Music review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, O2 Brixton Academy, London

 

Macklemore performing at the Brixton Academy
Macklemore performing at the Brixton Academy

As the first show on their European tour, Seattle-based duo Macklemore, (real name Ben Haggerty) and producer Ryan Lewis were always going to draw a crowd with their latest album The Heist being one the most anticipated rap albums of 2013.

Previous collaborations between the pair such as 2005's EP The Language Of My World and 2009's The Vs. EP saw the duo shun label contracts and funding (almost unheard of today) with The Heist being in the same category.

Macklemore has come to be known as a 'conscious rapper' because of his anti-drugs, anti-consumerist and pro-equal rights messages. To the layman, "Thrift Shop", featuring Wanz is simply a pumping radio play single which took YouTube by storm (417 views and counting) with it's catchy chorus and heavy synth beats, but does in fact criticise rappers who spend inordinate amounts on fashion to define their identity.

"Can't Hold Us" and "Life is Cinema" also go for the big, bulky pop chorus, latter sampling The Killers' hit "All These Things That I've Done" with karaoke projections and promotions of The Heist with the album cover art every 20 seconds. This, with the confetti canons and pyrotechnics don't quite gel with the thrifty message Macklemore's reportedly trying to offer but does keep the frenzied crowd paying attention when he highlights what rap music can represent and using it to influence and change.

On "Otherside" he raps "Us as rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids" going on to say "Despite how Lil Wayne lives/It's not conducive to being creative" while on "Wing$", he criticises product placement and relentless branding in modern hip hop.

Haggerty is a slick rapper and showmen, interacting and motivating the crowd by replacing hip hop crotch-grabbing for jumping with the excitable audience. Owuor Arunga on brass is another skilful addition to the show, smoothly blending the pulsating club tracks into the downbeat strings and pianos on the R&B ballads.

There is hope that while Brixton's sold-out masses bounce and swig beers to the raucous "10,000 Hours" and "Can't Hold Us", Macklemore's message is getting through when the cheers on "Same Love" are just as loud. In a heartfelt rap about same-sex marriage with soulful vocals from Mary Lambert, Macklemore once again addresses the crowd: "I believe in compassion, I believe in tolerance and I believe in equality".

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