Author Malcolm Gladwell laid out the theory in his book Outliers: The Story of Success that regardless of God-given talent, an individual who strives for an ideal proficiency in their respective craft must first spend at least ten years honing their skills. Better known as the “10,000-Hour Rule” it can be applied to any industry - whether it is science, sports or the arts. Fittingly, it’s also a theory that Seattle rapper Macklemore stands by, as evidenced by his climb from earlier years of artistic stagnation and personal struggles to an underground sensation that has built his own success without the assistance of a record label. This culmination of an independent and willful demeanor is undoubtedly present on his debut full-length The Heist with producer Ryan Lewis.
No better place to start is “Jimmy Iovine,” where a metaphoric portrait of industry insolence transpires, not to mention a nod to the album’s title. In it Macklemore takes on a label head (guess who?), opting to venture out on his own after encountering a shady proposition that many of today’s newer artists have likely been cursed with. Subsequently, this literal sense of freedom is what allows The Heist to cover a wide scope of material without compromising Macklemore’s message. “Neon Cathedral” deals with his past penchant for alcohol abuse, while “Starting Over” digs deep into a recent relapse that put Macklemore into a disheartening position. In both cases Macklemore takes a vulnerable approach that few rappers would bear, a testament to the honesty in his music.
Playing as much an activist as an emcee, “Same Love” is a transcendent moment that challenges the status quo of Hip Hop, specifically dealing with the acceptance of homosexuality and marriage equality. With inspiring piano keys and a moving chorus from Mary Lambert supporting his potent words, Macklemore declares, “No law is gonna change us, we have to change us / Whatever God you believe in, we come from the same one / Strip away the fear, underneath it’s all the same love / About time that we raised up.”
While Macklemore can substantially make his case on the lyrical side, “Same Love” (and the entirety of The Heist for that matter) wouldn’t carry the same significance without the work of Ryan Lewis. Making a conscious decision to stay away from sampling, he instead took on the task of building each record with layered production. Whether it’s the Beastie Boys-esque bounce of “Thrift Shop” or the compelling orchestral delivery of “Wings,” Lewis’ compositions sufficiently add to Macklemore’s themes whereas a beat sent through email would have certainly diminished its value. With the lone featured verse courtesy of Top Dawg cohort ScHoolboy Q spotlighting a mutual love for Cadillacs, “White Walls” puts on a clinic of their chemistry topped off by a charming hook from singer Hollis.
An exemplary balance of serious and cheerful cuts alike, very seldom does The Heist reach beyond its means. And when it does, it’s more so due to lack of creative placement than effort. Unexpectedly, “BomBom” is a performance that takes the listener through different phases of visionary flight. Kudos to The Teaching aside, the instrumental track doesn’t properly fit into the scheme of The Heist, much less a break halfway through the album. Then there’s “Thin Line,” a record that is moments away from a relationship status change on Facebook. Built over hollow claps and nimbly thin synth, it’s one that will likely slide by without a second look considering the depth that is available elsewhere. “Cowboy Boots” meets somewhat better execution, with chants reminiscent of an English pub during a football (no, not that one) fixture and a banjo giving the track gusto.
For those that have given (then Professor) Macklemore’s first project Open Your Eyes a listen will hear the exponential growth he has made since then with The Heist. He and Ryan Lewis may not be your stereotypical Hip Hop duo, but that’s just another case of these two Seattleites breaking the industry norm. 10,000 hours later, Macklemore is definitely feeling like gold.