Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Macklemore & Ryan Lewis

  • The Heist [self-released, 2012] B+
  • This Unruly Mess I've Made [self-released, 2016] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Heist [self-released, 2012]
The question isn't whether this Seattle alt-rapper is a cornball, it's whether he's so dumb he's a cornball or so brave he's a cornball. The answer is "Same Love," the best gay marriage song to date in any genre and as corny as it damn well oughta be. Sure there's too much "who I really was," too much "a life lived for art is never a life wasted." And though the co-billed Lewis is big and original for an alt-beatmaker, his percussion-oriented version of an E Street Band, strings-swell-to-big-finish aesthetic has its icky moments. But as someone who shares Macklemore's moral views if not his equation of sincerity with soul, I find only the alcoholic's confession "Neon Cathedral" too much, and that one's counteracted by the relapser's confession "Starting Over," just as "Sayin' 'That's poetry, it's so well-spoken,' stop it" counteracts his art talk. He's especially good on old cars and old clothes. B+

This Unruly Mess I've Made [self-released, 2016]
Since the only bad thing I know about this diligent, talented, sincere Evergreen College alum is his post-"Thrift Shop" stage gear, I consider his critical disrepute a disgrace to my vocation. Although clearly no cash-in or rush job, his second album gathered 17 Metacritic reviews averaging a pitiful 59, the most bewildering a sympathetic Pitchfork piece that could have been a 79 as easily as the 51 some asshole stuck on it. The three by black writers went 76, 75, and 50, which I mention because Macklemore's whiteness has been a cause celebre ever since he apologized for the rap Grammy The Heist snatched from good kidd m.A.A.d city. Yes, he's white, and his suburban drawl and choppy flow sound that way, although not Lewis's pop hooks, grand flourishes, and schooled piano. But just because he candidly embodies the awkwardness and contradictions in which white privilege embroils every Caucasian who isn't a flat-out racist, he makes white people uncomfortable, and they should stop blaming him for it. Beyond two preachy substance-abuse numbers, this is consistently fun, interesting, or both. The Anderson Paak. romp "Dance Off," the Melle Mel/Kool Moe Dee joke-boast "Downtown," the tonsorial joke-boast "Brad Pitt's Cousin," and the corny one for his little girl are unpretentious enough to justify the much-dissed 8:46 finale "White Privilege," which has more content than the twice-and-done Tupac feature you never play on To Pimp a Butterfly. A-