Why Macklemore Is Winning: Whiteness, Atmosphere, & Gay Rights

On Friday, October 19th, 2012, a tweet surfaced from rapper Rocky Diamonds (@RockyDiamonds) reading “His first three bars are when I was in 3rd grade i thought that I was gay… and he’s playing on 106… Ok…” Underneath the tweet someone asked if he was talking about Macklemore, a rapper recently releasing a song title Same Love favoring marriage equity and gay rights.

Something here is amiss- Something discreetly amiss. We’re talking two separate planets of hip-hop colliding at the solar plexus. Rocky Diamonds is 20 to 21 years old, came to national publicity when he released “Jerkin’ With My Backpack”. The song came at a time when jerkin’ (a dance move originating in Cali) went pop worldwide via the rap group New Boyz release of the single Youre A Jerk. Now, ascended to 50,000 plus twitter followers, thousands of facebook likes, and write-ups in blogs such as VIBE magazine, Rocky Diamonds is a legitimate name with label money behind it. With that said, it can be duly noted Diamonds literary content is a majority of blunt smoking, fashion, and braggadocio. It’s no dig to his skill, but an angle as to where he’s coming from.

I mulled over the tweet for a little bit… thought of saying something… alas, I let it alone and went back to writing. Checking in on it later, the tweet had disappeared. In a matter of hours, a rapper of bravado in every sense of the word deleted his gaudy tweet. In it’s place was “My thoughts will remain to myself lol”, in response to it someone had tweeted “@RockyDiamonds it’s a song about gay rights. Dude just had the number 2 album independent”- actually it was number 1, but we’ll get to that later.

In a homophobic world, hip-hop operates in overt fear of same-sex relationships/attraction/marriage/everything . The walls of hip-hop bend and grow within certain areas, while recoiling and/or collapsed in others. Throughout all of this, Macklemore has succeeded to produce a song franchising gay rights in a craft where there are none- through an art form constructed to bash it- in a house where heterosexuality is celebrated and praised beyond reproach. There is something exquisitely beautiful about a 20 year old rapper contending the former #1 album on itunes (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist) at a once-thought-vantage point of the word “gay” being a term of weakness. I don’t even believe Rocky meant ill toward Macklemore’s verse, it’s that he didn’t understand it- couldn’t comprehend that a rapper would begin a verse with “When I was in 3rd grade, I thought that I was gay”. The crossroads we’re standing at right now are betwixt respect and ill informed. The less we understand something, it seems the easier we can suddenly fall out of respect for it. Macklemore’s Same Love is not striking at a time where gay marriage is particularly a new hot-button issue or even a trend. It’s striking at a time when marriage is clearly a matter-of-time away from being legally redefined before our very eyes, the topic of  gay rights is slowly ascending every day- to where? I have no clue, I just hope it’s a good place beyond “acceptable” or “civil”. All one can gather for now is that the issue is pulsing- moving everyday– and hip-hop is about damn time to show up to the party- at least on a national scale. Trust me, hip-hop and non-heterosexuality has been going on since Desert Storm in certain neighborhoods in certain cities in certain states in the U.S.

Down to the business end of Macklemore, since his debut album release alongside compatriot Ryan Lewis, he’s racked up 100,000+ facebook likes, 50,000+ twitter followers, a tweet from Ellen Degeneres tweeted on Macklemore’s video for Same Love “I can’t believe the top album on iTunes is by a hip hop artist & has a song about marriage equality. I love this video http://say.ly/cKz4map“, his debut album The Heist charted #1 on iTunes above Mumford & Sons and Jay-Z, and he also accrued 4 million and counting views for his video Same Love within the first two weeks. The numbers end of this equation is jaw dropping, let alone worth a “holy shit!” and an “are you fucking serious?” At the end of the day, the results speak for themselves in the shape of sold out venues across the U.S. and soon-to-be European tour for Macklemore x Ryan Lewis.

One thing I failed to mention was the text I received a week ago. “I have Macklemore tickets, wanna go?” I answered in the affirmative… and then asked “Where the hell did you get the tix? They’ve been sold out for over a month.” The follow-up was a mute answer to not worry about the price of them. The next day, it was unveiled to me the tickets were purchased on Stub Hub for over $100. I’m not in the business of making assumptions, but I can safely assume your music career is headed for the f’ng moon when Stub Hub is hawking your show tickets for 100+ dollars. See you at the Barrymore in Madison, WI.

I didn’t realize the entire plan for a debut album from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis until I saw the video for Same Love- a damn heartfelt song, enough that it got me teared up in a silent coffee shop in Brooklyn. Trust me, they value their silence and room for thought in Brooklyn. If you must, take your phone convos and YouTube weaps outside. You don’t see Macklemore at all in the video, barring a few seconds during the wedding reception scene, as it maintains humble and genuine throughout. Ryan Lewis, Jon Jon Agustavo, and Tricia Davis raise the song to the heights of a short film rather than 3-minute music video spectacle. Whereas the song’s literary content states a point, the video tells a story- reaps an emotional reaction from the viewer regardless of opinion. To pull off such a feat irrefutably places the “music video” as one of the best we have ever seen. Over the top statement? Nope. Why the quotation marks around “music video”, because I feel the damn thing is marginalized by such a phrase. Again, I’d go more with the phrasing of “short film” or “creative short”. 

