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Do Macklemore's Bittersweet Rap Grammy Wins Reward Slacktivism?

You can support gay rights. You can champion gay marriage. You can appreciate the gesture of marrying LGBTQ couples on a national platform. You can do all of this and still not be a Macklemore fan. I can say that, because I do, and I’m not.

I find Macklemore to be…well…corny? I know what you’re thinking, and no, I have no problem with White rappers. His skin color has nothing to do with his lyrical composition, beat choices and marketing. Eminem has some crazy verses, Mac Miller writes some pretty evocative work and you will often find me at karaoke night unabashedly slurring the words to “Gucci Gucci” by Kreayshawn. My issue is that lyrically/musically, he is not in the same league as the people he beat for Best Rap Album. There’s no poetry in his words, he’s just talking*. He is a little gimmicky, and his taste for magnanimous displays of support and remorse feel more than self-serving and disingenuous.

There are almost too many facets to this Macklemore debacle to cover in one article alone, but I will try:

After Macklemore’s The Heist beat Yeezus, Magna Carta Holy Grail, m.A.A.d City, etc. for Best Rap Album, he made sure to post his apology to Kendrick Lamar on Instagram. “It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you,” he claimed. Important note: he didn’t get on stage and admit that his album simply wasn’t as good (it wasn’t – and there is a precedent for that sort of thing). He didn’t let Mary Lambert use his platform to speak as an out lesbian woman when she holds much of the responsibility for his success. He did his typical “aww shucks army of me” routine once again. That is not humility; it is another way to pretend to care about an injustice to save face.

On the Internet, we talk a lot about cultural appropriation and privilege, but we tend to be collectively shortsighted when one disenfranchised group does get a helping hand from an ally. Macklemore has been shamelessly pro-gay rights in his marketing efforts, tweeting about how much he cares about the community and believes gay marriage should be legalized. While having someone who has innate power due to their skin color and sex in your corner is not a bad thing, it is also not enough to erase the clear bias the music industry has in his favor because of it.

Jay-Z, 50 Cent, Kanye West, Kendrick Lamar, Frank Ocean, Kid Cudi, Childish Gambino, etc. etc. etc. have all been vocal about their support of gay marriage legislation and gay rights. I support everyone who supports love in all of its forms. Their albums have been political about injustice across the board (albeit with missteps and damning lyrics in songs from years ago). All of these artists have lyrics about gay rights, civil rights, classism, etc. Macklemore is not the only voice in the crowd, and certainly isn’t the most talented, yet he is awarded routinely and even he knows the reason why: In a recent interview with Rolling Stone, he admits he wouldn’t have been as successful if he wasn’t White; parents feel safer letting their children listen to his curse-filled lyrics because of the color of his skin.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1664131655 Danielle America Fritz

    You make a compelling argument, for sure, but I feel like a great bulk of the blame is place on the fact that he is a WHITE male who happens to be making this stance, instead of a minority and LGBT himself. Other points are certainly valid, but are we really going to fault the guy for his race, sexual orientation, and inability in make decent flow, when, either way, he is giving the cause publicity and overall, a good message? He isn’t perfect, yes, but neither is he all that bad.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

      I’m sure people online have simplified it to his race, but I make clear in my second paragraph that that is simply not the case. There are loads of white artists who are pro-gay rights who are much more talented than Macklemore. Tons. I could literally name 10 if you wanted that. I don’t doubt that he’s making positive changes in the world, I also think that has little if nothing to do with being the best rap artist in the best rap album/song categories. He’s not the messiah, he’s one voice in a chorus of many who are championing gay rights. Liking his music doesn’t make someone more pro gay rights than anyone else.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=744256957 Jessica Navarro

    To me it’s a damn if you do and don’t article. I am the first one to say that Kendrick Lamar was robbed. I am a fan of both artists. The hard part is and what I have trouble with most award shows is judging art. It’s hard to compare an album like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ album to Mr. Lamar. They are so vastly different in perspective, music, and storytelling. To me I only like watching the Grammies for the performances. It’s one big concert where I discover something mainstream that I would have never given the time of day. Last year it was Miguel and this year it’s Kacey Musgraves.

