Originally published 18/11/2015 on ReeceListens
I unearthed the Symmetry & Ryan Lewis LP after the release of ‘Downtown’, the second new single from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis which followed ‘Sloane’s Song’. While each are okay songs in their own rights, neither embodied the hip-hop fans came to know and expect from Macklemore on the VS. EP and the his pre-Ryan Lewis mixtapes. Rather, they’re radio friendly pop-oriented songs which is fine, I guess. However if Macklemore’s movement away hip-hop records continues it sadly means we’ll be hearing fewer rap beats from Ryan Lewis, the other half of the Grammy award winning duo.
You see, unfortunately, Ryan Lewis is a pretty loyal dude. You’d be hard-pressed to see production by him that doesn’t have the Seattle slick of Macklemore laced over the top. That means more pop tunes from Macklemore means more pop beats from Lewis, which means less Ryan Lewis in rap. Here’s why that’s a shame: Lewis is a rare character amongst modern rap producers in that he uses live instrumentation on all of his beats. That means unlike most producers, his drums are actually his drums and ditto the rest of the instruments you hear on his tracks. The live recording gives his beats an undeniable crispness and they stand out in a landscape of canned FL Studio drums and Abelton synths. Beyond that, Lewis is one of the more underrated sampling producers around. While most producers are great at flipping small sounds on obscure tracks to form the canvas of a new song (see: Stefan Ponce turning this into the spine of Childish Gambino’s ‘3005‘), Lewis excels at re-arranging popular songs to craft something entirely fresh. He was great at doing this on the VS. EP where the Red Hot Chili Pepper’s ‘Otherside‘ was flipped into a track of the same name. Other less famous examples from the EP include ‘Kings‘, which samples The Killers’ ‘All These Things That I Have Done‘ and ‘Fake Empire‘, a stirring re-make of The National’s hit from Boxer.
This rare LP from 2009 is a collaboration which dropped precisely two weeks before the career-changing VS. EP and features Lewis teaming up with Symmetry, an emcee from Rhode Island. ‘School Days’ is a good taste of what to expect from the album. Symmetry’s not a heavy-hitting lyricist by any means, but he has a nice flow and can hold his own when he puts his mind to it (sound familiar to any other Ryan Lewis collaborator?). ‘School Days’ showcases what Lewis can do when he has the tools at his disposal. Opening with a crackling sample of Will Cobb and Gus Edwards’ 1907 tune of the same name, Lewis kicks the track into gear straight away as Symmetry opens with a blistering verse. Then, just a bit over halfway, Lewis takes the reigns as the vocals fades into the background. Sound warbles around a crisp guitar lick and the build of horns and drums is Lewis at his absolute best. It all culminates with Symmetry re-entering the frame over a jazzed up, harder hitting take on the chorus and the track finishes on a buzzing high.
‘School Days’ is ultimately a simple track about how lame school is. There’s an irony in 2009 Symmetry bragging ‘I’m gonna be a rap star in a couple of years’ only for his producer to wind up a Grammy. Nevertheless, Symmetry’s still grinding away, recently dropping his fifth studio album Junky which can be copped here. Ryan Lewis has also been busy, he produced some song about mopeds which you just may have heard once or twice. Link here.