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If you miss the days when The Beastie Boys brazenly sampled rock and roll and threw monster party beats on top of their frequently humorous rhymes, you’ll appreciate where emcee Macklemore and DJ Ryan Lewis take their collaboration ‘The VS EP’. Lewis openly pillages popular indie rock for the hooks, which he picks apart and then adds layers of production, strings, horns and thunderous beats. Macklemore, a proud Irishman (as you’ll hear about on ‘Irish Celebration’), will make you forget you ever heard of House of Pain. His raps are introspective, empowering and frequently beautiful without becoming trite or self congratulatory. And yes, he can make you smile with a well placed humorous wink.

Some listeners will be put off by the popular, easily recognized samples. But even if you don’t care for the smirking glam of The Killers, you’ll find yourself captivated by the slow boil of ‘Life is Cinema’ which borrows ‘All These Things That I’ve Done’. The song suddenly sounds dangerous in Lewis’ hands, and Macklemore’s sharp delivery conveys his intense will to change, to fix mistakes..

Transformation, change, awakening run central to the album’s themes, most dramatically on ‘Otherside’ which chronicles Macklemore’s experiences with drug use, first observing tragedies around him and then turning the light inward as he reveals his own battles and the humbling realization that he is as vulnerable to addiction as anyone.

Macklemore’s delivery is always clear, elegant and well measured. He’s less concerned with verbal acrobatics and more with clear, rhythmic story telling. Every track has a unique feel and narrative and it would be hard to cut any one of these seven songs. A giddy highlight comes near the end with ‘Irish Celebration’, as good hearted a drinking song as you’ve ever heard.

Even if you’re not into hip hop and can’t be bothered to seek out the underground artists that make it worth attention, ‘The Vs EP’ is worth notice. This is a cross genre experiment that shaggy indie rockers will enjoy just as much as the hippies and the skaters. You’ll hear instantly recognizable riffs from Red Hot Chili Peppers, Antony and the Johnsons, Beirut and Arcade Fire (who sound even MORE epic in this format). And through it all is Macklemore’s simple, engaging storytelling and Lewis’ exuberant productions.

And if that’s not enough to get you to listen, consider this: Macklemore and Lewis have made it available for a free download. You can get it right here:

http://ryanlewisproductions.com/extra/TheVS.EP.zip

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