[Music Review] Macklemore – The Language of My World
It’s no secret that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis blew up in 2012 with the smash hit “Thrift Shop,” a playful hip-hop ditty that set its sights directly on commercialism in the US. Following that was “Same Love,” a really fantastic hip-hop ballad that has effectively become the anthem of the gay-rights equal marriage movement. The duo has had a pretty fantastic past six months. But like most artists, “The Heist” is a marketable progression. Most hip-hop artists have a pretty extensive back catalogue of music that predated them hitting it big, and Macklemore is no different. The Language of my World is Macklemore’s first full length album and features a lot of the parts that make him popular now – clever lyrics and smooth rhyming – while being clearly rooted in independent and intelligent hip-hop.
The Language of my World is a pretty fantastic detailing of a Macklemore’s ascent in the northwest hip-hop game as an upper-middle class white kid. That upbringing is reflected a great deal on the album, none of which exemplifies the existential struggle he went through more than the the 2nd track on the album, “White Privilege.” In it, Macklemore fights with the repercussions of appropriating a culture and type of music that originated in a place that “started off in a block that I’ve never been to/to counteract a struggle that I’ve never even been through.” The song is really great for perspective, and gives some really keen insight into the struggle that white rappers go through to stake their claim to a place in the hip-hop industry. It’s a pretty brilliant song.
“Inhale Deep” is another song that really resonates on the album. An uplifting song, it focuses on his own self-efficacy in moving his career forward, but it’s a pretty great allegory for anyone looking to be successful. Macklemore’s reflection toward both himself and the hip-hop industry as a whole is what makes the album so strong. “Ego,” “My Language,” “B Boy,” and “Contradiction” all explore these themes as well, and are all completely listenable. I don’t think they’re as strong as Inhale Deep, but they’re all smaller brushstrokes that make up the larger, self-aware canvas on which Macklemore paints in Language.
Macklemore’s love for Seattle is pretty apparent on this album as well, be it in the soulful “City Don’t Sleep” which highlights the homelessness problem of his city. “Claiming this City” is just as socially aware, with its primary message focusing on the socioeconomic differences between Macklemore and his friends in suburban Seattle, and what he and his peers can do to affect change. His social awareness and desire to affect change is pervasive throughout the album and is really one of the hallmarks that makes Language of my World so successful.
Everything isn’t top notch on the album, however. The obviously named “Penis Song” reflects Macklemore’s humor, but quite frankly is much too sophomoric for what, as a whole, is a really mature album. His lyrics are actually pretty clever, but that doesn’t help the content of the song become any more palatable. Additionally, I’m not a huge fan of “Bush Song” either, as it’s uncharacteristically mean-spirited. I realize that in 2005 it was the vogue thing in hip hop to bash Bush, but the song doesn’t age well, particularly when the entire hook (“now ya’ll stuck with a president that ya’ll didn’t vote for/unemployment is up/the economy is in the ditch…”) could ironically be applied today. Fortunately, those two missteps don’t ruin what is overall a really fantastic album.
There’s no arguing that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are huge now. They’re headlining Bonnaroo. Their shows sell out everywhere they go. And that’s all attributed to the success of The Heist. But The Language of My World is, on most fronts, a stronger album. The album is almost universally socially aware and thoughtful, with intelligent lyrics and catchy beats that are appropriate for every song. The influence of KRS-One is obvious in every aspect of Macklemore’s music, and that’s a good thing. Popular hip-hop needs more artists addressing social issues and injustices, not more of the same misogyny, commercialism, and sophomoric themes. We already knew with The Heist that what Mackelmore had to say encompassed more than just drugs, cars, and hoes; The Language of My World is our introduction to that viewpoint and shouldn’t be missed by anyone that appreciates socially conscious hip-hop.