Say the name Macklemore to a fan of Hip-Hop and you’re guaranteed to get an interesting response – especially if the person you’re speaking to is black.
Let me be real for a minute and say it as I see it: a lot of black people who love rap music don’t like Macklemore:
- They don’t like the fact that he’s another white artist seemingly appropriating black culture.
- They don’t like the fact that he’s infected rap music with his liberal sensibilities.
- They don’t like the fact that his last album stormed to the top of the charts internationally.
- They don’t like the fact that he publicly apologised to Kendrick Lamar for winning the Best Rap Album Grammy.
- They don’t like the fact that he is making the sorts of people that shouldn’t like Hip-Hop, like Hip-Hop.
- And they don’t like him because deep down inside they know – but hate to admit – that he’s actually a very good rapper.
Macklemore’s latest release, White Privilege II, is likely to have further incensed his haters. He spends almost nine minutes reflecting on his privileged position in the world of Hip-Hop and what this means within the broader context of the #BlackLivesMatter movement.
Social media predictably erupted following the release. This was partly driven by the fact that in the song, Macklemore calls out Iggy Azalea, Elvis and Miley Cyrus as examples of other artists accused of appropriating black culture.
Some have criticised Macklemore for raising important questions yet failing to provide any solutions. Others have claimed he is seeking to profit by riding on the back of a contentious social issue (ignoring the fact that the single was released free of charge on iTunes). But as nauseating as some people may find it to listen to Macklemore waxing lyrical about his existential angst over being privileged and white, the truth is we need more artists like him.
Macklemore does not try to hide the fact that he is white. In fact he positively embraces his culture and his Irish heritage. It makes him someone that large numbers of white working class young people across middle America can relate to, as illustrated on this map of favourite artists by state in 2014.
Like it or not, Macklemore has achieved the status of a superstar. As such, he wields huge influence over the media. He has previously used this position to speak out against homophobia in Hip-Hop culture in his song ‘Same Love’. By addressing the issue of white privilege, he is doing something that other white artists have historically got defensive about, or tried to ignore altogether.
This matters when you consider the broader context of the United States as a nation increasingly polarised by race. With a presidential election looming, Donald Trump is doing his best to exploit racial tensions by appealing to many of the same working class American’s that love Macklemore.
Hip-Hop aficionados rightly point to Kendrick Lamar as the artist who galvanised the #BlackLivesMatter movement with his anthem, ‘Alright’, taken from his brilliant 2015 album, ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’. But Macklemore speaks to an audience that simply won’t listen to Lamar. To them he raps:
“White supremacy protects the privilege I hold
White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home
White supremacy is our country’s lineage, designed for us to be indifferent”
Whatever you think of him personally, by speaking out with such honesty, Macklemore has put white privilege and inequality back on the media agenda. I’d love to see other artists follow his lead.