2:56 pm - 01/28/2014

Finding a Place in the Hip-Hop Ecosystem

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Wow, such ally, much sensitive, very respectful, wow

A couple of hours after the Grammys on Sunday night, Macklemore sent a text to Kendrick Lamar, whom he had just beaten for best rap album.

“You got robbed,” the text read. “I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird.” He added, “I robbed you.”

As a private act, this was a love letter, a way for an artist to honor a peer. As a public act — Macklemore posted an image of the text on his Instagram account, although it’s unclear whether it was with Mr. Lamar’s knowledge — it was a cleansing and an admission of guilt. Not only did Macklemore want to show respect to his fellow rapper, but he also wanted the world to know that he understands his place in the hip-hop ecosystem and that he is still careful where he steps.

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, the Seattle duo that has spent the last year upending the rules about how hip-hop interacts with mainstream pop, won four Grammys on Sunday night, for best new artist and in three rap categories (best performance and best song for “Thrift Shop” and best album for “The Heist”).

The rap awards were the most tortured, for artists and observers alike. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have experienced a very peculiar sort of hip-hop fame, one that has little to do with approval from the center of hip-hop, and it has unfolded largely without black gatekeepers, a traditional hallmark of white rappers through the years. Instead, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis jumped straight from the independent hip-hop underground to the pop charts, which has left them scrambling to shore up their bona fides retroactively.

So when Macklemore bests Mr. Lamar — and Jay Z, Drake and Kanye West — for a rap award, he makes sure that he kisses the ring. “I robbed you” is a strikingly powerful phrase in this context: a white artist’s muscling into a historically black genre, essentially uninvited, and taking its laurel. In a nutshell, this is the entire cycle of racial borrowing in an environment of white privilege: black art, white appropriation, white guilt, repeat until there’s nothing left to appropriate.

To many, that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were nominated in the rap categories at all was an affront. Hip-hop purists love a good debate about boundaries and who gets to police them. (Almost certainly, Macklemore was one of those purists, until he couldn’t be anymore because of his fame.) Last week, The Associated Press reported that the two were almost eliminated from competition in those categories altogether by subcommittee members who felt that they were, in essence, too pop — and, presumably, too white. Like a border militia tasked with passing judgment on infiltrators, those voters attempted a sort-of Grammy version of jury nullification, to no avail.

The idea was, of course, preposterous. Part of accepting hip-hop’s growth into a pop music juggernaut is accepting that its edges are fuzzier than they once were. “The Heist” is undeniably a hip-hop album, though Macklemore’s songs have more in common with those by rappers like Flo Rida or Pitbull, dance-music-friendly artists rarely heard on traditional hip-hop radio. But Flo Rida and Pitbull are not white.

And part of consuming the Grammys is accepting that, when it comes to niche categories, chaos will reign
. (The Grammys are one of the few remaining contexts in which hip-hop could be called niche.) Voting in these cases remains a catastrophically broken process. Last week, Complex published an article by a Grammy voter detailing some parts of the system, which included this behind-the-scenes tidbit passed from one voter to the next: “Be careful about greenlighting an album by someone who was really famous if you don’t want to see that album win a Grammy.”

Macklemore isn’t more famous than Jay Z or Mr. West, but the nature of his fame is different — it’s likely to have registered with a wider swath of Grammy voters who would be comfortable voting for him in a way they might not have been for Mr. Lamar.

Presumably, Macklemore didn’t text his feelings to the others he bested, either because they didn’t need to hear them, or he doesn’t have their numbers, or both. Of the three, only Jay Z was attending, though mostly to perform with his wife, Beyoncé, and later dance with her in the aisles as Daft Punk performed. He also won the Grammy for best rap/sung collaboration, with Justin Timberlake.

Mr. Lamar, the least well known of that category’s nominees, “deserved best rap album,” Macklemore added in the comment section of the photo he posted. But note that he didn’t say album of the year, another category in which both were nominated (and lost to Daft Punk). If Mr. Lamar made a better rap album than Macklemore did, then didn’t he make a better album over all? Or was Macklemore ceding the traditionally black category, while keeping his claim on the broader one? (Eminem has won the best rap album Grammy five times.)

In his effort to be gracious, Macklemore was uncomfortably splitting hairs. As has so often happened in the year or so since he emerged as a pop force, an act that was presumably meant to be selfless and open-minded instead came off as one of self-congratulatory magnanimity.

