Cue the collective eyeroll and under-the-breath grunts as people read the headline of this post. I’ll admit that I was a bit turned off by the unveiling of the Macklemore text to Kendrick Lamar that he “robbed” him of the best hip-hop award at the 2014 Grammy Awards when The Heist beat out good kid m.A.A.d city. While the heart may have been in the right place, that looked really, really bad. This is not only from the social media era where “if you don’t post it, it didn’t happen” stance, but especially from an artist who is looked at as an outsider that seemed to be catering for acceptance.
There was also some apprehensiveness on my part when I woke up to see that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released their second iteration of “White Privilege”. I’ll be the first to admit that there was still some resentment there within me about the Grammy incident. Despite that, I remembered how good The Heist was as a project. America is the land of second chances, so I gave the record a couple of spins on my I Phone. In the first “White Privilege” track which is featured on his 2005 album The Language of My World, he visits many of the same premises that are explored in the second edition of the track. He even visits previous musical history in the third verse, “But only supporting them is like burning Jimi and buying Clapton/Now Clapton’s incredible, but no Jimi, no foundation”.
There’s a real sentiment here where Macklemore feels conflicted on as a white rapper in a predominantly black genre of music. Given the discontent about the Oscars and the political climate, no matter who it is, it is important for a popular white artist to give his own thoughts. Most importantly, from his own perspective and not trying to put himself in the shoes of the affected or telling them how to feel.
This led me to “White Privilege 2,” which I feel that everyone should give an honest listen despite who you consider the messenger is. The third verse of this song is probably the most important part. Macklemore speaks to a mom in a coffee shop who praises his accolades and projects the blanketed statement that couples her view on “other” hip-hop and the protests that were occurring. The funny thing is, while this song speaks to the plight that many black artists have been speaking about for a long time, this track isn’t for that demographic in particular. It’s to tell that mother at the coffee shop about the difficulties and hardships that minorities face that gets aptly dismissed as “whining banter”.
Kendrick Lamar’s sophomore album, To Pimp A Butterfly speaks in-depth about views regarding poverty, police brutality, and music in general from a black person’s perspective. No matter how brilliant and heralded that album is, the message may never reach the mother at the coffee shop. As you heard in the third verse, she has already stereotyped it. Despite the way you feel about Macklemore, his message is needed because he is using his platform to speak to things that people may be ignorant to. Those that danced to “Thrift Shop” (hopefully) may listen to the song and be aware of records like “Mortal Man”, “The Blacker The Berry”, or “Alright”. If you can, check out J Cole performing “Be Free” on the Letterman show as well. Hopefully, at the very least inhibit some intelligent discussion and dialogue. My hope for this song is for some people, not only to listen to this, but to venture to listen to these records as well. It’s important to dig into the source of the disconnect of what Macklemore is stating as well.
I’ll give Macklemore this – at least he’s trying. Some of your favorite artists, whether protecting a brand or not, has not mentioned anything regarding the Ferguson protests on the Black Lives Matter movement. Some major news outlets may devote a morsel of time to it or showed some skewed take on what is trying to be accomplished. Look at the comments in almost every YouTube videos and if it’s an ignorant bomb went off with people trying to out-troll each other with any vile noun and adjective they can find.
Macklemore actually went to Ferguson to march in the protests for Mike Brown while some celebrities merely gave a tweet about it. Some of your favorite artists have a persona that they don’t even live and at least he is trying to actively understand and be a component to his own. There was a line giving a slight to Miley Cyrus and Iggy Azalea. We could construe this, given the artist saying it that the pot is calling the kettle black, but Macklemore is making an effort to understand the history of the genre he makes a living from. The making and enjoyment of music should be boundless and colorless, but there’s also acknowledging the history as to where it’s based. It’s not my job to put that on every music figure. I don’t expect everyone to be Rage Against The Machine and neither should you. There’s a saying, “right message, wrong messenger”. In this case, we should say “despite the messenger, listen to the message”.