Macklemore (right) and Ryan Lewis
My first time hearing of this Seattle MC was on a NPR radio interview last year, where he discussed his song “Same Love”; a song about homosexuality. Macklemore eventually landed himself a seat on Ellen’s couch, which, by in large, got everyone to talking. Not easily impressed with today’s music, I did my typical “meh” and moved on with my life.
It wasn’t until my kids (who I rely on quite heavily to keep me up-to-date on anything socially relevant at the moment, although the song was actually released back in August of last year. Go figure.) started belting out the chorus of the song “Thrift Shop” that I was re-introduced to this rapper. This very WHITE rapper.
Its a catchy song, catchy enough to look him up on my Rhapsody account and download the entire “The Heist” album.
It was SO worth it. This man is indeed talented… his lyrics are creative, smart and just as intense and socially conscious as they are fun. He serves what Hip-Hop, at it’s core, is meant to serve. And yet his existence in this genre only aids in the death of it. A bit oxymoronic, I know. But check it out:
Hip-Hop, as whole, has been diluted. This is common knowledge. It seeped its way into mainstream, which was a successful move commercially. But while it was busy making its way into Award Show category lineups and at the tops of international music charts, it has allowed mainstream to change its purpose. Its design; making it “pop” as in popular, less aggressive and more socially acceptable (by Whites), which in turn, resulted in leaving its participants with 3 options: either conform, rebel and go underground or fall off the face of the earth.
Hip-Hop has also become a branding mechanism, using its influence for the sole purpose of making a company or product an awful lot of money. And the rappers that choose to conform go on to make nice paychecks, aligning themselves with these companies and products, continuing to crank out rather haphazard music to fans who are getting younger (and whiter), while garnering even more fame and influence.
Yet, even with all of its flaws and wayward behaviors, Hip-Hop is one of only a few cultural creations that Blacks in America can cling to, no matter how diverse its audience has become. It has long been my belief that Blacks in America have no cultural origins (due to the financial institution of slavery and the careless documentation of our origin and ancestry), and as such, we’ve had to create a culture practically out of thin air. While Whites have European traditions to revert to if necessary, we, as a collective, do not have that luxury. But OHHH!!!!! What a CREATIVE people we are, capable of making something out of nothing! And music has always been a part of us. It’s in our marrow. Hip-Hop in particular, has always been the vehicle, OUR vehicle, which we use to express our joy, pain, struggle, the injustices against us, our appreciations and even our sexual pride.
So in walks in a very talented rapper with the quick-wit, a charismatic and powerful voice, demanding we take notice and daring us to say he’s not hot. But he’s White though.
Macklemore addresses the obvious in his song titled “White Privilege” (not on the Heist album. Clink the link to listen):
I see so many people lost who really try to pretend
But am I just another white boy who has caught on to the trend When I take a step to the mic is hip-hop closer to the end?
‘Cause when I go to shows the majority have white skin
They marketed the windmill, the air flair and head spin
And white rappers albums really get the most spins
The face of hip hop has changed a lot since Eminem
And if he’s taking away black artists’ profits I look just like him
Claimed a culture that wasn’t mine, the way of the American
Hip hop is gentrified and where will all the people live
It’s like the central district, beacon hill to the south end
Being pushed farther away because of what white people did, now
Where’s my place in a music that’s been taken by my race…
Here is a man that is fully aware of what his white skin and his subsequent success in this genre implies. While I nod at his attempt to address the issues with his race in rap music head on, it almost reminds me of the scene in the movie “8 Mile”, when Eminem wins the rap battle because he took all the potential ammunition his opponent had against him and rapped about it first; clever and tactical. “Let’s get this racism shit out of the way so we can enjoy my music”… Nice move.
Now this could’ve easily been a post about the glorification of drugs, misogyny, homophobia and all the financial mismanagement in today’s Hip-Hop music. But I’m choosing to write about Mackelmore because not only has his music recently infiltrated my home, he also serves as a physical manifestation of where Hip-Hop is going and how far gone it truly is.
Does it matter that he’s White? Yes, it does… it won’t stop him from becoming successful. And it won’t stop me or any other fan of color from listening to his music and appreciating his talent.
It simply means that Hip-Hop, for all its intents and purposes, is officially dead. Now what do we do?
(Pic Source: The Daily Princetonian)