Is Macklemore Really “Wack”lemore?
I tried to stay away from a Macklemore think piece, but as people are still outraged about his win 14 hours later, here goes.
The Grammy Awards aired Sunday night and it was an overall good show. The Grammys eliminated a lot of niche categories, which I feel is wrong, so what’s left is generally popular music you hear already. Out of this comes Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s wins over Kendrick Lamar.
Full disclosure: I love Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. I own The Heist and several tracks from his work before The Heist (and before he started working with Ryan Lewis, who is the one who made him really pop). I do not feel that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis deserved Best New Artist or Best Rap Album. Kendrick Lamar should have won those, but as most Best New Artists fade away from the spotlight quickly, there perhaps is more hope for Kendrick’s staying power than Macklemore’s for the sake of rap/hip-hop. (I “get” the outrage, though. It’s like someone came into the house you built, started rearranging furniture, decorating blandly, changing your DVR settings, and people compliment them on the work they did in your home like they own it…and get a contract with HGTV to show off their work.)
Kendrick Lamar is a gifted rapper and there is a whole industry here that robbed him of a win. (The same one that rewarded Channel Orange over Kaleidoscope Dream.) Grammy voters are (probably?) mostly white, like The Academy of Motion Pictures Art & Sciences voters when they vote for nothing but mostly white people for the Academy Awards and Emmys. You choose that which makes you more comfortable, right? Eminem got introduced to us through Dr. Dre, and he said, “Nah, he’s cool,” and a lot of us said, “Okay, cool. He’s racking up all the traditionally black awards over other black rappers, but if you say he’s cool, then he’s cool. I only like some of what he raps about, but you said he’s cool, so I guess he’s cool.”
Macklemore independently came along with no label and had a hit with “Thrift Shop”, which was everywhere. Then “Can’t Hold Us” came next – another hit. Then “Same Love” took off as an anthem for social justice, change, and equality. And he was rapping about it. And he’s white.
This corny white guy from Seattle is rapping and desperately trying to prove how “down” he is with a culture he knows he’s appropriating (but he does give credit to his “forebears”, and says that hip hop saved his life, but also notices how because he’s white, he didn’t have to struggle to make it), and is willing to air out his demons in rhyme, put a message behind his lyrics, and take a well-written stand for social justice and equality.
Macklemore’s Grammy performance included Queen Latifah officiating the marriages of 33 couples (straight and gay) during his “Same Love” performance. Let’s be honest – your favorite black rappers would NEVER do that. It’s because many of them are homophobic and they put down gay people, women, and (arguably) the poor all the time in their lyrics.
If you want to know why Macklemore won so much – it’s because he’s white and stands out in a genre that is historically black AND because he has a message in his rap lyrics that aren’t about being rich, sex with random women, and getting torn up in the club. He’s different. On top of that, he’s popular with white people, who make up most Grammy voters. Kendrick simply is not popular with them (yet?). Macklemore’s concert in DC was nothing but white tweens and teens with their parents. I was 1 of about 100 black people there, and he mostly sold out the arena. He’s a pop rapper, and maybe that’s a category that needs to be added so that Macklemore can find a home that suits him better, and Nicki Minaj can finally win a Grammy.
So, yes, Macklemore’s personality is corny and he does a lot of wack things like being a Vikings fan and suddenly all about the Seattle Seahawks as they made it to the Super Bowl, and this personal message to Kendrick Lamar that he posted publicly:
I don’t like cultural appropriation, and I don’t think Macklemore is changing the true face of hip-hop, but he does have at least a year for white outlets to treat him as such. I really think this is a case of an independent artist getting lucky enough to have 3 hits on an album that sold well and appeared everywhere (movies, commercials, etc.) who landed Grammy nominations that he was sure to win because he’s white in a category that typically doesn’t see white people. He took it a step further and campaigned for rights and equality, and went left with his lyrics when other rappers (except for Kendrick [mostly]) did not. Maybe this is a lesson for hip-hop? In order to regain control, you have to be willing to take risks? If not, this will keep happening every time a white rapper follows Macklemore’s format and gets nominated for a Grammy.
It’s not right, and it’s not okay, but we’re gonna make it anyway, y’all. Get madder at the industry and structure that rewards Macklemore rather than the artist who is riding a wave because three songs were pop hits. All this outrage toward him (and Ryan) won’t change any of their accolades or sales.
Work toward changing the system: Pop Rap Category?