If you want to approach Macklemore as a human being and not a sanctimonious rap-Muppet bent on world domination via free love and cheap clothing, Complex’s recent cover story is a good place to start. The feature details how Ben Haggerty’s rapid rise to fame toppled him back into drug addiction and how learning he would be a father spurred him to kick pills and weed by returning to 12-step meetings. It also reveals that three years of blowback about appropriation, moralism, and that whole Grammy ordeal have made the Seattle rapper keenly aware of his place in the universe. Regarding “White Privilege 2,” a new anti-racism song he’s been workshopping, he poses the question, “How do I participate in this conversation in a way that I’m not preaching, where I’m not appearing like I know it all? ‘Cause I don’t know it all.” Writer Kris Ex also offers closer looks at Ryan Lewis’ in-depth production style, the duo’s perspective on constructing an album (it involves a carefully plotted ratio of “fun” songs vs. “serious” songs), and the way they’re trying to keep their operation grassroots now that they’re global superstars. It’s a good read, and it might win some begrudging respect from those who’ve made a sport out of scoffing at “the first rapper to successfully dominate the commercial sphere by speaking from a purely white gaze.”
What will probably not win Macklemore respect from his haters is “Growing Up (Sloane’s Song),” the track he wrote for his new baby daughter, Sloane Ava Simone Haggerty. Released yesterday as a free download, it marks Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ first new music since 2012’s star-making The Heist, and it suggests the formula that launched them into the pop stratosphere is still firing on all cylinders. The song bears Lewis’ unmistakable fingerprints, a rich live-band/DJ hybrid arrangement topped off with triumphal brass. It’s got a slightly gravely Macklemore dropping sentimental and/or inspirational lyrics derived from his personal experiences of How Life Should Be. It’s got an impassioned chorus from a guest singer — in this case, ubiquitous folk-pop hobbit Ed Sheeran. “Growing Up” is exactly what you’d imagine a Macklemore song for his newborn child would sound like, and it will polarize in the way all Macklemore songs polarize. If nothing else, credit these guys for sticking to their guns.
My personal objection to “Growing Up” is that it fails at its primary objective: tugging the heartstrings of new parents. I speak with authority on this matter. My wife gave birth to our first child, also a daughter, three weeks after Macklemore’s fianceé (now wife) Tricia Davis brought baby Sloane into the world. I’m also an open-minded music fan with a sentimental streak and a taste for pop, rap, and pop-rap. I published a pile of blubbering goop about Kanye West’s “Only One” months before my baby was even born, and I’ve only gotten sappier since then. I am the target audience, and I think “Growing Up” is deeply and irreparably meh.
Musically, the song is fine. Lewis can make beats like this one in his sleep, but like all accomplished rap producers with a potent signature sound, you can’t fault him too much for staying in his territory. Even the blatant “Walk On The Wild Side” rip (or is it a “Can I Kick It” rip?) and Sheeran’s cloying presence can’t ruin what is essentially a quality composition from a skilled craftsman. Note the way that hijacked bassline gives way to ethereal U2 guitars at the start of the second verse. Note the minimal piano flourishes that slide in and out of the background. Note the less-is-more kickdrum oomph during the song’s climax and how long Lewis waits to bring back the crisp backbeat at the end. His musical vision might be a little basic for listeners who long to be challenged or curbstomped by hip-hop production, but the guy’s clearly got a gift. He knows how to make clichés reverberate with life.
I’m less willing to forgive Macklemore’s vanilla streak because unlike Lewis’ emotional swoop, these rhymes don’t move me. No one can doubt the guy’s sincerity when he wishes his daughter will go camping, attend music festivals, watch sunsets on rooftops with friends, and pursue her passion — all sentiments that resonate with me. Any dad can identify with Haggerty’s self-doubt, and we all can appreciate his desire to pass on his worldview and the works that shaped it. I can even sympathize with his excuse-making about going on tour, although I feel queasy about the thought of a career that takes me away from my family for weeks at a time. The way he hits those beats throughout “Growing Up,” though, feels like lazily ticking off items on a new-dad checklist, and the images of youthful zest he evokes are so generic that they might as well be scenes from some fashion label’s TV ad. His casual, stream-of-consciousness style and sleepy tone of voice might be intentional, but they lend the song an unfinished rough-draft quality. Maybe baby Sloane’s been keeping him up at night?
Similarly, I appreciate what he’s trying to do when he urges his daughter to “Slow dance with your woman in your arms/ Sneak her in after, but boy, you better tiptoe,” but the gesture feels so on-the-nose. The whole song seems forced like that, really — like somebody’s impression of a Macklemore song rather than something only Macklemore could have created. For a contrast, consider “Only One,” this year’s most prominent father-daughter song. A multi-generational cosmic lullaby is as Kanye West as it gets, but no one could have predicted it. The track pulsates with the same so-personal-it’s-universal energy that “Growing Up” tries and fails to capture. Macklemore attempts to give his song the same kind of charge, but whereas Kanye poured his heart and soul into “Only One,” the stack of platitudes and preferences in “Growing Up” might as well be a Facebook profile. None of the song’s stabs at parental wisdom carries the life-affirming jolt of “No, you’re not perfect, but you’re not your mistakes.” Kanye’s fatherhood song was a burst of inspiration; Macklemore’s sounds like an obligation.