    I respectfully disagree that “Same Love” is staunchly self serving because discovering one’s sexuality can be a very scary thing. I think Macklemore is trying to relate to LGBTQ community in that way. However, there’s vlog from a lesbian who made a very good point that “Same Love” was not for the LGBTQ community. She felt the song was for a straight audience in the attempt to get them to open their eyes. She makes a good point.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YkZEjRrHvKA I think this is a good perspective from the LGBTQ community.

    • http://www.itsakilahobviously.com Akilah Hughes

      Thanks for sharing the video. I commented on it a couple days ago. It’s….It’s one perspective. My sister is a lesbian, and she harshly disagrees with Arielle. I don’t think it’s fair to the movement to simplify the struggle to a few botched words by a bad lyricist. To each their own, but I think he made things worse for himself by pretending to be sorry to win an award he didn’t deserve.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690960292 Lisa Marie Garver

        I m very sorry but NONE of the rappers that you mentioned are remotely loud about their support of gay rights, not even Frank Ocean who is gay. To say that Macklemore is a slacktevist because he explains his personal experience with homophobia (the exact way that specialist in the field of social change dialogues suggest) while the above rappers of whom at least half write misogynistic lyrics. It’s an important step forward for an overall social change to A. have gay, interracial, and minority couples in roles on tv. B. Have musicians talking about it in their music. while C. lawyers fight it in the courtroom.

        Protesting in the streets isn’t always the way. The revolution will not be televised. Macklemore isn’t the champion of gay rights, he’s just a guy talking about his experience with it and why he thinks that love is love from a straight perspective. As a white person, I can tell you what it’s like to be black. But as an anti-racist and youth advocate I can (and will) tell others about how I experienced understanding systematic racist and white privilege. If I’m honest, it wasn’t and still isn’t easy. I don’t expect anyone to care about that but I do expect other people who want to love the world and understand each other but struggle will find it a relief that it’s an uphill battle. What is most important is that we try.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

          I agree with your last sentence, but I also think that we don’t have to settle because his voice is currently the loudest. My dreams don’t stop mattering because your dreams suddenly became important. I don’t buy the argument “but he’s been rapping for years so his support is more valid.” None of these other rappers came up overnight. That point is irrelevant. What I’m saying is that the cultural appropriation of a genre of music and to blatantly throw the people who paved his way to success under a bus makes it really hard for me as a black woman to identify with his version of LGBTQ rights. It makes it hard for me to find myself in a movement where people are condemning Queen Latifah because she won’t come out of the closet even though she is the only person actively marrying gays on a national platform.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003132518855 Catherine Green

    I disagree with you that he’s being self serving; the point he’s trying to make with the words you cite (and the ones immediately after them) is that he and everyone are fed these harmful stereotypes from a young age. Additionally, the grammys seem to me at least, and I think to most people, very irrelevant. A well written article, glad you brought up this conversation!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=14102782 Caroline Jeffery

    well said.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

      Thank you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144320180 Samantha Ryan Turner

    I’m the words of jay z It’s 2010, not 1864. Ok well its 2014 now but we all get the point.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144320180 Samantha Ryan Turner


      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

        I’m not sure what this is in reference to.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1144320180 Samantha Ryan Turner

          If you knew the song you would know that it in reference to the fact that whole black vs white is over with, and we need to stop bringing it up and making it an issue.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=816207626 Jasmine Smith

    In Macklemore’s defense, “The Heist” is not his only album. The guy has been making independent work on the public platform since at least 2005, and there are songs that are far and away better than “Thrift Shop”. I agree that this album was not as good as Jay-Z’s or Kendrick’s, and that one of them should have won. Addressing the issue of Macklemore telling Kendrick that he was robbed, but not acknowledging it in his acceptance speech, not only would that have made him appear ungrateful,, but the story goes on to quote him as telling Kendrick, “I was going to say it in my speech, but the music started playing and I just froze.” Believe or disbelieve that as you will.
    However’, he’s actually very talented and has a history of rapping about social issues. He even has a song called “White Privilege” where he addresses that exact issue, and says that his songs aren’t like those if black rappers because he hasn’t had the same experiences as them. She even says that the music industry is partial to him because if his ethnicity. If that’s the case, that not his fault. Reprimand them, not him.On the topic of “Same Love”, as a member of the LGBT community, all I’m saying is the we need all the alies we can get.. And let’s say, hypothetically, he is being self serving. The message is still getting out there, and people, being influenced by celebs as we are, are realizing that it’s acceptable to openly be pro-equality.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

