Macklemore: Writing the Truth

Originally published on Visionary Artistry Mag with photos here:

For a while it was impossible to ignore the name Macklemore (not that you’d want to, anyway). There was the success of the fiscally responsible song “Thrift Shop,” which featured the artist in a racoon skin hat and Batman footie pajamas. Then, in case you were wondering if there was a serious bone in his body, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released “Same Love” in support of LGBT rights. Although his name was buzzing all over the Internet, “Same Love” sent Macklemore into the realm of respect. His fan base grew quickly and the name Macklemore was constantly on the tips of our tongues.

“What I’m learning is that you just have to have fun with it. This could be gone next year. It could be gone in six months. You never know and for where we’re at right now, it’s really exciting,” Macklemore said in the all things nerd related Nerdist podcast.

One thing that sets Macklemore apart from others in the rap game is his hood. He didn’t start out in Brooklyn, Bankhead or Oakland. He hails from the streets of Seattle, Wash., which is arguably the least “hood” place in America. There were probably no epic underground rap battles taking place, which left Macklemore (né Ben Haggarty) with limited chances to practice his skill.

“I grew up in the spoken-word community. The Saul Williams ‘Slam’ days. Before everybody had a home studio, or before we could get booked for shows, open mics were the only way to be heard by other people. There was barely a hip-hop scene in Seattle, so the basement of Langston Hughes Cultural Center in the Central District of Seattle was our platform to read our writing. It really gave me a chance to develop as a performer. Reading a piece of poetry with no beat in front of 20 people is way more challenging than rocking for 10,000 people,” the artist explained to Interview Magazine.

One of the more impressive attributes to Macklemore is that he’s been successful without a label. Though the usefulness of a major label is debated among music artists, it’s obvious that labels have the tools to publicize a name. Music appears in TV shows and movies and gets constant radio play through the connections of a label. However, through the all-mighty glory of the Internet and through the work of Macklemore’s producer (best friend and fellow musician) Ryan Lewis, Macklemore is selling out shows, hosting huge tours and winning awards.

Amongst all of this success, Macklemore wants to keep going. Because he doesn’t have a huge label to impress, he can do the next big thing he feels called to do. He can write what he wants and what he thinks his audience will respond to without worrying about if it’s going to sell as well as “Thrift Shop.” The song was an instant hit. It’s relatively light-hearted and asks why anyone would spend money on expensive clothing just to look like everyone else. Why not go to a thrift shop and look original? Macklemore has made it clear: he’s not going to be the “Thrift Shop Guy.” He has so much more to say.

“Ideally, that comes from the art itself, I think. The purist place possible is just wanting to make art for the sake of making art…. The craft becomes convoluted when your main objective is to match what you sold last time…. That’s when the art starts to suffer,” Macklemore explained in the Nerdist podcast.

Unfortunately, there’s always something outside the art that is brought to our attention. Though Macklemore is a skilled writer and rapper, the fact that he is white is always pointed out. He’s of Irish descent, so he’s like super white. Not that this is a problem, but it’s something unusual for rappers. We’ve got Eminem, Paul Wall, Action Bronson and the Beastie Boys, but Macklemore has tackled the issue of white privilege and guilt, making him a little heavier than the guys who fought for our right to party.

Lyrics like the ones following in “A Wake” hit home for Macklemore’s audience: Don’t wanna be that white dude, million-man marching/Fighting for a freedom that my people stole/Don’t wanna make all my white fans uncomfortable/But you don’t even have a f***in’ song for radio/Why you out here talking race, trying to save the f***ing globe?/Don’t get involved if the cause isn’t mine/White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time.

“It’s realizing that as a white male in America, I have privilege. As a white male who happens to be an artist with a fan base, I have a platform to spread awareness about that privilege. However, songs about race and privilege are very difficult to A) write and B) dissect as a listener. They’re heavy. That line is acknowledging the guilt that I have for not bringing those issues to the surface, and the privilege that keeps me comfortable, whether I acknowledge it or not,” Macklemore explained about his song “A Wake” to Interview Magazine.

There’s no doubt that 2012 and 2013 were the years of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, but what’s been going on since then? Macklemore has shown that he’s all about the collaboration – and he knows with whom to collaborate. From featuring Ed Sheeran on the song “Growing Up (Sloane’s Song) to playing himself as a character called “Mucklemore” on Sesame Street, Macklemore has made his his rounds across the industry to keep his message (and himself) relevant.

From the Batman footie pajamas to tackling white guilt and gay rights, Macklemore is that prime example of humanity. We need to stay focused on the issues, but we need to remember to smile and have a good time, too. Life is too short. With what Macklemore has presented so far, I think the best word to describe him is honest. With his heart in the right place and no label to hold him back, nothing is off limits.

-Geneva Toddy


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