Macklemore (left) may never win over everyone, but he doesn't have to.
Macklemore (left) may never win over everyone, but he doesn't have to.
Photo by Amanda Smith

This Year, Let's Spend a Little Less Time Hating Macklemore

Acceptance, frugality, unabashed nostalgia, tolerance of others, fighting addiction and drug abuse, and eschewing crass commercialism: Those are not the typical tenets of a global rap superstar.

Ben Haggerty, better-known as the thrift-shop-loving Macklemore, has built his reputation and career on subject matter usually glossed over by hip-hop and only occasionally addressed by the most forward-thinking, progressive rappers, including groups like Blackstar and Little Brother and artists such as Kendrick Lamar.

Still, for as long as Macklemore's hits have been bleeding through our radios, there's been a vocal crowd of haters. The complaints boil down to this: He's trying too hard, he's just using his white privilege to appropriate black culture, and his positive messages are totally fake. Really? That's what we should focus on? Justin Bieber is allowed to run rampant, acting like an invincible little snot, and is rewarded with a bestselling new record. Miley Cyrus is somehow on the cutting edge of pop culture for wearing nothing but body hair and prosthetic penises. Chris Brown can assault people, destroy the set of Good Morning America, and sing about disloyal hoes, but his new album debuted at number one on the Billboard charts last month. Yeah, Macklemore is the problem.

Look, he isn't the best rapper. He's not even the best rapper in his hit song "White Walls" — Schoolboy Q is. His music is derivative, formulaic, and occasionally catchy as hell, the way pop music tends to be. His latest hit, "Downtown," is a carbon-copy mashup of "Uptown Funk" and his very own "Thrift Shop." It also seems to be a song about buying a Vespa, which is weird. 

But here's something else to consider:

Macklemore doesn't owe you shit.

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He's doing things his own way. Good, fun, positive things. Sure they come off as corny, but he’s not calling anyone a faggot or littering his music videos with snowstorms of dollar bills.

The stereotypical rapper makes some money, then blows it at the strip club. A suburban kid from Seattle makes some money and he buys a modestly priced $30,000 Cadillac and tries to save a few bucks to continue his hipster lifestyle by shopping at Goodwill. What an asshole, right? 

Yes, he has white privilege. Yes, he’s painfully aware of it. And yes, he uses that privilege to his own benefit for what so far been an incredibly successful and profitable few years. But at the same time, doesn’t he bring attention to subject material that strait-laced, God-fearing, conservative white folks might avoid?

Then there’s his appropriation of black culture. There's a valid point there, but Macklemore isn't the first or last artist who's guilty of that. The entirety of rock ’n’ roll is based off of black music lifted from the poorest neighborhoods of Chicago, New Orleans, and beyond. And at least he has some awareness about the true roots of his genre. The goofy, moped-themed video for “Downtown” features rap legends Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee, and Melle Mel, three men who are widely considered the true founders of hip-hop, though they are often overlooked. Subsequently, HipHopDX labeled it the “most sellout song of 2015.”

Macklemore can’t even pay homage to some of rap’s heroes without backlash. Fortunately, he has one important voice battling in his favor: motherfucking Big Daddy Kane, who took to Instagram to defend Mack, saying:

“REAL TALK!!! I don’t see one artist in the game that put Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee or Grandmaster Caz on their new song or let them perform on the VMA’s (Including Me) but people wanna have a problem with @macklemore for paying homage to them? We don’t acknowledge our own & get mad when another color does,” he wrote. “To me this is about real pioneers getting recognition in today’s society.”

It’s not the first time Macklemore has excitedly shared his admiration of other, better, rappers. One time, he tweeted about a “private” text to Kendrick Lamar where he told the Compton rapper should’ve won the 2013 Grammy for Best Rap Album. It was the sort of the thing an attention whore may have done, but it was probably also genuine. 

If you had Kendrick Lamar’s phone number, you’d boast about it too. (Ultimately, Macklemore admitted he made a mistake and commented that he “betrayed my homie’s trust.”)

This may all sound like a tear-and-mascara-streaked plea to "just leave Macklemore alone!" But the bottom line is, if you think Macklemore is a garbage rapper, fine. Don't listen to his music, and don't attend his shows. To those of you going out of your way to shit on a dude who's really good at what he does, brings a bit of joy to massive crowds, hurts no one in the process, and is at least attempting to spread some good will: Chill out and go dance to the latest super “real” joint from that nice, Jewish kid from the Canadian suburbs.

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis 8 p.m. Tuesday, January 19, at the Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach; 305-673-7300; fillmoremb.com. Tickets cost $55 to $160 plus fees via livenation.com.

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