The concept behind the opening track from Macklemore’s latest album The Heist comes from Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers and idea that “10,000 Hours” of devotion are needed to master your craft. Whether the breakthrough MC actually achieved that tally of hours is moot, because the man’s grind is mainstream-heavy on an independent budget. That diligence also glaringly appears throughout Jabari Presents: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.
Casually following the Seattle-based duo around an all-day video shoot for his uproarious ode to “Thrift Shop” living, the always-cool host of BET’s Face 2 Face series uses his latest documentary short to showcase how much effort goes on behind the scenes of a three-minute video clip amidst the unglamorous underbelly of life as a successful indie rapper. From visual production and photography to mass marketing and merchandise warehousing, the duo and their crew do everything in house, living and breathing the craft to the point where their lives are literally dictated by the music. Luckily, that stone-faced dedication bleeds through in their latest Heist.
While the album of the moment currently belongs to another sober Left Coast MC, this rock-solid project from the former XXL Freshman and his production partner will probably go down as one of music pundits’ favorite albums of the year. Packaged in fake gator-skin and containing a cohesive blend of conceptual gems, the duo’s first full-length project is comprised of various themes that are not only timely and across the board, but deliberately magnetized to Mack’s heart – a point he makes clear in Jabari Presents.
For instance, the candid rapper with a preacher’s delivery uses moving tracks about brand brainwashing (“Wings”) and gay rights (“Same Love’) to show his worldly concerns. And songs like “A Wake” and “Starting Over” turn personal problems (self-definition and overcoming a sobriety relapse, respectively) into beneficial therapy sessions for everyone involved. Then there are his extremely clever singles – the aforementioned “Thrift Store” and the ScHoolBoy Q-assisted ode to old school Cadillacs, “White Walls.” While both succeed in sticking to listener’s brains, they also come from a positive perspective and push the idea of a radio record further than your average rapper.
With their unmatched D.I.Y. ethos and steadfast approach to invigorating the world around them, Mack and Lewis are teasing hip-hop’s current complacent culture. Instead of compromising their craft for the masses and cranking out mediocrity, these two renaissance men have built their success on a buoyant blend of relevant themes, via a socially-conscious point of view and sound that is clearly their own. While that fact could be made clearly by noting the simple fact that Lewis’ backdrops are triumphant enough to warrant a six-minute instrumental (“BomBom”) – something that would never fly on a major label release – their most significant sign of self-infused success might be “Jimmy Iovine,” named after and in spite of the infamous Interscope chairman and CEO.
Backed by Lewis’ load-bearing sonic distress and an Ab-Soul hook, this high-powered hypothetical finds Macklemore infiltrating his way up the world’s biggest record label, only to track down the head honcho and get offered a detached 360° deal. What follows might be the entire album’s crowning quote – “I appreciate the offer, thought that this is what I wanted, but I’d rather be a starving artist than succeed in getting f*cked.” While the line is extremely ballsy in context alone, the fact an unsigned artist back-handed the most-powerful name in the business and still turned out a number-two Billboard spot should be inspiring for fans of hip-hop and hard-work in general.
In an industry built on dumbing down your work to make money, these Washington revolutionaries are raising the bar and reaping the benefits of fed-up fans who want quality over everything else. You can call that refined mindset refreshing, but Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just call it job security.
To support their corporate overhaul and timeless effort on The Heist, head over to iTunes and purchase the 15-track effort. Then, go behind the scenes with the supersonic pair by watching the short documentary, Jabari Presents: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, below.