Artist of the Week: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

Photo by Jason Koenig

This week’s Artist of the Week is the hip hop duo know as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Hailing from their beloved hometown of Seattle, WA., the pair, who have been fighting their way onto the scene for a while now, are finally cashing in on the success that persistence, a loyal fan base, propensity for fake fur and 10,000+ hours of logged studio time studio will get you.

Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty) is the band’s rapper and front man while Ryan Lewis is the band’s producer and DJ who creates and spins all of the beats. The pair met roughly “6 or 7 years ago” according to Haggerty and have been working as a collaborative team ever since.

Recently, they released their debut studio album called “The Heist” on October 9, 2012, which entered at No. 1 on the US iTunes download charts and No. 2 on the US Billboard 200 charts, selling 78,000 copies in the first week. On the night the album was released on iTunes, Haggerty kept tweeting about his disbelief, his excitement and his appreciation for his fans.

Twitter feed from the night “The Heist” dropped

While Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are defined as a part of the rap/ hip-hop world we all know (and sometimes love), the content of their songs is what sets them apart from other artists attempting to do the same thing. Instead of rapping about strippers at the club or how many gang fights they had to get in in order to be considered street, they rap about topics that are truly personal to them and have a clearly defined message. For example, their song “Otherside” talks about how Haggerty struggled to beat drug and alcohol addiction for several years and how he’s finally sober, having made it to the “other side.” According to Haggerty, he has received a lot of feedback from fans who said they were dealing with similar issues and found strength and solace in listening to his song and story.

However, one of the many facets of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ beauty is the fact that their music, and more specifically their latest album, isn’t comprised of a bunch of the same songs. In fact, it could be argued that their diversity and variety is what’s making them so popular; they have a song for everybody. While some songs are heavy and deal with serious topics such as “Otherside”, and more recently a follow up song called “Starting Over”, they have produced plenty of light-hearted songs such as “And We Danced”, which talks about enjoying a really great impromptu dance party. The pair has also produced several songs that comment on civil rights topics and societal issues, such as racism  in their song “A Wake”and the dangers of consumerism in their song “Wing$”.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are currently not signed with a label. According to Haggerty, the band has been offered several contracts at this point, but have turned them all down. In a song off their album called “Jimmy Iovine”, they talk about being independent artists, the nature of the modern music industry and how at the end of it all, the artists themselves are left with the short end of the stick. The last line of the song is, “I replied I appreciate the offer, thought that this is what I wanted/ Rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting fucked.”

Known for their artistic and high quality music videos, several of the band’s music videos have gone viral such as the one for their single “Thrift Shop” (which is played regularly on BET) and also “Same Love” (which has been viewed on YouTube more than 30 million times.) Upon noticing the stir that the “Same Love” video was generating (which is a song promoting marriage equality), Ellen DeGeneres (of the talk show “Ellen”) had the band on the show for a live performance of the song and gave everyone in the audience a copy of their CD.

I chose to make this duo the Artist of the Week because in light of all of this overnight success, they remain humble and appreciative of the fans who got them to where they are. They remain loyal to their roots in Seattle, giving shout outs left and right, and also never forget to thank every last person who made it possible. In their song “Ten Thousand Hours”, the chorus sings, “Ten thousand hours felt like ten thousand hands,/ Ten thousand hands, they carry me.” Whether this refers to the physical hands supporting them as they crowd surfs at sold-out shows or the metaphorical hands of those who have been cheering them on from the start, the fact that they stop to say thank you in the very first track off their album speaks volumes, regardless of what sound system it happens to be playing on.

Artist of Week(nd): The Weeknd

This week’s Artist of the Week is a singer named The Weeknd (that’s not a typo, that’s actually how it’s spelled). He is a 22 year-old Canadian R&B recording artist and record producer who has recently started making waves in the hip hop and R&B community by way of achingly passionate lyrics, the sound of smoke slipping between his teeth and a falsetto you wish would never stop.

