New Macklemore Album
“Ben” marks Macklemore’s reemergence on the scene, his return to the rap game he never really left.
Macklemore’s third solo album, after a span of five years, is a highly cohesive production. Each song blends well into the next, while still managing to affect with new and familiar styles. “Ben” manages the feat of being sonically surprising: What is expected is not always what happens. That creative quality is too often lost in today’s commercialized world of pop music. The album’s themes are distinct and smoothly transitioned. Tracks move from light-hearted to nostalgic, satirical to reflective, and they finally end on a lighter yet emotionally rich note.
Macklemore opens with “Chant,” marking his comeback in glorious fashion. It’s an anthemic track filled with the purest and simplest energy to be found on “Ben.”
That first song sets the intention: Macklemore never really left, and he’s here to stay. Now a veteran of the artform, Macklemore is calling for his due: “They told me that I vanished… I told them ‘Don’t panic… This is my moment – they can’t take my talent.”
After the opener, the album steps into an 80s inspired moment, with several bright songs about childhood and happiness. From there, the album takes another turn, homaging the rap nostalgia of Macklemore’s youth with the darker tracks “Heroes” and “Grime.” On these, he shouts out N.W.A. and 2Pac, Shock G and DJ Quik, titans of G-Funk and rap’s early heyday. Macklemore takes us back to where he started, painting a vivid picture of his mindset and daily life, and the inspirational artists from early in his career. The beat selection, all crafted by Seattle-based producer Budo, is notable on these retro tracks, as the beats themselves evoke a classic time in rap history.
“I Need” shifts the darker sonic theme into sharp reflection on the rap world’s toxic culture. The tempo picks up and a more modern beat kicks in. What at first seems like a stereotypical hip-hop track, glorifying consumerism and constant desire, takes the opposite road. The lyrics turn out to be a rip-roaring callout of the genre’s tropes, a biting satire of the genre and the values it encourages, created in its style. “I want it all, the American dream – I got everything and I still ain’t happy.” Macklemore questions the constant drive for more to feel successful and the chasing of material fulfillment as a substitute for real happiness. This song is a highlight, for its energetic sound and exciting vocals.
Where the album truly shines is in the transition between that song and the next, a laid-back track called “Lost/Sun Comes Up,” one of the most affecting on “Ben.”
Mack’s introspective bars are soothed and emoted by vocals from Jackson Lee Morgan. Here the album peeks through the clouds of nostalgia to reflect frankly on the present. Macklemore calls out the vapid and soulless pop-rap of today with the “same drums, same melodies,” where the lyrics don’t seem to matter. He may not be the best in the game, but he’s out for originality and clarity.
From there, the tracks grow darker and more lyrically complex, taking on issues of alcoholism and rough relationships. This nimble shift in style takes the record further in a reflective and conscious direction. The final track reflects on parenthood and maturity, wrapping up the lessons he’s learned from years in the industry.
There’s no autotune to be found on this release. Much of Macklemore’s greatness comes from his ability to connect authentically with his listeners while conveying a message with clarity, led to by his natural and coherent vocals. On “Ben,” there’s nothing but clarity. What he has to say is heard.
Macklemore is perhaps the most self-reflective he’s ever been on a record, hinted at by the use of his own first name as the title. “Ben” may not top the charts, and its tracks may not be guaranteed hits, but it is a continued dedication to what Macklemore is all about: saying his piece while making engaging music. The rapper isn’t afraid to say what’s on his mind. And on this record, he leans into taking life slow and appreciating its subtler moments, the joy that comes with authenticity.
Overall, the album is a major return to the artform that shows he isn’t gone, that he’s still a player. It’s a tribute to Macklemore’s career so far, paying respect to the old ways while appreciating and taking stylistic hints from the new. It’s a solid, fresh, non-derivative addition to the discography, setting up Macklemore for a continued spot in today’s music scene.