Last week, Ben Haggerty and Ryan Lewis released their second album together, titled This Unruly Mess I’ve Made. Over the past two years in the midst of finishing up a world tour, the two have been working together to follow up the critically acclaimed The Heist, which earned the duo Grammys for Best New Artist and Best Rap Album, as well as a nomination for Album of the Year in 2014. The singles from that album can still be heard far and wide today, and I can almost guarantee that at least one time this weekend you will probably hear “Can’t Hold Us” either at your Walsh rager or as you struggle to get into a mod.
I first stumbled across Macklemore about 6 years ago as I was scrolling through Facebook one day, and happened across a link that a friend had posted for the song “Otherside.” As I was listening to the song, I couldn’t help but be drawn to the music. He was talking about his own struggles, he was being honest and sharing his own story. I immediately attempted to download everything that I could get my hands on: songs, live versions, teasers for music, etc. Everything. As any of my friends can attest to, I have an affinity for white rappers that is unrivaled by most. But Macklemore always held a different place in my heart. His music always touched me a little bit more, the hairs on my arms always stood on end a little bit longer after listening to one of his songs. Music is meant to touch you, and I had found an artist who could do that in ways I had not experienced before.
I was lucky enough to see him perform when he was still small my junior year of high school, and only had to pay about $12 for a ticket. It was in a small 200-person venue in my hometown in California, and to this day it was still one of the best shows that I have ever been to. He danced with the crowd, he rocked up and down, and he shared in our emotions. He did everything that a good performer should do and so much more. Imagine the amount of fangirling that I did when I realized that he was coming to Boston the week after mybirthday and performing at the Garden. As a poor college student, I couldn’t really afford the $65 price tag slapped on the tickets and started planning on how to conserve money, most logically by not buying a handle of Rubinoff. Shout out to my mom though, because she fed into my obsession and got me one of the best birthday gifts ever. That show in the garden was phenomenal, and although I wasn’t rocking in the front row like I had that first time, I could still feel the energy and the love that was given off. It was a connection with the crowd from a man who truly loved his job.
More than two years have passed since that date, and I have waited anxiously with many others for the next album to come. There were singles that appeared here and there, a feature on a song or a secret track that appeared on SoundCloud. There were conversations where people either freaked out as much as I did, or made fun of me for having an obsession with an Irish guy who raps. Through it all, though, I kept jamming out to Macklemore and continued to appreciate the music more. “Can’t Hold Us” is a great song to put on your pregame playlist, and “I Said Hey” is pretty inspirational when you want to pump yourself up to do something. Then it finally happened: his instagram started sharing that a new album was forthcoming, and the countdown was on. Bless up, excitement levels are unreal.
After listening to the album twice today, I can say that this entirely different from The Heist in almost every way. Where The Heist was a breakout album, a culmination of almost a decade of work, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made shows that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis clearly have something more in mind for their music. This is a social commentary, a self-critique of sorts. Their rise to fame was rapid, and there were multiple pitfalls that the duo encountered. They are open about their shortcomings, while also allowing their listeners access into their lives. Macklemore discusses fatherhood, white privilege, and the ongoing struggles that he has with drug addiction. It is his best attempt at being open and honest, trying to shed light into his own life while inviting along others who have experienced something similar.
A couple of days have passed since the initial release, and once the excitement from the newness of everything settles it will be easier to judge where this album fits. It is the artistic piece that so many artists indulge themselves in, offering up their own personal insights and trying to use their fame to speak to a broader social scene. Or is this just one more album for a rising music duo, that attempts to be honest and forthcoming with itself but falls short of the mark? Only time will tell, as will the critics and the thousands of individuals who choose to listen. I can only speak for myself, but This Unruly Mess I’ve Made again makes the hair on my arms stand up on end. It makes me excited to see what the future could potentially hold for Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.