The reason I chose to make The Weeknd this week’s Artist of the Week is because he has a new album dropping today (November 13th) titled Trilogy. The album has been released under Universal Public Records, to whom he recently signed, as well as his own label, XO. In the ultimate form of flattery and high expectations, iTunes has made The Weeknd’s song “Twenty Eight” this week’s single of the week on iTunes.

The Weeknd (whose real name is Abel Tesfaye) is reasonably new to the music scene, having dropped his first free album titled House of Balloons (click the link for the free download) in March 2011. The album was extremely well received by fans (many of whom discovered him via his YouTube videos), putting him on the map almost instantly, with songs like “Loft Music” and “High For This” leading the way.

In addition to the overwhelmingly positive feedback he’s received from fans, several higher-ups in the music biz have noticed him as well, such as Drake, who not only gave him a few buzzes by quoting lyrics on Twitter but also ended up contributing to his debut album. The video below is for The Weeknd’s song “The Zone” which features Drake.

Somewhat recently, British pop star Ellie Goulding did a cover of his song “High For This”, which fans of both musicians have absolutely devoured. Similarly, several DJs have laced The Weeknd’s songs with even more beats and bass than they had to begin with, turning them into extremely sensual club jams.

While it’s hard to accurately translate The Weeknd’s dark and addictive nature into words, Pitchfork’s Joe Colly gave a pretty good attempt in an article reviewing House of Balloons: “What makes this whole thing work in an album context is that all the thematic and sonic pieces fit together– these weird, morning-after tales of lust, hurt, and over-indulgence (“Bring the drugs, baby, I can bring my pain,” goes one refrain) are matched by this incredibly lush, downcast music.”

I decided to try describing The Weeknd’s sound using my senses: If his songs were a picture, it would look exactly like the cover art of House of Balloons, featuring bare breasts and scattered balloons, all in black and white. If his songs were a smell, it would be a mix between strong perfume, weed and a faint twinge of mold, like the kind that would go undetected for years in an old NYC apartment. If his music were a feel, it would be a combination of facial hair stubble and thin sheets. If it were a taste, it would be black licorice and smoke.

But don’t take my word for it- check out his songs for yourself. His is the kind of music that will be different and unique to each individual person, like some darkly sexual and drugged out snowflakes. See if you can find a way to describe your Weeknd.

Artist of the Week: Ed Sheeran

This week’s Artist of the Week is Ed Sheeran. I recently discovered Ed Sheeran’s music thanks to several tweets my friends have posted throughout the past two weeks about how awesome he is (My favorite was “Ed Sheeran’s love songs are causing me to seriously reconsider my opinions on marrying a ginger”). So this past weekend I listened to his album “+” (I pronounce it “plus”) on Spotify and by the time I’d heard every song on the album, I’d determined three things: 1) I needed to buy his album on iTunes right away 2) I had to follow him on Twitter 3) I needed to start singing his praises to anyone around that had functioning ears.

The thing that I like most about Ed Sheeran’s latest album is that every song on the album is completely different; there are no duplicates or similar melodies with slightly different lyrics. As I was listening to his album through for the first time, I kept asking myself, “What genre is this considered?” He goes from fast paced songs featuring rap verses such as “You Need Me, I Don’t Need You” to songs like “Kiss Me” which is soft, heartfelt and earnest. Not only are Ed Sheeran’s songs different from one another, but Ed Sheeran himself is distinctly different from any other artist pursuing a path similar to his. His lyrics are fresh and original, his voice (with a discernible British accent) is memorable and his songs are just generally easy to enjoy.

While I whole-heartedly recommend you buy his album “+” (it’s only about 8 dollars, a steal in my opinion), if you only want to buy a song or two for a test run, my top 3 are as follows: “Drunk” (warning: it will get stuck in your head), “Small Bump” (a tragically beautiful song that may require you to press pause so you can process and appreciate the lyrics) and “Wake Me Up” (a fresh and well-written love song).

I don’t want to spoil the “Lego House” video for you but I highly recommend you watch it. And yes, that is Ron. You’ll understand once you watch.