It’s the same problem that bedevils him with “Same Love,” his song about marriage equality, which he performed at Sunday’s awards ceremony (accompanied by Mary Lambert and, perversely, a wild-eyed Madonna) as the soundtrack to 33 weddings, gay and straight, over which Queen Latifah officiated. It’s an almost messianic song, and a deeply self-serving way to discuss an issue like equality.

In interviews, Macklemore speaks readily about his position of privilege and the role it has played in catapulting him to fame. But incidents like the text to Mr. Lamar reinforce the narrative of Macklemore as tortured intruder, keen to relish his success but stressed about all the shoulders he’s had to step on along the way. It’s a transparent ploy for absolution, and a warning of robberies to come.


PRO TIP: Just knowing what white privilege is doesn't make you an ally. You have to actually do things towards dismantling white supremacy, not just be all 'oh gosh, isn't it the worst that I get so much purely because I'm white and you don't? Oh well, whatchya gonna do! Lemme go collect all my prizes'. That makes you an insincere full of shit asshole who is happy to still reap all the rewards of white privilege no matter who suffers as a result. Don't be that person.

As for Macklenomoreplease, the best thing that fake ass fool can do right now, is to stop talking, he's just making things worse for his dumb self.

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liferekindled 28th-Jan-2014 03:03 pm (UTC)
Praying that Macklesnore is a one hit album wonder.
austin_mahone 28th-Jan-2014 03:20 pm (UTC)

I'm just waiting for him to fade away.
abbie 28th-Jan-2014 03:22 pm (UTC)
Idts. White people and non hip hop listeners eat his pedestrian shit up.
a_klutz 28th-Jan-2014 03:29 pm (UTC)
the accuracy of this comment, spill dat t
prophecypro 28th-Jan-2014 03:50 pm (UTC)
Nah, even Asher Roth (who was probably better) didnt last
butt_or_skotch 28th-Jan-2014 03:54 pm (UTC)
What's even the next move for Macklemore musically? Thrift Shop got him into the public eye, but he's been positioned to be some kind of champion for issues in rap music. Can he put out another fluffy song like TS? Does he even want to do music like that anymore? If he did a Same Love 2.0 would it be as popular or would the mainstream start to see him as too schticky?

I think he's got a little shelf life since the media is all over him. I just wonder what kinds of songs he can release now.

Edited at 2014-01-28 03:55 pm (UTC)
tankxgrrl 28th-Jan-2014 04:40 pm (UTC)
unfortunately this is true
spanishsaharaa 28th-Jan-2014 04:57 pm (UTC)
Pedestrian is an accurate word to describe this boringness.
justkeepworking 28th-Jan-2014 03:27 pm (UTC)
I think it will happen because (and I'm paraphrasing from a article that was posted here) the hip hop community ain't co-signing him. He has white fans and all, but a white rapper with no black cred starts to just look goofy (Vanilla Ice).
neverhft 28th-Jan-2014 03:04 pm (UTC)
ontd...don't get me started this early now...

bloolikejazz 28th-Jan-2014 03:06 pm (UTC)
idgaf about macklemore but there is always a place for ryan lewis in my private parts

Edited at 2014-01-28 03:07 pm (UTC)
charlotteamos 28th-Jan-2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
seriously? he has no shoulders, he is literally built like a pencil and looks puny as hell
hotfuzz85 28th-Jan-2014 03:46 pm (UTC)
Omg I thought this post was going to be wank central but it is delivering in mirth.

frozenish 28th-Jan-2014 03:58 pm (UTC)
thank fuck for you shutting that down it is too early in the morning to deal with the insane white thirst for this rat-faced pointy boned motherfucker who looks like his only legitimate purpose in life is to follow Macklemore around and make him look built by comparison
bloolikejazz 28th-Jan-2014 04:58 pm (UTC)
he's quiet and hipstery and mysterious and looks like he smells it's sort of a type deal with it sorry i'm not into roided up dudes who give me self esteem issues and just wanna fuck a regular dude
tbe 28th-Jan-2014 05:01 pm (UTC)
ILU. Slopey shoulders are high on my list of turn-offs. I'm not alone.
smashmortion 28th-Jan-2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
gimmemoarjosh 28th-Jan-2014 10:39 pm (UTC)
blueboatdreams 28th-Jan-2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
he took a screen shot of a private text and posted it on the internet to make himself look good. this is the most self-serving asshole I've ever seen.
whilstinvogue 28th-Jan-2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
mte. It had little to do with Kendrick.
dringen 28th-Jan-2014 03:21 pm (UTC)
blumeii 28th-Jan-2014 03:22 pm (UTC)
i was giving him the benefit of the doubt but that move...

