When we see albums credited to “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis,” that billing might catch us off-guard. After all, Ryan Lewis is only the producer; it’s not like The Blueprint was credited to Jay-Z and Kanye West or Take Care was credited to Drake and 40. But while it may seem odd at first, Lewis makes his presence known quite a bit on Macklemore’s records. His vibrant production is every bit a key part of the sound as Macklemore’s flow.
The pair first began collaborating together on 2012’s The Heist, the album that made Macklemore a household name. Right from the very beginning of that album, we see Lewis’ influence. The opener “Ten Thousand Hours” is given extra gravitas thanks to Lewis’ soaring production. As Macklemore tells us the story of his coming through the ranks, the beat lends the story a much-needed bit of epic-ness. Elsewhere, “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore’s breakout hit, is driven by the ridiculously memorable saxophone riff.
Throughout the album, Lewis’ little flourishes give the album some essential boosts. “White Walls,” an ode to the joy of riding around in a Cadillac, is also aided by the booming production that made “Ten Thousand Hours” stand out so much. Elsewhere, “Bombom” is the album’s lone instrumental track, and it gives Lewis a chance to shine by himself. When we witness the soundscapes he creates, one can’t help but wonder what a solo album from him would sound like. He has a natural knack for creating vibrant music, and it would be interesting to see what he can do to separate from his partner in crime.
Or better yet, what would he be able to do working with another rapper? Now, despite the frequent criticism Macklemore gets, he has a much stronger flow than he gets credit for. Still, it’s a diverse scene right now, and one can’t help but be curious about what might go down if other rappers began utilizing Lewis’ services. Consider what the colorful “acid rap” of Chance The Rapper might sound like if Lewis added his vibrant spark to the mix. Going further, what could Lewis add to the relatively gloomy world of Drake?
Frankly, one can’t help but wonder if Lewis has been overlooked simply because of his association with Macklemore, who — fair or not — is one of the most oft-mocked rappers in the game. Working with some of the other big names in the industry could give Lewis a chance to break out on his own.
In the meantime, we can see further evidence of Lewis’ talent on Macklemore’s latest, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made. As with “Ten Thousand Hours,” this album begins with a story chronicling where Macklemore’s life has gone since we last saw him. This track, a six-minute epic called “Light Tunnels” is once again aided by big, booming production. If the biggest issue with Macklemore’s flow is that he can be too unassuming at times, Lewis does a great job of making up for it. When a song is telling a story that requites grandiosity, the producer seems to always comes through.
So, when you see Macklemore’s producer credited alongside him on his albums, don’t be too shocked; Ryan Lewis has been an essential part of Macklemore’s sound since the pair began working together. Now, the question is what else Lewis has in store for us. Presumably, some more touring and albums with Macklemore, but it would be intriguing to see him break out into other realms, and collaborate with other rappers. If he can do what he’s done for Macklemore for some of the other top rappers out there, he just might go down as one of the all-time greats.