Seattle-based rapper Macklemore’s words speak to our hearts. Ryan Lewis’ beats and mastery of production forces our bodies to move. At least, it does mine.
Four years after Macklemore’s debut, “The Language of My World,” he teamed up with producer Ryan Lewis on their 2009 masterpiece, “The VS. EP.” Lewis takes well known indie and rock songs, makes them better, then Macklemore spits the story of his last four years on seven drum-tight songs.
On “Vipassana,” the EP’s opening track, Lewis utilizes Caribou’s “Subotnick,” a song that itself features spots from The Moments’ “Love on a Two-Way Street,” a song sampled by Jay-Z in his hit, “Empire State of Mind.” In the track, Mack lays it all on the line. He speaks of his near-overdose from codeine cough syrup (I was a couple moves away from being dead/ in that ER, overdosin/eyes bleeding red) and his journey to Buddhism.
Macklemore’s raps are not for people looking for money, hoes and rims; having discussed in depth his white, middle class upbringing in “The Language of My World,” Macklemore can be labeled a ‘conscious’ rapper, but as the second song of VS., “Crew Cuts,” shows white boys can party too.
Manipulating the Bravery’s “Believe,” “Crew Cuts” will end up being your favorite or your least liked song of the EP. It is a throwback to more classic hip-hop, but guest emcee Xperience can’t quite match Macklemore’s intricate thoughts and rhymes.
The only other song featuring other rappers, “Kings,” (which samples Arcade Fire’s “My Body is a Cage” to great, extravagant effect) is similar—Mack’s verse shines while the guests, Champagne Champagne rappers Pearl Dragon and Thomas Gray, struggle to keep up.
Award for best beat of the album goes to “Life is Cinema.” In the song, Macklemore matches staccato lines and rhymes on top of Lewis’ beat crafted from The Killer’s “All These Things I’ve Done.” The electric beat powered by synth syncs well with Mack’s words, as the song tells the story of Mack’s downfall and revival, albeit in a much different vein than the rest of the songs on the EP.
“Otherside,” using, you guessed it, Red Hot Chili Pepper’s song of the same name, tells Mack’s tale of drug addiction. After months of constant listening, I have settled on this song as my favorite of the seven. The production gives Macklemore the space he needs to provide his most impressive lyrical feat on the album; when rapping along, my tongue has trouble keeping up. We sell our dreams and our potential to escape through that buzz, Mack raps. Just keep me up, keep me up, Hollywood here we come.
The last two tracks of the album, “Irish Celebration” and “The End,” both stand out in their own way. “Celebration” is a departure from the rest of the album, as Macklemore, born Ben Haggerty, pours on the Irish pride over a Beirut inspired beat. Some people I’ve made listen to this album say this is their favorite, mostly people that love to party. For me, this track is often skipped, but amazing if you’re in the right mood. “The End” is the last track. Using a conceit of a high school dance, Macklemore, along side the piano, steers us through his life-long obsession with music. This song grows on you, and now ranks among my favorites.
Together, Ryan Lewis and Macklemore have broke new ground in rap, or, at least, paved over old ground with some gold bricks. Something like that. Even if you don’t listen to much hip-hop, don’t sleep on this album. It’s free. Download it at http://www.2dopeboyz.com/2009/12/15/macklemore-x-ryan-lewis-the-vs-ep-freep/