Friday, September 11th, 2015

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz & Eric Nally – Downtown

It’s five goddamn minutes long, Jonathan.


Madeleine Lee: This song is a TV musical. More specifically, this song is that moment in a TV musical where two songs that were previously performed as discrete pieces (Macklemore as an improv comedian who just received the prompt “‘Thrift Shop,’ but about mopeds” vs. Eric Nally as Freddie Mercury) get layered and you realize that they actually go together quite well, and the chorus repeats enough times to prevail over either song and turns into a wave that crests and swells to a huge, triumphal climax. Like, this doesn’t end with a sustained whole-note chord before red velvet curtains swing shut on the crane shot of downtoooown, but it might as well. It’s very corny, and for a history lesson from a white man you’re probably better off with Ed Piskor, but it’s also heart-stirring in a way that is contrived and yet effective.

Iain Mew: A bit like tuning in to one of those music channel list programmes that plays great music but frames it with some guilty pleasure bullshit. The full-blooded moped adventure bits are amazing, but inevitably soured by being surrounded by Macklemore drumming in at dull length that, yes, this is all a joke, man.

Anthony Easton: The less self righteous Macklemore becomes, the more awkward he becomes.

Micha Cavaseno: You know, not for nothing, it’s nice that Macklemore’s response to his culture vulture positioning is to go out of his way to find the originators of rap in its musical form (in before someone tries to #Actually me with The Last Poets) and get them appearances on a song that will doubtlessly get a certain amount of royalty money that they’ve been denied for quite some time. Melle, the man to deliver the first conscious record, Moe Dee the first guy to rhyme in triplets (sorry, Quavius), and Caz, the guy who’s first verses were beamed across America (albeit through Big Hank’s vocal chords, but whatever). As far as paying tribute to those who did it before you, that’s a decent hat-trick. Granted, there’s the usual bit of hokeyness that accompanies Macklemore’s every waking moments, undoubtedly complimented about how Ryan Lewis’ production sounds every bit a cartoon of Sugarhill the way “Uptown Funk” did The Time. This would’ve been all fine, albeit unimpressive had it not been for Eric FUCKING Nally of Foxy (fucking) Shazam! The showboating chorus is, much like the career of Foxy, unnecessary, making “Downtown” at once too kitsch or too portentous. You had me for a minute, dude.

Jonathan Bogart: “Freddy Mercury paying tribute to Petula Clark” was my first impression of the chorus (is Eric Nally who you get when Nate Ruess won’t return your calls?), and the thought stuck. If Petula Clark’s “Downtown” was the soundtrack to the final victory of white flight, casting downtown as an exciting but fundamentally commercial place where you could catch a show, hear some bossa nova, and then retreat safely back into the suburbs, Mackle & the Most’s “Downtown” is the soundtrack to the final victory of gentrification, urban density reclaimed for the semi-young and a recklessness cushioned by 401(k)s, the past’s closet of coolness and weirdness raided to scrape together the illusion of an identity already made secure by privilege. The particular pieces of the past — theatrical glam, first-gen hip-hop, mod signifiers — don’t fit together, of course; they were never meant to, any more than an iPhone 6, exposed brick, and a pinball machine do. The juxtaposition is the point to a gentrifier. Macklemore’s mutter-rapping is sounding increasingly like Beck’s slacker rap back when Beck was Macklemore’s age, except of course Macklemore, being a millennial, has to ruin it all by actually trying. (Dada’s always forgiving, but if you have punch lines they better be funny.) None of this, of course, constitutes an argument against loving the song, just a critique of its social context. And I do love the song, maybe in spite of myself, maybe to spite everyone who believes corniness is a moral failing. In a season when Broadway has edged closer to understanding hip-hop than ever before, this crass, profoundly stupid blend of rap and show-tune pomp is to real hip-hop what Petula’s “Downtown” was to rock & roll: not even wrong, just something else entirely.

Alfred Soto: Surrounding himself with old school stars who testify over cowbell and saxes, Macklemore makes like LL going back to Cali, and between the chopped syllables and Vibrin-inspired lurches rushing headlong into the grossest choir I’ve heard in recent years, it sounds like his own Lonely Island audition tape. Trying to fake fake whimsy — imagine that.

Rebecca A. Gowns: Tired of being a punchline, Macklemore wants to surround himself with markers of authentication. This authentication process is not, as Melle Mel optimistically opines, for the sake of the future of hip-hop, but rather for the sake of Macklemore’s future. With that in mind, it’s strange that he and Ryan Lewis threw together these particular bits and pieces of music, creating more of a Frankenstein song than a respectful homage; more of a mad experiment in what the public will tolerate than a down-to-earth connection with the masses and their nostalgia. Right at the top, it’s weird, with the cabaret piano fill, then Macklemore jumps right in with a bit of “Thrift Store”-style humble-bragging. Then he allows his featured guests to enter on the next verse, a hit of nostalgic ’80s rap with the group performing all together — which is appropriate for the sound, but it effectively renders all these names anonymous, as literal scaffolding for the Great Macklemore Project. Then this re-animated corpse of a song ambles onto the next section, a befuddling hook sewn together with the torso of Eric Nally, the head of Florence Welch, the piano diddling of Coldplay, and the studio choirs familiar to any musician who needs to build their “sound” without bothering to compose anything interesting. The whole thing reads like some poor musical theatre pastiche of a “rap song,” complete with one too many reprises. It would be the evil twin of “In the Heights”: “In the Depths” [of Macklemore’s Brand].