Although Macklemore shied away from a Fox News interviewer asking what it means to be a white rapper, the picture is damn tough to avoid. If not a large portion, at least part of Macklemore’s success can be credited to his whiteness. If you’re thinking what does race have to do with it, I hate to burst your Disney bubble, but sociology has everything to do with everything. Inescapable demographics and our brain’s function to categorize by what we see, is fact- the subject of Macklemore being a white male is just the same. It throws him in the catacombs of Yelawolf, Mac Miller, MGK, etc. A trend has been taking place as of late with the fully tattooed necks and sleeves of white rappers topping the iTunes charts, datPiff mixtape downloads, and seemingly selling out venues everywhere- alas, Macklemore has no tattoos- well, none that I’ve seen… yet. His slicked back hair, jean jacket, and dated sunglasses wreak of a rebirthed James Dean cooler than the kid that invented instagram. The simple look of Macklemore is welcoming, what a hipster would call a “hipster” and damn handsome at that. White rappers are judged by their literal content as much as the next rapper of color, but on an entirely different standard and scale. Whether or not you agree, Mackelmore benefits directly from the privilege of not having to go through the certain judgement a rapper of color would to achieve her or his message. If Same Love were written and performed by the Knux or Dessa, we’d all be looking at it from a different angle than it coming from its originators- vice versa goes for Macklemore performing anything by Dead Prez.

And just when you thought talking about Macklemore being white was pseudo-awkward and/or controversial- pending where your from– creeping like a sunset on the success and rise of Macklemore x Ryan Lewis is a question I believe many of us have pondered, “How does Macklemore compare to Atmosphere?” Heavy lies the crown for indie rap group Atmosphere long withstanding nearly two decades of touring, writing, creating art, and establishing the world’s largest outdoor hip-hop festival (Soundset). Whereas Schoolboy Q, A$AP Rocky, and Danny Brown (along with every other indie rapper of color) will never be naturally compared to the self-depricating king of Indie Hip-Hop (Slug), we find ourselves day dreaming of the parallels betwixt Macklemore x Ryan Lewis & Slug x Ant. Don’t shy away from it, let it happen… and trust me you will find a damn-near mirrored image of the other set in a different decade. Next you’ll begin to ask yourself the question if one white rapper had trailblazed for others before him… the answer is yes. Many musicians burnout where Atmosphere has hit the NOS streaking miles past the finish line. Let’s hope Macklemore achieves the same currency Atmosphere has.  Art isn’t a competition, however sadly we rate and rank our favorite artists accordingly to our taste. Can one rank based on their taste? Absolutely not without bias, but definitely with personal satisfaction. Rating and ranking is trendy, automatic, and my belief- human. I remember going to Atmosphere concerts as a high schooler in ’98, hoping that they’d blow up to the heights of popularity to battle the bullshit weak logic’d literary content of the Top 40. It happened… kinda. Now, with the internet growing faster than space, Macklemore ascends in a time that a song like Same Love can garner just as many fans as a U.S. tour in 2001. Unfair? Na, just a sign o’ the times

Macklemore’s rise is less a subject to dissect than it is an arc to learn from. It begs the questions; Are poets and rappers taking full ownership and accountability of their words? Is the audience holding the source of the content as responsible as the source itself does? What do we compromise when we go fuck-a-cause-let’s-get-apathetic mode and shut off to what we’re listening to?… the answers lie right in front of you if not already in your heart. 

Saying something important regardless of what people might say or think is an ability beyond many of us. We look back and think of things we could have or should have said- something witty that really would’ve struck them at the heart. In life, we are only granted a present moment- the only stage and vein for us to express our tiny thoughts into the universe. Our time grants us no other chance than the one standing beside us right now. Few rappers, let alone poets, catch wind of this and rarely place a present thought into action. Where many haven’t even shown up or have fallen from the grace of speaking genuinely, Macklemore is grasping onto that m—-f—-r like monkey bars at recess and doesn’t seem to be letting go even if the bell rings. None other than Macklemore is showing us that saying something important can be cool again… whether we think it’s cool or not.

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  1. NeilMilan October 24, 2012 at 8:26 PM

    I enjoyed this. That is all.

  2. Rick October 25, 2012 at 10:33 AM

    Really, really dug this piece !!! Top work bro !!!

  3. Theo October 26, 2012 at 12:20 AM

    Great writing, & fairly balanced. Though, no mention of Mack’s song “White Privilege”? Very relevant, would have loved to hear that woven through this piece.

  4. Charles in Vancouver BC October 27, 2012 at 11:00 PM

    Thanks for writing this Toussaint. I came upon this article totally by accident and had never heard of you. Well-spoken and talented… if you ever make it up to the Pacific Northwest, I’ll be there.