real truth, preferring to live in a positive fantasy world, but Macklemore and Chance want to ensure that any young artist knows how to maneuver the spotlight.

One of the most renowned tracks on the album is “White Privilege II,” in which Macklemore denounces white privilege. Featuring Jamila Woods, the song supports the Black Lives Matter protests and condemns the system that helped make him famous because it also led to incidences of racism. He discusses cultural appropriation, and how he himself contributed to it. Macklemore asserts that we must stand up for injustices, and not just blindly sit by, and he demands that all other white hip-hop artists do the same. His song makes a statement that others are afraid to touch, and he succeeds in his mission.

This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is a variegated album. From the cheesy to the genuine, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis work hard to give a new perspective to each tune and return to their social activist attitudes.

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