ive lost all respect for his ass
abbie 28th-Jan-2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
That was so embarrassing, just seeing the screenshot was so cringe. I couldn't finish it. I wonder what Kendrick's reaction was.
warsawed 28th-Jan-2014 03:27 pm (UTC)
I LOVE that he has yet to respond, that classy fuck
ellaellaeheheh 28th-Jan-2014 03:35 pm (UTC)
I hope he doesn't respond.
liliana_ 28th-Jan-2014 03:56 pm (UTC)
I feel like either he didn't respond at all, or it was totally underwhelming. Because if he responded positively I bet that'd be up on instagram by now too.
vivalakeyana 28th-Jan-2014 04:02 pm (UTC)
helders 28th-Jan-2014 04:33 pm (UTC)
and eyeroll and "k" in his head.
solid_girl 28th-Jan-2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
I was kinda sorta beginning to not mind him but that was calculated as fuck.
a_klutz 28th-Jan-2014 03:31 pm (UTC)
mte. kendrick should tell him to shove his undeserved grammy up his ass
stylista_11 28th-Jan-2014 03:32 pm (UTC)
shadowfax 28th-Jan-2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
Srsly. Sf dumb.
arcticmonkeys 28th-Jan-2014 03:47 pm (UTC)
austin_mahone 28th-Jan-2014 03:55 pm (UTC)
"B-but he means well and he's an ally and and--!!"

Ugh, he's out for attention and recognition and nothing else. Fuck him.
mistress_f 28th-Jan-2014 04:13 pm (UTC)
i can't @ fans saying 'BUT HE DIDN'T HAVE TO DO THAT!'
of course, that's the fucking point
withoutyoursmil 28th-Jan-2014 04:38 pm (UTC)
tankxgrrl 28th-Jan-2014 04:42 pm (UTC)
ikr, just when i thought i couldn't hate him more
takobella 28th-Jan-2014 04:53 pm (UTC)
I mean, it was extra and he was trying way to hard w that, but LOL at the rage you all feel over it
bprorsum 28th-Jan-2014 03:09 pm (UTC)
Oh, I thought we all knew that they were a one album wonder.
bprorsum 28th-Jan-2014 03:10 pm (UTC)
Also, what the fuck is tattoo appropriation?

I mean, have we really become that ridiculous that someone can't get a tattoo in another language?
bprorsum 28th-Jan-2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
So, people make fun of those with tattoos in Latin, French, Russian, etc.?

Only English?

Lol, this world is a funny place.
happypekpek 28th-Jan-2014 05:00 pm (UTC)
kwikimart 28th-Jan-2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
There are countries in the world where tattoos have religious or cultural significance and aren't 'decorative' but deeply meaningful so yeah, there is such a thing as tattoo appropriation.
Just look at the amount of people that get themselves permanently tattoed with 'exotic' or 'ethnic' symbols and phrases without even knowing what they mean. How is that any different to wearing a serious religious item from a country as a 'fun' costume?
You can get a tattoo in another language if you know what it means. If it's a specific religious term then it would be respectful to actually care about that religion or the culture it's from. That's not complicated, I would hope people gave more than 2 seconds thoughts into putting something that permanent on their body.
fantaesticbaby 28th-Jan-2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
right??? maybe i wanna get 'chicken noodle soup' tattooed on my back in chinese.
robotpotatoes 28th-Jan-2014 03:22 pm (UTC)
lmfao you're so narrow minded.

in many countries in south east Asia, a majority of tattoo artists will not tattoo Buddha onto a person.

So if a non Buddhist person were to tattoo the face of Buddha or a representation, he/she is in fact doing tattoo appropriation. its not a hard concept to digest.
a_klutz 28th-Jan-2014 03:32 pm (UTC)
last week on the train I overheard a guy telling his friends that a girl had gotten the chinese word for hope on her chest. turns out she actually got soup. oops.
gimmemoarjosh 28th-Jan-2014 10:45 pm (UTC)
I generally don't mind, but I cannot stand my wrist tattoos I got about ten years ago. They are in Chinese and I thought they looked ~super cool~ at the time. Now I refuse to tell anyone what they mean and I am getting them covered. Also, despite my online research, I am pretty sure they are incorrect. I had a Chinese man in Toronto literally tell me, "Bad translation! *shakes his head*"

