Macklemore - Ben Music Album Reviews

Macklemore - Ben Music Album Reviews
Macklemore’s earnest yet clunky new album attempts to split the difference between high-budget stadium pop and grimy boom-bap.

Since The Heist, his breakout 2012 LP with Ryan Lewis, Macklemore has been painfully self-aware in his music. He’s aware of his whiteness, and how it gives him a leg up on his competition. He’s aware of his detractors, who dismiss him as a flash in the pan. He clearly hears the criticism, and in the past a lot of his raps have felt like retorts to various tweets and thinkpieces. Though he hasn’t returned to the commercial heights of hits like “Can’t Hold Us” and “Thrift Shop,” his fanbase remains sizable and hungry. His new album, Ben, finds him on the other side of a pandemic-assisted relapse, an underground rapper turned international pop star who’s now more concerned with the opinion of his wife and kids than any critic.

More than any of Macklemore’s previous LPs, Ben has two parallel aesthetics: soaring pop songs with stadium-sized hooks alongside grimy DJ Premier sample-stitched boom-bap. It’s difficult to reconcile the Ed Sheeran impression of guest singer Windser on “Maniac” with Macklemore’s snarling bars on “Grime,” a stripped-down number with funky horns and strutting bass. “Grime” sits smack in the middle of a three-song run that starts with Premier’s “Heroes” and ends with “I Need,” a sarcastic send-up of the narcissists that thrive in our culture of conspicuous consumption. As a three-track EP, these songs might have been an eye-opening reminder that the man can still rap. Wedged between his “living my best life” pop and midlife crisis introspectives, the sequencing is jarring.

So is Macklemore a pop star or a rapper? The two are not mutually exclusive, but they feel distinctly separate within his catalog. At times, Ben sounds like the work of three different artists, perhaps reflecting the upheaval of its recording. Macklemore started work on the album before the pandemic shut things down; at home with no shows to play or 12-step meetings to attend, he relapsed for several weeks, fracturing his life and family. The album’s scattershot approach might have worked, too, if the transition from bubblegum pop to East Coast grime weren’t so abrupt. There are some catchy melodies beneath the slick synth-pop sheen of “No Bad Days” and “1984,” but they’re also drenched in cheese. It’s juvenile by design, the perfect karaoke party-bus jam for his 7-year-old and her friends.

Ben’s more personal angle also winds up underselling one of Macklemore’s greatest talents: mimicry. He possesses an innate ability to emulate other rappers’ flows, a skill honed by years of fandom. You can hear it clearly on his previous album, Gemini, where he bounces along with Lil Yachty and rolls triplets as fluently as Offset. Yet with few other rappers featured on Ben, his own flows seem to fall into two distinct patterns: buoyant exuberance on the hyped-up pop tracks and a morose monotone on the more plaintive ballads. 

Part of the reason Macklemore is so popular is that his perspective is familiar to huge swaths of rap fans. His diction is clear, his references are decipherable. He grew up a white kid obsessed with hip-hop, enthralled by hood tales from New York and Los Angeles, idolizing hustlers-turned-rappers from hundreds of miles away. If Eminem allowed white kids to imagine themselves on stage, rapping like their idols, Macklemore is them on stage—white kids who love rap and were told their whole lives that their version of Black music is inauthentic. His Del the Funky Homosapien flow on “Heroes” is hard, yet his idolatry of carjacking and gangster movies scans a bit silly. And while his apology to his wife (“Sorry”) feels genuine, it’s also rife with clichés.

And that’s ultimately what Macklemore’s music is missing: These experiences, while certainly authentic, aren’t particularly interesting. The struggle of the wealthy and talented white rapper was never especially sympathetic. And on Ben, his trials are mostly internal, the enduring struggle of man to find meaning and leave a legacy. This Macklemore is likely the most honest version we’ve seen to date. So what if he’s a little corny? Most of us are.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

Hey, I'm Perera! I will try to give you technology reviews(mobile,gadgets,smart watch & other technology things), Automobiles, News and entertainment for built up your knowledge.
Macklemore - Ben Music Album Reviews Macklemore - Ben Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on March 16, 2023 Rating: 5


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