      I agree with you, the message being spread is good. I personally have no problem with his performance. I think his tweets supporting gays are great. I just disagree that he should win “Best Rap Artist” awards when he isn’t the best rap artist. I also think it’s pretty disgusting to publish a private text to make it look like you care. It’s tacky. And it is a disservice to all of the artists who paved the way for him to be successful to say that. I think ignoring issues of race in the LGBTQ movement is just as bad as doing so in the feminist movement. If equality only can happen for people who look like you, then it isn’t equality. I don’t identify with Macklemore, and I shouldn’t be condemned because of it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=690960292 Lisa Marie Garver

    One thing that haters of Macklemore forget, he did not give HIMSELF the award. Furthermore, while Macklemores CHEESE is spreading “slacktivism” Kendrick Lamar’s poetry is teeter-tottering. His approach to tell people not to drink is to actually tell them to drink. One minute he’s acting like “oh poetic justice” and the next minute he’ does this http://rapgenius.com/A-ap-rocky-fuckin-problems-lyrics

    He’s not trying to change the world. Am I annoyed of Macklemores bravado sometimes? Yes. But I do not think his liberalism and advocacy is fake at all. I NEVER heard of Mary Lambert before him. Did you really? And I’m from the Northwest! Maybe she was big in LGBT circles I guess. I have no clue. But yea, she has a great voice. But the song SAME LOVE came out before Thrift Shop and didn’t chart as well. It wasn’t til after Thrift Shop that people gave it a listen. Also, if you go back to his old stuff you will find that he was always rapping about social issues. His music is uplifting and it’s something that both adults and KIDS can listen too. I can not play Kendrick Lamar in the classroom because there is way too much to edit. Macklemore has a broader reach because of his content and yes, even his cheesy-ness.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

      Even Macklemore himself states that children shouldn’t be listening to his lyrics because they are riddled with cursing. I think there is room for improvement in the LGBT

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=88200230 Akilah Hughes

        sorry it got cut off. I was saying that the LGBTQ movement could use work. That it’s great to have allies, but it’s ignorant to get lost in the words of one person and to make them the face of it all. I don’t identify with his songs, I don’t feel like his view of LGBTQ equality includes brown faces, especially considering his lyrics throw his black contemporaries under the bus, even though it was their hard work and innovation that made it possible for him to even be a rapper. I think it is a multi-faceted issue, and being told to just be appreciative doesn’t sit well with me. Like if the civil rights movement had been anti women, I’d have had to say, “well it’s great to help black people and minorities, but women are still people.” Same goes for this instance.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=10050105 Brittany Rojas

    I hear everything you’re saying Akilah, I do, At what point though does this contemporary bout of reverse racism subside? You mention one community essentially being compromised for the ‘come-uppance’ of another. That idea turns the argument of whether or not Macklemore is a better artist than his opponents into one concerning outright racism in the music industry. I think the audience is looking through the racist lens, not the other way around. Plain and simple, Macklemore is receiving slack for winning because he is White. If he were Black and his album was considered by the popular majority as less-than deserving, the discussion would have been much more concise (if not non-existent) and short-lived for the media. Bjarne Melgaard is catching the same heat for his recent editorial featuring Dasha Zhukova for Garage Magazine. At this point it seems, people are just angry with white skin in general! Day in and day out racism rears its ugly head (Richard Sherman, a thug?), but Macklemore’s award-filled Grammy night does not seemingly represent that big picture.

    Music-wise, whatever one’s taste – no one is making music like Macklemore. He’s managed to popularize a unique combination of genres, while supporting a civil rights movement and it just so happens that the NARAS calls it rap.

    For the record though, I’m not a big fan of his music either. 😉 Keep up the good conversation!

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