Saturday, February 15, 2014

Ranting About Macklemore

Kenzo Shibata's article "Macklemore, the Peter Frampton of Hip-Hop" inspired me to write a ranty comment, which I've published below. I'm working on an editorial for rapreviews on the same subject. 

I have a couple issues with your argument.
#1. While Macklemore was embraced by the record industry when they realized he could make them money, he’s an independent artist. He and Ryan Lewis put that album out by themselves. He’s not part of the system trying to water rap down, man.
#2. Le1f, while gay and a rapper, doesn’t make amazing music, and certainly doesn’t make the kind of music that could be expected to resonate with tens of millions of people. I love Big Freedia but she’s not about to go mainstream either. It’s also not a zero sum game -just because a straight guy had the first pro-gay rap hit doesn’t mean that there can’t be a gay rapper with a hit as well. If any thing Brother Ali should be mad because he was white and pro-gay before it was cool.
#3. I love PE and NWA, but they haven’t been relevant for twenty years. The kind of hyper political rap that PE made was basically only made by PE. Most “golden era” hip-hop was about being a good MC. Even the Native Tongue groups like De La Soul and Tribe Called Quest weren’t that political. The idea of rap music as the African-American answer to punk rock is largely projection by people outside of hip-hop who want it to be something it never really was.
4. If Macklemore is Framptom, than mainstream hip-hop is Warrant and Poison. it’s become a self-parody where every other song is about strippers or getting drunk in the club or having sex with strippers while getting drunk in the club. There are outliers in the underground and indie scenes, but most rappers are heavily invested in rapping about partying. Even rappers criticizing rapping about partying, like Kanye, rap about partying. Which isn’t to knock Migos or Juicy J or whoever, but shit isn’t exactly deep. kind of like early rock n’ roll, which were mostly thinly veiled songs about sex. Or early punk, which was mostly songs about getting high and trying to get laid.
5. Maybe Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are popular because they are “safe,” but it doesn’t hurt that they every other word out of their mouth isn’t the n word or bitch. I love Kendrick Lamar and I think his album is amazing, but my wife will not let me play it in the house because she can’t deal with the language. And not because she is safe and middlebrow, but because she doesn’t like the fact that so much of rap is full of really offensive language. And not offensive because it’s challenging the system, unless using racial and sexual slurs is somehow anti-establishment now.
What hip-hop needs is more artists operating outside of the major label system, more artists challenging the bullshit that mainstream rap is delivering, and more artists who are able to take the genre in new directions and to new audiences. I don’t love Macklemore, but he is not hip-hop’s problem. Hip-hop is hip-hop’s problem. To paraphrase d. boon, hip hop is whatever we want it to be, and that can include white hipsters rapping about gay marriage and thrift stores.

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