Macklemore’s truthfully unruly mess


Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s most recent album cover.

The top 100 hip-hop/rap songs on iTunes are usually a mixture of catchy beats and lyrics revolving around drinking, partying, sex, drugs, and girls. All these songs casually talk about these themes like they’re a part of our daily lives. Unlike most artists, in their most recent album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis use their status to advocate, preach, and address real issues.

On their website, among the list of tabs across the top is an ‘activism’ tab, which reads, “as artists, we are committed to using our platform, resources and creativity to have an impact on racial and social justice issues.” Now when I think of most hip-hop/rap artists, I don’t think of activism, so this was refreshing to see. The hip-hop duo’s recent album features 13 songs addressing prominent societal issues like race, low self-esteem, and drug/alcohol addiction. Here’s a breakdown of the tracks on the album that cover social issues.


  1. “Light Tunnels” (Ft. Mike Slap): The song revolves around Macklemore’s first experience at the Grammy’s four years ago. He describes the atmosphere as a business, showy, full of insecurities, pretentious, and make believe, and says the whole show is about ratings and what the public wants, “‘cause they live for clips, this is economics. So we Botox our skin and we smile for the camera. Might as well get a new nose while we’re at it. This is America insecurities our fabric, and we wear it and we renamed it fashion.” Macklemore blatantly conveys what the award shows are all about, and what they are like for him, and he does a nice job exposing the industry for its flaws, because ordinary people start to realize that the celebrity lifestyle and industry isn’t always glamorous. Besides that, he successfully addresses insecurities, and how we try and cover them up. I think this is an important song for people to listen to, and realize how ridiculous people can be for covering up their insecurities rather than embracing them; if there is one takeaway from this song it’s that you need to stay true to yourself.
  1. “Kevin” (ft. Leon Bridges): This is one of more powerful and truthful songs on the album. It’s a very personal song for Macklemore, because he talks about a close friend who died at 21 from an overdose of Oxycontin. He blames large pharmaceutical companies and doctors being able to overprescribe patients, and argues he would like to see more rehab centers over jail time for drug and alcohol problems. One of the more powerful lines in the song is, “and now my little brother is in the sky from a pill that a doctor prescribed. That a drug dealing billion dollar industry supplied and the cops never go and profile at night.” Added with the soulful voice of Leon Bridges closing lyrics, “doctor, your medicine and your methods can’t cure my disease without killing me” leave the listeners in an awed silence of a powerful message. This is my favorite song off the album because it appears to be the rawest, and the collaboration between Macklemore and Leon Bridges is amazing.
  1. “St. Ides”: This track talks about an alcoholic beverage of the same name. The song mentions a younger Macklemore and his early alcohol problems stemming from accessibility to his father’s alcohol cabinet (which contained St.Ides). When he first started drinking at 14, he didn’t think it would turn into the problem it did. He brings up the struggles he went through trying to stop and how truly hard it can be stop drinking. In the last chorus, he reflects on how he’s changed and the world along with him. He misses his family’s old house, and it’s hard for him to ignore all the change and not to turn back to alcohol due to all this change. Change can be hard for anyone, so once again Macklemore relates to his audience, and helps them channel change better than he did. Not being an alcoholic I don’t fully understand the problems alcoholics go through, but this song painted an accurate depiction on addiction in general, and helped me better understand the struggles that alcoholics go through, and hopefully will help other listeners understand this as well.
  1. “Need To Know” (ft. Chance The Rapper): Both artists talk about what they want for their daughters, Kinsley and Sloan respectively, and the pressures they feel on what to write about. Should they write what they want or what is ‘cool’ at the moment (“Stare at the cue cards, take out the juke parts. Take out the God references, just leave the cool parts”)? They both wish they could go back to open mics before they made it big, because then they didn’t feel pressured about their writing. Both artist hone in on the pressures people can feel, so not only is this song meant for their daughters, but I believe it is nicely translatable to our society; we shouldn’t succumb to all the pressures. We need to need to stay true to ourselves and do what we want because that’s better than being fake. Chance The Rapper takes a strong lead throughout the song, and altogether this is a great collaboration of artist, and they bring awareness to important issues.
  1. “Let’s Eat” (ft. XP): This song consists of Macklemore telling himself he’ll go on a diet, but instead he keeps putting it off. He aspires to be like Hugh Jackman, and wanting to “be the 2015 Batman and send Ben Affleck packing,” which adds humor to the track, and helps it achieve the perfect balance of serious and funny. Towards the end of the song, he makes the decision to eat a lot of unhealthy food one last time, resulting in the never-ending cycle. Although it isn’t blatantly said, this equates with the struggle people face when trying to stop drug and alcohol use, which is a very clever way to address such a prominent issue like substance addiction. Due to the catchy rhythm of the song and the funny lyrics, it’s easier for people to want to listen to a song about such a serious issue, and hopefully will bring more awareness.
  1. “Bolo Tie” (ft. YG): This song is about the low self esteem Macklemore faced at the beginning of his career when people kept turning him down. Eventually he realized  if he stopped caring about what others thought, he could finally thrive (“now I climbed the ladder and you’re mad I’m here”). In this day and age, there are plenty of self-esteem issues among our society, so I believe this is an important song for anyone who has self esteem issues to listen to because in the end it shouldn’t matter what other people think. The music itself has a nice build up as Macklemore gets more aggressive in his tone. As the music and beats build it continues to fit the tone of the song. There is a continuation of smooth transitions once YG chimes in third verse, and the flow of the song continues till the very end.
  1. “White Privilege II” (ft. Jamila Woods): The title follows up the 2005 track “White Privilege.” This is the longest song on the album, and is totally qualified in being so. It deals with the movement of ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and his involvement with their protest. He struggles with what his involvement should be, “in my head like, ‘is this awkward, should I even be here marching?’ Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe. Thinking that they chant, what do I sing? I want to take a stance cause we are not free and then I thought about it, we are not we.” Expressing his inner thoughts is such a vulnerable thing to do, and again lets the audience relate even more to Macklemore. Also, we can all relate on questioning whether or not to join movements like this; we can find ourselves asking ourselves these very questions.                                                                                                   He calls out artists like Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea who have taken what they want from the black culture, saying, “you speak about equality, but do you really mean it? Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient? Want people to like you, want to be accepted. That’s probably why you are out here protesting.” While it appears Miley didn’t take any action following the call out, Iggy tweeted a fan, “he shouldn’t have spent the last 3 yrs having friendly convos and taking pictures together at events etc if those were his feelings.” She later ‘joked’ with TMZ about talking to Macklemore through carrier pigeon about this callout. Macklemore then goes on sharing a conversation of a fan with him during the protest and how this added to his awkwardness. The last four minutes of the song is composed with conversations of various white and black people on the topic. In between some of the conversations Macklemore chimes in. One of the more rather potentent lyrics is, “If I’m only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick.” Bringing up a serious issue is a bold move and needs to be done well, but I think it is done in a nice and professional manner.


Overall, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis do a nice job using their status to address important social issues. Although not all the songs revolve around such serious issues, there is a good mixture of serious to none-serious songs. Altogether the hip-hop duo are more and more showing listeners their voices.