Monday, January 27, 2014

Okay, Stop It With the Macklemore Hate

As I have made clear before, I like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Of the albums nominated for 2013 Grammys, there isn't one that I like more than "The Heist." But ever since I first heard of him, there has been a pretty divided response. Some of that is inevitable because of the fact that Macklemore's a white guy in a traditionally black music form and because their biggest hit, "Thrift Shop," could be seen as a novelty song. Couple that with their song "Same Love," which some have also complained about because Macklemore is straight and the song is about being not straight, and you have a lot of hate coming out for, well, Macklemore, if not Ryan Lewis.

Almost all of the hate is misguided. As a jump off for the key arguments in this fight, I'm going to use this annoying Thought Catalog article that made most of the bad arguments I've seen and collected them all in one convenient place.

But first, let me state my official position, so I'm not holding anything back:

  • Both Macklemore and Kendrick lost Album of the Year to Daft Punk. I think both albums were vastly superior to Daft Punk.
  • "Same Love" lost Song of the Year to "Royals," by Lorde. While I like both songs, the best song of the year, in my opinion, was "Collard Greens," by Schoolboy Q and Kendrick Lamar.
  • Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won Best New Artist. Kendrick Lamar should've won. While I'll point out below that I thought Macklemore's album was better (slightly) than Kendrick's, k.dot had a bunch of appearances that weren't on his album that rocked the year, most notably the most talked about hip hop moment of the year in his verse on "Control," by Big Sean. Based on the entire body of work, Kendrick both had a better year, musically speaking, he also had more impact on the music and on other artists moving forward.
  • In a loaded Best Rap Performance category, one that left out a lot of good songs, "Thrift Shop" beat Kendrick's "Swimming Pools (Drank)." I already said I thought "Collard Greens" was the best song of the year, but there were a number of other songs I would also put ahead of these two, even though I like both.
  • "Thrift Shop" won Best Rap Song. Kendrick was nominated for a guest verse on an A$AP Rocky song that didn't really belong. "Collard Greens" was still better, as were songs from Jay-Z & Justin Timberlake and Kanye West that were nominated.
  • "The Heist" beat Kendrick Lamar's album as well as good albums from West and Jay-Z. I think this win was deserved.

So, for the record, I think only one of the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis victories would've been one I would've voted for, but only one of those other categories would I have replaced Macklemore with Kendrick.

I'll also note that Kendrick lost Best Rap/Sung Collaboration to Jay-Z & Justin Timberlake and nobody's complaining about that.

So, on to the Thought Catalog article, titled "25 Reasons Macklemore Winning Over Kendrick Lamar Is Complete BS."

"1. Because other than Same Love and Thrift Shop, how many of us actually know any other Macklemore tracks? (And if we’re being honest, it’s the beat that makes Thrift Shop because the rap is mediocre.)"

Well, considering that "Can't Hold Us" hit #1 and was nominated for a Grammy, a BET award, an MTV award and a Teen Choice award, "Cowboy Boots" is a big enough song to have a karaoke version, "White Walls" hit #15, and "Wings" was used for the NBA all-star game weekend promos, I'm guessing people have heard some other songs. As for the rap being mediocre, I'd like to see the author perform it. Macklemore has a distinctive style that isn't easy to do.

"2. Because let’s face it: 90% of Macklemore’s demographic are 12-year-old white girls from the suburbs."

All of the available evidence suggests otherwise. The comment is so far from any kind of evidence as to be laughable.

"3. Because Kendrick Lamar is saving hip hop from future Macklemores (and Drakes, to be perfectly honest.)"

Macklemore, in both content and form, is much closer to Kendrick Lamar than Drake. And there's no conflict between what Macklemore does and what Kendrick does. Many people like both.

"4. Because he is riding his White, heterosexual privileges to the bank and it got annoying real fast once you saw beyond the surface."

If this is true, it has nothing to do with Macklemore (beyond making quality music) and everything to do with a racist media.

"5. Because from a purely academic standpoint, it is actually amazing that people who identify as gay or queer, PoCs, and queer PoCs, have had the same message as Macklemore in popular culture for decades. And all of a sudden it is being recognized because a White, heterosexual male is saying it?"

Again, that's because of a homophobic media and nothing to do with Macklemore.

"6. Because Macklemore is representative of everything that is wrong with the music industry – he is distracting people away from THE MUSIC, with THE PERFORMANCE."

This is utter nonsense. What's wrong with the industry is record companies, Ticketmaster, MTV, BET, the media. Macklemore made his success by ignoring all of these things and doing it independently. He paid his dues, made the music, toured relentlessly, and brought along artists that no one else had heard of and gave them exposure.

