To be real, there is no defence of Macklemore. He’s indefensible. He is insufferable. He screenshot a text he sent to Kendrick Lamar apologizing to him after his album won Best Rap Album at the Grammy’s over To Pimp a Butterfly that one year and then he posted this screenshot to Instagram as if that would address the obvious racial bias towards him.
He makes ridiculous music that is technically rapping but made just palatable enough to be played by dads for their eleven year olds to listen to in the car on the way to Wendy’s. His success is based on overproduced beats and insane lyrics. They make very little sense on a good day.
But I like his music and listen to it. I include it in my playlists that I broadcast publicly sometimes. Every Macklemore song that I eventually grew to love and repeat on my phone, I hated on first listen. It was like an affront to my life whenever his songs would come on in the car or at a grocery store, where they come on frequently. I also have very weird memory connections to his first successful album that came out in 2012, when Thrift Shop became as popular as it did. My sister encouraged me to listen to the full album while I lived away from home and it just so happened to coincide with a particularly hurtful breakup I experienced. Between listening to very depressing songs about betrayal and hurt, I would put on “Gold” and “Cowboy Boots” and laugh at how dumb and random they were. It was a bizarre time in my life and listening to that album makes me relive memories in a good and weird way.
Though, I still resent that he was given way more credit than was due for singing about “Same Love”, where he insists that love is love like it’s a very new concept to radio listeners and that he wins awards undeservedly. He takes pretty lukewarm stances on American issues but acts revolutionary and brave about them. His stakes are low, though, and these stances are never so far fetched that they would actually threaten his listener-ship. He is annoying. He’s an overtly socially conscious white rapper who raps about white guilt. He is aware of how he is perceived and addresses it regularly. He has a song that is literally called “White Privilege II” about how bad he feels about being a white man in rap while also blaming other white artists for appropriating black culture which he definitely also does. It’s well intentioned but almost always misses the mark. This is what makes it so increasingly difficult to like Macklemore. Being a fan is an ongoing process of being ashamed of the artist but loving his music without irony.
Beyond the hopeful nostalgia that I have arbitrarily connected to his older stuff, I have also enjoyed his new music. I think what I appreciate most are the stupid ones that are on the surface about nothing but that he manages to stretch into long ass songs (Downtown, Thrift Shop, Corner Store, Let’s Eat). I also really love his hopeful brand of life celebrating songs (Glorious, White Walls, Gold) for when I’m really kidding myself. I can even get along with his slow, ballad-like ones that are about remembering the past, his daughter or his opioid addiction (Need to Know, Growing Up, Good Old Days, Cowboy Boots). Both of his latest albums (This Unruly Mess I’ve Made and Gemini) have features on every song which I think is great because he either has friends in the industry or he and his producers are owed a lot of favours.
“Downtown” was wild the first time I heard it in the car with my siblings. I definitely forgot it existed until a year later when I got Apple Music. After listening to it in its entirety on my earphones and being overwhelmed but enraptured by the wall of sound created by the horns and Eric Nally’s vocals, I left it on repeat for weeks. The fact that he’s rapping about buying a moped is trivial but always so funny to me. He takes himself too seriously and not at all seriously depending on the day/song. He just wants to make music and have a good time.
While I missed the boat with “Dance Off” (and I love Idris Elba), I can appreciate the lightheartedness to most of his discography. He is able to work with many artists across fields (Chance the Rapper, Ed Sheeran, Kesha) and the variety in his music is exemplified in his openness to learn and appreciate others’. He attempts to give homage to his rap heroes often which is admirable but iffy when you take into account the white privilege stuff. He gets helped often and I don’t have the energy to hate him for it or any of the other dumb stuff that makes him successful. But to be real again, he will still be successful and wealthy whether he has my reluctant support or not. He deserves it, I guess.