Fundamentally, this is a concept album focused on his personal mission to strip away everything fake to reveal himself. In his liner notes, Macklemore says:
...If there was something I was scared to say, I said it. If there was a topic I thought would make people uncomfortable, I touched on it...In large part, the songs deliver on his promise. Macklemore takes a personal learning experience from consciously confronting his id and creates some good art, which is not an unusual approach for art, but it is one that is not encountered so often in hip hop. There's plenty of honesty out there, but not nearly so much introspection or vulnerability.
This revelation begins with a fanfare intro and jumps right away into White Privilege, which directly addresses the conflict of being a white rapper. He did this live at the show and I wrote about it in my review, but this really is a springboard for the whole album. He strongly identifies with the hip hop cultural values but recognizes that he's outside of it. "Does privilege preclude someone from this art?" This is a good philosophical question, but to have the mindset and perspective to even ask it is, to a large extent, a matter of privilege as well.
Moving through the rest of the album is a journey of self actualization, stepping up to topics like dedication, ego, foregoing distraction, fidelity, and human connection. He calls himself out but calls us out, too.
I don't want to give the impression that this is all heavy and philosophical. He talks a lot about the joy he gets from hip hop, too. B-Boy, I Said Hey, and The Magic all visit this theme. Of course these songs also encourage being true to the spirit of the art of making this music. Crap, there I go talking about philosophy again. Anyway, he handles that smoother than I did: making the point but sharing the joy. There are also some funny moments, like Fake ID and Penis Song.
The only false note is Bush Song, which is a fairly weak attempt to satirize our Failure in Chief as a hateful, racist, homophobe. It's ham handed and not particularly on-target as a dig at the president. Jim Infantino did a better job with his WTFMFWTFAYT? Or Todd Snyder's You Got Away With It. Bush Song works better as a parody of the left's anti-Bush rants, which could be its point, I suppose. Anyway, my gripe is not the politics, it's that it doesn't fit the theme of the rest of the album. Even if Macklemore's point is to own up and face his own rage, it lacks the clarity and directness of songs like Ego.
Phew. Let's take a break from the direct theme and lyrical content and talk about the sound. That's another big part of what I like about this disc. There are a couple of songs (Claiming the City and Hold Your Head Up) that wouldn't be out of place on a Fugees project. City Don't Sleep brings Gil Scot-Heron or Michael Franti to mind. Throughout the joint, there are some real fresh sounding loops that aren't rehashing the same old set of samples. This brings an old-school groove to the songs. Vocally, Macklemore often uses a conversational delivery that slides in smoothly. There are elements of Eminem or Lyrics Born in his rap style, too, but it's still his own sound, not a ripoff. The album also stands out by including some great producers and collaborators that provide some variety to the sound overall.
Pulling it all together, this is a very good album. Without Bush Song or with a better attempt that fits with the concept, I'd call it a great album. Certainly worth checking out.
With the Seattle connection, I'm tempted to pick something like a Pike Brewing Pale Ale, but for feel, I'm going to say black Russian instead. While a late evening is when you'd want to hear it, play it in the light of day.