"7. Because the fact that there is even a comparison between Macklemore and Kendrick is nauseating. What next? Are we going to compare Taylor Swift’s vocals to Adele’s?"

Terrible analogy. They both rap. People like them. That's the only comparison anyone other than people like this author are making. And I'm starting to sense a lack of substance here that relates only to Macklemore's race.

"8. Because like it or not, his politics likely had something to do with the awards, and while that’s great and all, that should hardly be a substantiating factor for musical acclamation."

Good music with good politics should absolutely be rewarded more than good music with bad politics. Or bad music.

"9. Because even if Kendrick didn’t win, Kanye and Jay-Z were on that list. Like are we actually on planet earth or is this an alternate version of hell?"

You can make arguments that Kendrick's or Kanye's albums. It's much harder to make that case for Jay-Z's album, as much as some of it was pretty good. But, at this point, the author isn't actually giving new reasons, just repeating the old ones.

"10. Because Macklemore is that white guy with a little bit of talent in a particularly Black genre. And if the roles reversed, it would be 1000 times harder to receive that acclamation for such an ordinary artist."

"1000 times" is nonsense and the author knows this (see the Drake comment above). Yes, it was easier for him because was white. He's admitted that, rapped about it, given credit to where it was due, and explicitly avoided saying anything that would make it seem like he is co-opting the artform and not a true devotee.

"11. Because if I hear somebody compare him to Eminem one more time, I am going to scream. Eminem doesn’t need to be the face of “White rappers.” Eminem is a rapper, period. He is one of the greatest; love him or hate him. Sit down with that comparison."

I've actually never heard this comparison and I live on hip hop blogs.

"12. Because somehow Macklemore has FOUR Grammys, and Nas, DMX, and Snoop Dogg COMBINED do not have that total. (And yes, I stole that stat from Twitter and the fun fact is that the above mentioned artists actually have 0 Grammys each.)"

So, the Grammys suck. What does that have to do with hating Macklemore? He didn't cause it.

"13. Because the following text to Kendrick was cool and all but then showing it to the world to portray some kind of pretentious humility pretty much sums up Macklemore in one word: EXTRA."

Absolute BS. Kendrick doesn't need Macklemore's approval. This wasn't important because he sent it to Kendrick. It's important because he said it to the public, that's the only thing that makes the sentiment valid. Now all of Macklemore's fans know who Kendrick is and they know that the artist they respect thinks this guy's album is even better. What do you want to bet k.dot sends Macklemore a thank you for the sales boost.

"14. Because Kendrick is carrying hip hop on his back and preventing it from becoming a shittty genre that was honestly half way to imploding on itself with every other terrible dubstep beat ever made."

Also nonsense. Kendrick is amazing, but we're entering into a new hip hop golden age. The number of all-time greats producing great material is high (Jay-Z, Eminem, Nas all had great albums recently), the young group is so diverse and plentiful, it's ridiculous. I haven't been this excited about the state of hip hop in more than a decade.

"15. Because I have never met a single human being who is a legitimate fan of the hip hop genre and not solely that mainstream crack, who would choose Macklemore over Kendrick."

Now you have. I'll wager I know more about hip hop, particularly old school and underground hip hop, than the author of this post. I was singing Kool Moe Dee songs before the author was born.

"16. Because if we are now choosing what is good and quality work based solely on popularity, especially in the arts, then we as a society have truly lost our way."

Nothing in this sentence is even remotely accurate.

"17. Because WWPS….What Would Pac Say?"

Yes, because Pac is the only voice that counts in hip hop? What would Queen Latifah say? What would Pharrell say? What would Schoolboy Q say? What would Ab-Soul say? What would XXL say? What would Eminem say? What would Angel Haze say? What would Chance the Rapper say? What would Method Man say? What would the Source say? What would Pusha T say? What would Kanye West say? What would French Montana say? What would Mac Miller say? What would Big K.R.I.T. say? What would Meek Mill say? What would Trinidad James say? What would Jay-Z say? What would Questlove say? What would Bun B say? What would A$AP Rocky say? What would Danny Brown say? What would Big Sean say? What would Tyler the Creator say? What would Diddy say? What would Paul Wall say? What would J. Cole say? What would 2 Chainz say? What would DJ Premier say? What would Big Boi say? What would Sir Mix-a-Lot say? What would Wiz Khalifa say? What would Iggy Azalea say? What would the Lox say? What would Wale say? What would Nas say? And, importantly, what would Kendrick Lamar say? The point is that all of these rappers have worked with, endorsed, or in some way given props to Macklemore. That means something.

