I spent (too much) time yesterday on twitter and facebook, arguing the merits of Macklemore's album The Heist, which earned him the Best Rap Album accolade on Sunday night. Having approached The Heist as a performer, songwriter, and producer, I agreed that it was a great album and earned its place on the broader Best Album list, even if it didn't deserve to win (Daft Punk took the award).
But I also recognize (as it seems Macklemore does himself) that none of this also qualifies The Heist as a great rap album, much less the best rap album. From what I can tell, the consensus is that Kendrick Lamar's good kid, m.A.A.d. city deserved this one.
For my own part, I'm in no place to judge. Though I enjoy hip-hop music, I certainly don't keep up with it (admittedly, prior to the Grammys, the only new rap album I had listened to was The Heist). It's just not the music or culture that I grew up on. I can listen to and appreciate hip-hop music, but I know I'll always do so as an outsider-looking-in.
Like Macklemore, I too am white (Cuban, but with very fair skin). I was raised in the suburbs, in a middle-class family. I didn't listen to hip-hop because I didn't understand it; I didn't relate to it. When I finally gave hip-hop a chance in my early 20s, it was an appeal to my musical obsession - how could I consider myself musically enculturated without a healthy appreciation of so significant a movement as hip-hop?
Like any good suburban white boy, I was initially turned off by popular hip-hop music, which I perceived as too "hard" - with loads of expletives, misogynistic language and attitudes, violent themes, and an obsession with money (CREAM and Benjamins). So I was weaned instead onto indie hip-hop acts that are often described (and/or dismissed) as "conscious" or "positive". I got into Mos Def and Talib Kweli, KRS, The Roots, Blackalicious, Blue Scholars, Solillaquists of Sound, among many others.
I discovered Macklemore in late 2012 when I heard Same Love. I later listened to the rest of the album and appreciated his take on being an indie artist, his honesty about his addictions (including sneakers), and almost everything else he has to say (I never took the Thrift Shop song very seriously). He even talks about White privilege. Now this was hip-hop I could relate to!
Indeed, Macklemore is a hard-working independent artist who earned his stripes in the Seattle indie hip-hop scene and in 2012 put out a solid album, The Heist, that put out a handful of pop hits. He also happens to be white. But unlike me, he did grow up on hip-hop. He has a strong respect for the community and appreciation/awareness for the white privilege that puts him at odds with it. Yet it seems there's nothing he can do to overcome these odds.
His White privilege undoubtedly accounted for his win over Lamar in the Best Rap Album category. Macklemore himself would likely admit this (he's already admitted that he "robbed" the award). But to be fair, this can't be held against him. What's he to do? Quit making music? Switch to country music instead? Be someone and something that he's not?
Who knows what his true intents and motivations were in publicizing that text? But I can tell you one thing - a lot more people have checked out good kid, m.A.A.d. city as a result of that post. Those people are certainly not real hip-hop fans, but then neither are the people who vote for the Grammys. So why does anyone really care which rapper wins them?
I do hope that Macklemore will continue to make good music, whether deemed rap, hip-hop, "true" hip-hop, "conscious" hip-hop, pop, or whatever else; and that he'll continue to use his notoriety to address White privilege, marriage equality, and other important issues of our day. What more can anyone, including those in the hip-hop community, fairly ask of him?