Thomas Inskeep: Things I hate about “Downtown”: 1. Eric Nally’s voice makes me want to punch him in the throat as hard as possible. 2. In case you’d forgotten that Macklemore is both a piss-poor lyricist and just a mediocre at best rapper, here’s all the evidence you need. 3. What is Ryan Lewis, the Andrew Ridgely to Macklemore’s George Michael? 4. Really, a song about mopeds? 5. “Look, I’ve got old-school cred, I’ve got Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Caz on my single! Oh, they’re just on the first chorus and a bridge, why do you ask?” 6. No, I don’t want more fucking cowbell. 7. It’s five goddamn minutes long. 

Patrick St. Michel: This is one of the stupidest songs released in 2015, but so ambitious in its dumbness. It’s a five-minute song about mopeds. That’s it. And I’ve considered buying a moped! It’s one of those Seth MacFarlane gags where a joke goes on just a little longer than it should have…but then keeps going until people find it funny or actually earnest. But isn’t this where Macklemore should exist? Do we want him writing about gay rights again? It’s clear he’s not reading the internet and he’s just going to Mackle more. Opting to make silly YouTube-hit-trolling songs is better than the alternative, right? 

Andy Hutchins: Say this for Macklemore: He steers into skids. “Downtown” is his fifth consecutive Hot 100 top 20 single (Drake’s longest streak? Four), and it finds him in the familiar position of having people with unimpeachable resumes give him cover to say things that would be witless even if he weren’t so obviously trying to negotiate being a white rapper far more popular than most other rappers working. Here, he brings together one of the Furious Five, arguably the most notable member of The Cold Crush Brothers, and the first rapper to perform at the Grammys to paraphrase “La Di Da Di” … and say “a po-po can’t reprimand me” in character as Macklemore during a continued national pushback against cops’ treatment of minorites. Ben Haggerty’s more complicated than those who uncritically cast him as a pure culture vulture suggest, and it’s probably not fair to be totally cynical about him, but I do wonder whether bringing along legends to make a pro-nostalgia song is more about giving them credit (and some money) or putting them in a position where they end up having to vehemently defending a white guy from Seattle who claims he didn’t take his nom de rap from (black) Mariners second baseman Mark McLemore, “at least not consciously.” But can anyone really defend “There’s layers to this shit, player (Tiramisu, tiramisu)” closing a goddamn five-minute song about mopeds, or Macklemore managing to work in the same “You rap people are spending money on The Wrong Things!” critique from “Thrift Shop” (“Fifty dollars for a t-shirt, that’s just some ignorant bitch shit”) and trying to make it a color-blind criticism by alleging that Scott Storch somehow still has a Bugatti?

Katherine St Asaph: I liked this joke better when it was called “Horse Outside.”

Scott Mildenhall: The ideas are disparate, lonely islands, and clearly mopeds can’t cover that ground like a boat would.

Ramzi Awn: If the Mika-inspired chorus were any better, it would make it easier to care about some of the decent phrases on the track. But I’m pretty sure you only get one chance to glorify a hipster culture staple, and your thrift shop was it. Onwards and upwards.

Reader average: [4] (12 votes)

Vote: 0   1   2   3   4   5   6   7   8   9   10

13 Responses to “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis ft. Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz & Eric Nally – Downtown”

  1. No commentary on Ken Griffey Jr’s appearance?

  2. Jonathan B, I adore your review (very nice connection to Petula Clark!)… and am befuddled by your score.

  3. i’m with jonathan bogart

  4. To be honest, this deserved higher scores, I’m just trying to be on brand.

  5. @Andy:
    Of all the dumb, outdated ideas contained in those five minutes, that Scott Storch mention might be the dumbest and most outdated.

  6. I would have given about a 6, if only because Macklemore is so fucking corny and I kinda like it. Great writing all around, though.

  7. Went shopping today for shoes and this song was playing in each shop I went into. Would give [4].

  8. all focus on China markets tonight->will there be another 8+% plunge??
    will we get to see the transients in our cities become
    maclemore marshmallows

  9. > Mackle & the Most’s “Downtown” is the soundtrack to the final victory of gentrification, urban density reclaimed for the semi-young and a recklessness cushioned by 401(k)s,

    God this is such a fucking try-hard website.

  10. k

  11. Oh for a website where no one tries ever.

  12. It’s like an original Weird Al song is getting radio play! Not something I’d like to relisten to often, but I have no hate for this guy. Modern pop needs a pie in the face… so I’m giving it a 6 for function over form.

  13. Eric Nally is a wonderful artists who I have personally met when his band foxy shazam was first getting around. I remember Eric stating that he would like to do what Michael Jordan has done only in the music industry instead of basketball. This is an artist working towards his dream! I for that fact and because I am a Nally fan LOVE this song!