"18. Because if the future of hip hop rests on Macklemore, we might as well all just quit now. No seriously, put on top 40 and let’s all just go the hell home."

This is a repeat of a previous statement, but the future of hip hop is not Macklemore or Kendrick. It's both of them. And all those guys in the last question. And many others.

"19. Because the Grammys continues to certify that it is an establishment that doesn’t actually know anything about hip hop or rap. I mean if Nas of all people has not won one, there is hardly anything redeeming about this awards show."

While the Grammys have their problems, in almost all of the hip hop categories, the nominees were quite accurate for the best stuff from the past year. Even if you don't like Macklemore, suggesting that he shouldn't be nominated is silly. And, as the author noted, Kendrick was nominated in seven categories. Jay-Z has 19 Grammys at his house. You can't have it both ways.

"20. Because choosing Macklemore over Kendrick is creating a history that hip hop fans will be regretting for decades."

Hip hop fans who like Macklemore won't be. The album stands up and will stand up over time.

"21. Because even while we laud Macklemore for being hyper aware of his White privilege, that means nothing when he’s the one giving the thank you speech and getting the award. (Again, the greater focus must be on the consequences of acts, not the intentions.)"

He lived up to his intentions. Let's assume that the author is right and Macklemore only won because he's white (which isn't true, but whatever), that has NOTHING to do with Macklemore and is NOT a reason to hate him. If this were true, then you'd have to hate the Grammy voters, not the recipient. Besides this doesn't make any sense, logically speaking, since a group of voters doesn't have any intentions, they are individuals.

"22. Because Kendrick Lamar’s style and lyrics are actually grounded in authentic and genuine nuance personal and political talk. Not just politically correct, politically safe, and popular, political talk, like Macklemore’s. Which if you think about the roots and history of hip hop and rap as a whole, it is a damn shame."

While the Kendrick part here is accurate, the rest of this sentence shows, pretty clearly, that the author hasn't even listened to Macklemore's songs because this shit is all false.

"23. Because this prophetic article titled, “Macklemore, White Privilege, and Grammy For The Best Rap Album” sums it all up nicely."

This article that the author links to, while arguing for Kendrick (almost completely on subjective terms), explicitly rejects the Thought Catalog article's very point. Here's an extended excerpt:

Despite all this, Macklemore and his legion of fans don’t deserve such shabby treatment. The Heist deserves its nominations. You don’t have to be a fan of his music to respect Macklemore’s independent hustle, and it’s easy to appreciate his bold stand on social issues like gay rights—a topic about which hip-hop remains woefully behind-the-times.

In fact, Macklemore’s been taking on social issues for years now. Including the issue of white privilege. Way before he was a huge star, before the recent explosions of white rappers, the first song on Macklemore’s 2005 album, The Language of My World, was called "White Privilege.” On it, he rhymed, “Where's my place in a music that's been taken by my race?/Culturally appropriated by the white face/And we don't want to admit that this is existing/So scared to acknowledge the benefits of our white privilege.”

He’s also talked about white privilege in high-profile interviews with Rolling Stone and, quoted below, his CRWN appearance with Elliot Wilson.

"But it's something that I absolutely, not only in terms of society, benefit from my White privilege but being a Hip Hop artist in 2013, I do as well. The people that are coming to shows, the people that are connecting, that are resonating with me, that are like, 'I look like that guy. I have an immediate connection with him.' I benefit from that privilege and I think that mainstream Pop culture has accepted me on a level that they might be reluctant to, in terms of a person of color. They're like, 'Oh, this is safe. This is okay. He's positive.' I'm cussing my ass off in 'Thrift Shop.' Families are like, 'Fucking awesome.' I think that it's an interesting case study and something that I feel, as a White rapper, I have a certain amount of responsibility to speak on the issue of race, knowing that it's uncomfortable, that it's awkward and that, in particular, White people are like, 'Let's just not talk about it. Everyone is equal.' The reality is that...that's bullshit. We absolutely see race. We all do. I think we can evolve as long as we are having discussions about it."

Yeah, that sounds like an entitled artist ripping off hip hop.

"24. Because Macklemore is just not that good people."

This is bullshit slander and has no basis in reality. See the quote just before this.

"25. And lastly, because of that KENDRICK VERSE!"

Which wasn't on the album, so can't be used to support an album of the year award, although it does go towards why I thought Kendrick should've won Best New Artist.

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