Christmas songs are as big a part of the season as crowded shopping malls and spiked eggnog, but there are only so many times you can hear “Jingle Bells” and “Deck the Halls” without wanting to wretch just a little. Here are some suggestions for compiling a Yuletide playlist that perhaps isn’t quite so musty. Much of the music can be purchased or ordered locally at Guestroom Records, Size Records and the like.
Record Store Day (RSD) has become an audiophile’s Christmas since its inception in 2008, celebrating independently owned record stores with exclusive titles and limited-edition releases from everyone from The Beatles to Arcade Fire.
Seattle-based rapper Macklemore has once again teamed up with producer
Ryan Lewis to cook up an album that is nothing short of fantastic.
On The Heist, the duo’s chemistry is apparent as always, as they strike a perfect balance between fun and reality. Macklemore spits thought-provoking, honest lyrics about everything from thrift shopping and Cadillacs to sobriety and marriage equality. Throughout the project, the rapper exhibits great rhymes and outstanding flow, clearly showing his strong lyrical ability.
Lewis handles all the production, and modest guest spots include Black Hippy rappers Ab-Soul and ScHoolboy Q, and Band of Horses lead singer Ben Bridwell. These guys show exactly how to make a great hip-hop project without big names and big labels.
The album’s best tracks are those where Macklemore speaks about big issues. For example, “Same Love,” which features singer Mary Lambert, touches on same-sex marriage, a subject widely ignored in the often-homophobic genre of hip-hop. Partly inspired by his two gay uncles, Macklemore doesn’t hesitate to call out for marriage equality in America. The song is both tasteful and refreshing, and he deserves a lot of respect for creating it. Songs like this, along with the coming out of singer Frank Ocean, seem to be pushing hip-hop in a more tolerant direction.
On “Wings,” Macklemore spits about consumerism and how much people in the U.S. focus on things as trivial as Nike sneakers. Like other problems he discusses on the disc, he approaches this one with passionate and intelligent lines, using his own life experiences as reference points.
Also strong is the Ab-Soul-featured “Jimmy Iovine,” in which Macklemore discusses his choice to remain independent as an artist. He explains how he’d rather make music on his own than have to answer to a major label, saying he’d “rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting fucked.”
Perhaps the best effort is the tell-all track “Starting Over,” in which Macklemore addresses his struggles with sobriety. In this emotional piece, he talks about relapsing after being clean for more than three years, highlighting how disappointed he was in himself. As he opens up about this dark time in his life, the listener has no choice but to feel his pain. His honesty blends perfectly with a great beat and an eerie, yet uplifting hook from Bridwell.
It’s always good when rappers are able to speak on issues that they see in the world, but it’s even better when they are able to include their own experiences to help paint a clearer picture of said issues. Macklemore accomplishes this on “Starting Over” and many other songs on the album.
Although Macklemore handles all the rapping, the production Lewis puts forth can’t be overlooked. While he doesn’t speak a word, the producer’s voice is all over the work.
At certain points throughout the album, Macklemore humbly talks about making it in the rap game without a corporate push. After The Heist, there shouldn’t be any doubt that he and Lewis have done just that. —Ryan Querbach