When Macklemore declares his music is "David Bowie meets Kanye sh*t," it's a bit of an oversell on the Bowie side, but then again, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring are also honored as influences during "Ten Thousand Hours," the biographical highlight that opens the Seattle rapper's vibrant sophomore release. These arty name-drops threaten to paint the album as more obscure than it is, but even as glitch electronica and Mad Rad member Buffalo Madonna strange up the breakup number "Thin Line," The Heist comes off as instant, alive, and oh so welcoming. Chalk it up to Macklemore's playful and open lyrics ("When I was in the third grade/I thought I was gay/Because I could draw, my uncle was, and I kept my room straight") or the album's not so secret weapon, Ryan Lewis, the producer who earns his co-billing with a George Martin or Dave Fridmann-sized sense of purpose and an Internet kid's sense of utilizing anything and/or everything. For the music industry takeover "Jimmy Iovine" with Ab-Soul as guest, Lewis' production is a mix of G-Unit gangster music and a Houston hip-hop trunk rumbler, while the pro-gay marriage highlight "Same Love" with Mary Lambert is supported by full-bodied piano and the sound of a bittersweet marching band, all of it familiar yet twisted through a laptop with hypnotic loops and catchy hooks coming out. "Gold" (feeling like "500,000 sold") is joyous and bright mini-electro that feeds the positive side of the soul, while "Can't Hold Us" comes with an irresistible bounce, both tracks being light, lovely, and in contrast to the numbers that deal with Macklemore's addiction issues and other obstacles. These two talented young bucks can't be contained, and hearing them offer one memorable, meaty number after another makes for an exciting listen, but this is unfiltered freshness released on Macklemore's own label, so the concepts of restraint and focus take a slight hit, leaving the is-he-Eminem, is-he-Childish Gambino, or is-he-Grieves question with no clear winner. Here, he's a mix of all of the above with some distinctive qualities, and with Lewis putting that kaleidoscope style underneath, The Heist winds up a rich combination of fresh and familiar.
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