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Album Review

This Unruly Mess I've Made is an apt title for the sophomore effort from rapper Macklemore and his behind-the-music producer partner, Ryan Lewis. As was true with the duo's debut, 2012's The Heist, This Unruly Mess careens between the sublime and the salacious and the ridiculous. One minute, Macklemore's rapping about the joys of piloting a moped in "Downtown," the next he might be letting loose a litany of obscenities while pouring out his insecurities, challenging listeners to confront racism or pondering the advice he'll someday give his newborn daughter.

Positive Elements

Spiritual Content

Sexual Content

Violent Content

Crude or Profane Language

Drug and Alcohol Content

Other Negative Elements


Pro-social Content

"Growing Up (Sloane's Song)" unpacks Macklemore's hopes for his daughter. (Macklemore married his longtime girlfriend, Tricia Davis, in June 2015, shortly after Sloane's birth). "I just wanna be a good dad/Will I be? I have no idea," he says, and then he encourages Sloane to imitate her "tough" mom, keep broken hearts in perspective, pursue her passions and focus on others' needs.

Offering a glimpse into Macklemore's experience attending the Grammy Awards, "Light Tunnels" confesses his uncertainty regarding how he's supposed to act ("I watch the other people that have been around for a while/Just excited I got invited, feeling cool in the crowd") even as he skewers the music industry's narcissism ("'Cause tonight we toast our accomplishments/Insecurity dressed up as confidence") and perceptively observes how "celebrities who take selfies with celebrities" get exploited by executives who want to profit from their foibles and failings ("They want the gossip, they want the drama/They want Britney Spears to make out with Madonna/They want Kanye to rant and to go on longer, 'cause that equates to more dollars").

Macklemore has long been open about his struggles with addiction. Accordingly, most references to drugs and alcohol here have a cautionary feel, especially on "Kevin," which memorializes a friend who died of an overdose at the age of 21. Macklemore clearly recognizes the tragically destructive influence of drugs and drink ("Wings clipped by the grip of 80 milligram sniffs of Oxycontin/Every day through the nostrils/Death a line or two away and a couple of tall cans"), even as he's honest about his own temptation to use such substances to dull the ache of his guilt ("I'm already feeling hollow/Might as well go crack a seal and might as well go chug a bottle"). Still, he knows deep down that it's only a "Band-Aid [for] that problem."

"Kevin" also condemns doctors who overprescribe such meds and criticizes a culture that's addicted to them ("Got anxiety, better go and give him a Xanax/Focus? Give him Adderall. Sleep? Give him Ambien/ … So, America, is it really worth it?"). Similarly confessional, "St. Ides" chronicles Macklemore's struggle with alcohol addiction.

Meanwhile, death is deemed a spiritual reality on "Kevin," ("You never know when God is gonna call, man"), as the lyrics honestly speak to how tragedy makes holding on to faith difficult ("'Cause I hate myself/No praying's gonna cure this pain"). Positive (passing) references to God show up on "Light Tunnels," "Brad Pitt's Cousin," "The Train" and "Need to Know," the latter of which suggests that we've tried to replace God with material things ("I'm tryna find God through a purchase, I'm not tryna go to church"). "White Privilege II" packs a great deal of complex soul searching into a track that challenges listeners to think seriously about racism ("It seems like we're more concerned with being called racist/Than we actually are with racism").

Though it's been roundly ridiculed in some reviews, the Deluxe Edition track "Spoons" offers a real-world (albeit frankly explicit) take on sexual intimacy over the long term in a committed relationship. Macklemore and his wife aren't always on the same physical page, he admits, but he emphasizes that intimacy is more than just sex ("Every time I go to sleep/I wish that you were next to me/Two people that were meant to be").

Objectionable Content

"Downtown"—an almost Weird Al-type shout-out to the glories of owning a moped—is drenched with the kind of harsh profanities and obscenities that turns up on most of these tracks. Scores of f-words (some of them used in a sexual context), s-words and misuses of God's name trail through song after song after song. The political assessments about racism on "White Privilege II" are sometimes quite controversial, and they're even more often paired with cursing. We also hear lots of crude references to both male and female genitalia. Macklemore crudely (and sexually) brags about his "bad little mamma's" big backside.

"Buckshot" reminisces about Macklemore's teenage graffiti days while offering one of the album's few uncritical mentions of marijuana and alcohol ("Got the boom box and a blunt, bootlegger deuce-deuce/H on my crew, we get drunk, a little cuckoo/ … Can of Krylon, we out to bomb"). He's belligerently dismissive of anyone critical of his spray-can art ("These suit and ties got the nerve to call it vandalism"), talking about carrying a gun while drinking and painting ("I pop a top, I brought my Glock").

The rapper revisits his support for the LGBT cause when he imagines his daughter falling in love with another woman on "Growing Up (Sloane's Song"), spouting, "Take your girl to the prom/ … Slow dance with your woman in your arms." Other questionable counsel includes trying to separate God from what He stands for ("Find God, but leave the dogma") and cheating in school ("Listen to your teachers, but cheat in calculus").

Summary Advisory

Whether they're serious and sober or asinine and absurd, what's indisputable is that Macklemore & Lewis are all in when it comes to their unusually Messy contribution to popular music. More often than you might think, that messiness shows up in positively provocative ways. Almost as often, however, cursing, crudity and caustic counsel rise only to the level of poking and provoking.

Plot Summary

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Episode Reviews



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Debuted at No. 4.

Record Label

Macklemore LLC




February 26, 2016

On Video

Year Published



Adam R. Holz

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