With his latest album the artist and his producer give rap and hip hop a refreshing slice of good conscience, plus a whole lot of good time.
MACKLEMORE AND RYAN LEWIS/ THE HEIST
If you've been following this column closely (or at least for the past few months), you should already be familiar with the name Macklemore. However, just to make sure everyone is on the same page, he's the guy whose smash hit, the dangerously infectious Thrift Shop, has been featured and raved about on our weekly Playlist as well as our Top 15 Tracks of 2012. Elsewhere, the song also claimed the No1 spot in Australia and New Zealand, and peaked at No2 in Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip Hop Songs and Rap Songs chart.
Born Ben Haggerty in Seattle, the MC who goes by the stage name Macklemore is an indie artist in the truest sense. Since 2000, he has been making and releasing music without support from any label, which obviously doesn't hinder him from being a prolific artist. Macklemore's discography, to date, includes one mixtape, three EPs, one full-length album released in 2005, and now The Heist, his latest offering which essentially puts his and his producer's names on the map.
The album opens with Ten Thousand Hours, the track that's inspired by the ''10,000 Hour Rule'' (to be great at something, you have to do it for 10,000 hours) popularised by author Malcolm Gladwell in his best-selling book, Outliers. ''Ten thousand hours I'm so damn close, I can taste it/On some Malcolm Gladwell, David Bowie meets Kanye s**t/This is dedication/A life lived for art is never a life wasted.'' He then goes on to profess his appreciation for art and the value of hard work: ''See, I observed Escher, I love Basquiat/I watched Keith Harring, you see I study art/The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint/The greats were great 'cause they paint a lot.'' Based on this opening track alone, you could already tell that this rapper is not here to flaunt his wealth nor his swag.
Rather, as the album plays on, Macklemore chooses to tackle unconventional, heavier topics rarely discussed in the rap/hip hop world such as marriage equality (Same Love), alcoholism (Neon Cathedral, Starting Over) or staying true to oneself (Make the Money, where he raps: ''Make the money, don't let the money make you/Change the game, don't let the game change you,'') consumerism (Wings) and racism (A Wake). Amid all the seriousness, though, there are still light-hearted moments to delight in such as a cute love story (Thin Line), perfunctory odes to carpe diem (Can't Hold Us and White Walls), a singalong banjo-extravaganza (Cowboy Boots), and, of course, bargain hunting (Thrift Shop).
While some of the songs border on preachy, he insists on A Wake that he is, in fact, ''not more or less conscious'' than most rappers out there. Say what you will, Macklemore, but we don't think there's enough of what you do in the music industry. Content aside, kudos must also be given to producer Ryan Lewis who injects plenty of pop sensibilities that will also appeal to a wider audience _ general Top 40 listeners. The Heist is hands down one of the most exciting, well-rounded rap/hip hop records we've heard in recent memory.
Local Natives/Heavy Feet
Known for their gorgeous three-part harmonies and world-music leanings, American psych-rock quartet Local Natives finally made a welcome return a few months ago with Breakers, the epic-sounding first single taken from their upcoming second album, Hummingbird. With Heavy Feet, the band carries on delivering an exquisitely expansive soundscape flecked with snare drums and roaring guitars. ''After everything, after everything/Left in the sun, shivering,'' croons singer-keyboardist Kelcey Ayer. From what we've been given so far, there's a good chance Hummingbird will go down as one of this year's better albums.
There's no denying the buzz surrounding London girl-boy R&B electro duo AlunaGeorge throughout 2012. And after coming second in the revered BBC Sound of 2013 poll (after Californian sisters Haim), Aluna Francis and George Reid are not going anywhere soon. As the twosome ready the release of their debut album, Body Music, they hit us with another serving of contagious smoothness in the form of Diver. As with Your Drums, Your Love (one of our Top 15 singles of 2012), the track oozes R&B sensibilities, inventive panache, and quotable lines such as: ''I wanna be a diver into the sea/Beyond my walk, going over me.''
Before AlunaGeorge, there were Hurts, the British synth-pop duo who appeared on the scene back in 2009. Their singles Beautiful Life and Sunday from their debut album are an example of moody, melancholic pop done right _ think Pet Shop Boys after their pets died. Made up of Theo Hutchcraft and Adam Anderson, the dapper duo get us ready for their second album, Exile, with the first single, Miracle. Here, the lads seem to have gone easy on the electronics and decided to flirt with the kind of stadium rock sound industry veterans such as Coldplay and U2 are so good at.
Josef Salvat/ This Life
Having emerged seemingly from nowhere, London-based Aussie singer/songwriter Josef Salvat has quickly secured himself a spot on our ''artists to watch'' list. While there's very little information on Salvat (at the time of writing), his track This Life is already being hailed on music blogs far and wide _ and rightfully so. This is a piece of masterful pop that perfectly sets the tone for what this year has in store for us. There's a hint of Hurts (see above) in his vocals while the narrative-style lyrics and production can easily pass off as those of Lana Del Rey. Absolutely intriguing.
Jarell Perry/ Whiskey A Go Go
Songwriter-turned-singer Jarell Perry is another pop newcomer worthy of mention. His single Whiskey A Go Go offers up a toothsome blend of R&B and electro plus a dash of acoustic while Perry relates to us how he resorts to drinking to dispel the pain of a heartache. ''Whiskey, make it go/Make it all go/Go good,'' he pleads. Oh yes, Jarell, we've all been there. If you're a fan of Craig David, Ne-Yo and Usher, trust us, this is right up your alley.
About the author
Writer: Chanun Poomsawai