All due congratulations to Jill Scott for landing her second #1 album with Woman this week, but woof! 62,000 equivalent units (58,000 in pure sales) should not be enough to put you at #1. The album will probably never die as a mode of musical expression, but as a sales metric? It sure doesn’t seem healthy. In any case, Billboard points out that Scott becomes the first female R&B singer to top the chart since Beyoncé’s surprise release spent its third week on top in January 2014. Scott’s 2011 release The Light Of The Sun, her prior #1, sold 133,000 in its first week.
Future’s #1-debuting DS2 drops to #2 with 52,000 in its second week, followed by Lamb Of God’s VII: Sturm Und Drang, debuting at #3 with 50,000. Next up is Taylor Swift’s indefatigable 1989 at #4 with 47,000. The Eminem-focused Southpaw soundtrack starts at #5 with 45,000, becoming the seventh soundtrack album to place in the top 10 this year. Ed Sheeran’s x is back up to #6 with 34,000, then it’s the debut of 16-year-old Bea Miller’s Not An Apology starting at #7 with 33,000 (only 24,000 in sales, so the former The X Factor contestant has the streaming game on lock). Rounding out the top 10: Meek Mill’s Dreams Worth More Than Money (#8, 31,000), Sam Hunt’s Montevallo (#9, 27,000), and Tyrese’s Black Rose (#10, 26,000).
OMI’s “Cheerleader” rules the Hot 100 for a fourth straight week, which sucks because that song is barely even a song. At least last year’s despicable reggae crossover was, like, catchy. It also sucks because its dominance prevents the Weeknd’s “Can’t Feel My Face” — a genuinely great pop single — from climbing past #2. At least the Weeknd is #1 at iTunes!
The rest of the top 5 holds steady too, with Silento’s “Watch Me” at #3, Taylor Swift’s “Bad Blood” at #4, and Wiz Khalifa/Charlie Puth’s “See You Again” at #5. The big surge of the week belongs to “Lean On,” the Major Lazer/DJ Snake/MØ collab that jumps up from #10 to a new #6 peak. Fetty Wap’s pair of hits, “Trap Queen” and “My Way,” slide down to #7 and #8 respectively. Rachel Platten’s #9 “Fight Song” and Walk The Moon’s #10 “Shut Up And Dance” close out the top 10.
One Direction – “Drag Me Down”
I’m sorry to report that One Direction’s first post-Zayn single is not going to help the people that mix them up with OneRepublic. Actually, the faceless hit machine “Drag Me Down” most resembles is Maroon 5 — reggae-inflected blandness, arena-rock sonics, the sense that your aunt could really groove to this. I hate to say it, but barring some masterstroke of a follow-up single, 1D’s tenure as the world’s most respectable boy band seems to be finished.
Robin Thicke – “Back Together” (Feat. Nicki Minaj)
Much like Jason Derulo’s jump from “Talk Dirty” sass to “Want To Want Me” sleek, post-Paula Thicke has moved on from Marvin-via-Pharrell “Blurred Lines” soul to the ebullient synthpop sound that is ruling MOR pop right now. Surprisingly, Minaj is an afterthought here. Thicke delivers by far the most memorable line: “I wanna live between your legs”!
Alicia Keys – “28 Thousand Days”
Fast and nervy is a good look for Keys. Enjoying the palpable influence of her husband Swizz Beats on this one.
Afrojack – “SummerThing!” (Feat. Mike Taylor)
It seems a little late to be making a baldfaced bid for Song Of The Summer status by putting “Summer” in your song title, Calvin Harris-style. On the other hand, “SummerThing!” is about toying with the idea of letting a summer fling extend beyond the summer, so maybe August is exactly the right time for a song like this. On the other other hand, “SummerThing!” is as annoying Maroon 5-esque as that new One Direction single, but with intermittent EDM drops, which makes it musical anathema. Or maybe the plague is a better metaphor: One listen and I couldn’t stop singing it.
Redfoo – “Where The Sun Goes” (Feat. Stevie Wonder)
As Redfoo songs go, “Where The Sun Goes” ain’t bad, at least until the horrendous rapping bridge begins. Up ’til then, it’s decent yacht-ready disco-funk with some genuinely enjoyable Stevie Wonder harmonica breaks. I wonder how many of the “hot new indie synthpop!” bands in my inbox realize their songs sound exactly like the new one from one half of LMFAO.
Hailee Steinfeld – “Love Myself”
After a breakout role in Pitch Perfect 2 that set her up to take over as the face of the franchise whenever Anna Kendrick departs, Steinfeld’s pop career is almost guaranteed to take off. “Love Myself” is a decent-enough single to launch her at radio, with a shouty chorus that nicks a bit from Icona Pop’s “I Love It,” verses that remind me of Tove Lo’s “Habits,” and a swift disco undercurrent.
John Newman – “Lights Down”
UK singer Newman is in the running to become the next Sam Smith, but unlike George Ezra, he hasn’t broken through stateside. I’d be surprised if “Lights Down” is the song to break him here, though after guesting on Calvin Harris’ “Blame,” maybe he’s already got his foot in the door?
NEWS IN BRIEF
- Lee Daniels is hoping to add Mariah Carey to the cast of Empire next season. [THR]
- You know who’s definitely joining the cast? Mr. Worldwide himself, Pitbull. [Twitter]
- Tyrese was arrested for protesting outside iHeartRadio. [TMZ]
- Britney Spears may remain under a conservatorship for the rest of her life. [TMZ]
- Zayn Malik’s engagement is over. [Billboard]
HOLD ON, WE’RE GOING HOME
Another reason NOT to wear leather! We'll be sending Lenny Kravitz some extra sturdy #vegan leather pants…
— PETA (@peta) August 4, 2015