From the second I saw this man who looked frighteningly similar to my brother wearing a fur coat and riding a razor scooter with a lady on each arm like he was rolling in a Bentley, I knew he was something special. Initially I assumed he was making a mockery of the industry and in a way he was. However, there is a deeper substance to the King of the Thrift Shop. In an age of manufactured hip-hop “stars,” Macklemore brings a passion to the game that can not be created nor imitated.
Born and raised in Seattle, as a child he used to spend summers making dubs and mix tapes. When he became a teenager, he started writing lyrics and eventually began rapping. He released his first EP in 2000 leading up to the release of his first full-length album in 2005 entitled, The Language of My World.
He broke into popular culture with the genius that is Thrift Shop, the first hit off of his 2012 album The Heist. Using the industry against itself, he capitalized on their weakness: greed. The YouTube generation is huge, and its reach is practically limitless. Utilizing this knowledge gave Macklemore the exposure he needed and the credit he deserved. It’s easy for videos to go viral nowadays, but what many do not understand is that you can’t set out to make a viral video. It happens on its own and in some cases it should not. In Macklemore’s case, it was well deserved because there is no denying how fantastic Thrift Shop is. In defiance of “the powers that be” requesting “another Thrift Shop,” he followed his own agenda.
He released his next single, Can’t Hold Us, which reached number one on the Billboard Hot 100. With that, Macklemore clenched his second consecutive number-one hit in the United States. He put his rapping chops out there for the world to see, and it was very clear that he was more than an Internet sensation. It was his next single, however, that solidified him as a cultural icon and convinced me that he is indeed hip-hop’s savior.
The current civil rights battle over same-sex marriage is a sensitive topic full of varying opinion. The fact is that we are human, and we all deserve to follow our heart. Macklemore feels that way, and Same Love conveys those feelings very well. He confronts the fact that as a child his thoughts about homosexuality were driven by ignorance. He condemns homophobia in the rap game. From homosexuality to racism, Macklemore hits us with his unbiased view of love and what it means to be human. During his performance at this year’s Free Press Summer Fest, I watched the entire crowd sing along as he performed Same Love. Strangers embraced, gay couples kissed, and people without passes gathered on a hill outside the festival gates. Men who looked like they could rip a redwood from the ground had tears cutting lines through the dirt on their faces. It was beautiful.
That moment gave me hope for us as a community, as a race and as a planet. Every movement has a beginning, and every beginning has an end. Do I believe hip-hop is dead or dying? No. I do believe, however, that the majority of people who claim to represent hip-hop have lost their way. I also believe that Macklemore is the catalyst that will rally the troops and bring hip-hop what it desperately needs…a message. A message that the culture is not about money, women and possessions. It’s not about partying or being the first to invent new slang. It’s about connecting to listeners on a raw, emotional level. It’s about having something to say, inspiring your audience and rebelling against the industry. Marketability was both the worst and best thing to happen to hip-hop. Though if it weren’t for exposure to artists like Nas, Talib Kweli and the Wu-Tang Clan, we would not have Macklemore. At the same time this exposure has made hip-hop synonymous with a generation of party-addicted, materialistic, misogynistic individuals.
I believe Macklemore has shifted the game. People like myself who do not listen to hip-hop are being brought into it. Not solely because of his mainstream popularity but more-so because of his message. His words are thoughtful, observant and carry an emotional weight that most of everyone has carried at some point in their life. So, by saying he will save hip-hop I mean he will inspire younger generations to hold themselves to a standard higher than that of their predecessors. His influence has changed the rap game, and those that follow his lead will continue to change it. Hopefully for the better. Macklemore proves that you don’t need a television show or a panel of pretentious judges to be successful. What you need is persistence, passion, integrity, motivation and a message. Money, fame, possession…all of these things can and will go away. Your words, actions and in this case, music, will live on and grant you immortality.
“I want to be someone who is respected and not just in terms of my music. I want to be respected in terms of the way that I treat people. The way, the subjects in which I choose to .. address through my music. And not because I’m, like, trying to make records about them. It’s just that’s what’s important to me. Music is my creative outlet in terms of expressing what is important to me; what has importance, what has a value. And I wanna be respected for that.” – Ben Haggerty, a.k.a Macklemore
By Nick Page