I pretend they don't exist, to be honest. >_>
bringvodka 28th-Jan-2014 03:12 pm (UTC)
camillesaens 28th-Jan-2014 07:42 pm (UTC)
lol @ The Heist winning over any of those albums

Yeezus and GKMC, especially
blueboatdreams 28th-Jan-2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
also, OP, it is too damn early for this shit. i just barely got my coffee
lord 28th-Jan-2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
OP is waking people up!

kwikimart 28th-Jan-2014 05:10 pm (UTC)
Yasss! I want y'all to STAY WOKE
kingkunt 28th-Jan-2014 06:11 pm (UTC)
Put this in every post, tbh.
groundcrown 28th-Jan-2014 03:14 pm (UTC)
tired of hearing about this heffa

blueboatdreams 28th-Jan-2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
if this show was real, she would've died from that
groundcrown 28th-Jan-2014 03:22 pm (UTC)
i can't w/ tumblr thinking this show is real
zombieroadtrip 28th-Jan-2014 04:03 pm (UTC)
I just keep thinking of that episode of Malcolm in the Middle where Hal has scorched corneas from getting a fire extinguisher to the face
crystalzelda 28th-Jan-2014 04:15 pm (UTC)
Seriously? How come?
sugarcrawler 28th-Jan-2014 05:07 pm (UTC)
what show is this?
lr489 28th-Jan-2014 03:37 pm (UTC)
YAS J.Lo bringing great faux reality tv back.
dottieneurotic 28th-Jan-2014 03:15 pm (UTC)
I've been reading these conversations, and it seems like the biggest issue is that people don't understand what being an "ally" actually entails.

Being an ally to marginalized people is more than recognizing that they experience systemic oppression and you don't. It's about using your position of privilege to lessen that burden and actively work toward making spaces safer for oppressed people. The frustration with Macklemore (or Ani DiFranco, or whomever) is that these are people who self-identify as allies to the cause. Making that identification means you are asking to be held to a higher standard than people who aren't actively invested in dismantling systems of oppression.

It sounds extreme to suggest that he should give back his awards or whatever, but that is what an ally ought to do: use their position of privilege as a means to provide balance. You unfortunately can't have it both ways. No one would be writing articles about him-- well, they would, but they'd be more like the Miley/Eminem/Justin/Robin Elvis Syndrome articles they usually write about white artists in primarily black spaces-- if he hadn't made it clear that he considers himself an ally. No one would be asking him to hold himself accountable.

The word has weight, or should.
warsawed 28th-Jan-2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
I think the concept of an ally has always been dumb tbh. Like, just believe in and act on the right thing. Do good and spread good. You don't need to give yourself a title for it.
pplemmy 28th-Jan-2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
same, at my uni we have "ally training" that you can attend, but i can't imagine what it entails.
dottieneurotic 28th-Jan-2014 03:44 pm (UTC)
Well, I personally agree with this in a sense that I'm not into people self-identifying as "allies"-- you should just consistently work toward dismantling oppression to the best of your ability, and it seems like often enough, people who consider themselves allies aren't willing to get in the mud and take one for the team, so the term is kind of useless.

But for this argument in particular, I'm using the term less for a semantic debate and more of an ideological one.
skyler_white_yo 28th-Jan-2014 04:03 pm (UTC)
Yup. The instant someone calls themselves an ally, it usually means they are more about patting themselves instead of caring about issues.
seroquels 28th-Jan-2014 04:20 pm (UTC)
This. I think it just adds more confusion. If you're not a racist/homophobic shit, then live your life accordingly, and do what you can to support causes you agree with, and correct/inform those around you who are problematic/~phobic in whatever way.

Edited at 2014-01-28 04:21 pm (UTC)
hisjulliet 28th-Jan-2014 11:38 pm (UTC)
I agree. And I have a very hard time using 'feminism' as well. I don't believe their should even be a word for it where everyone in this planet should already want freedom and equality for women. I think it should come naturally.

If women want to use it than they can, but i personal don't think it should be used. I just think if you want equality for women than you should be labelled a "good person", or not even that, just a normal "human being".
nene718 28th-Jan-2014 06:48 pm (UTC)
justen 28th-Jan-2014 06:54 pm (UTC)
I'm really trying hard to think of a scenario that doesn't result in Macklemore getting attacked, tbh. He says something privately, so it seems like he does nothing. He says something publicly, and we see what's happening now. He gives back the award, slightly better but similar talk about how it's a big public action designed to get attention. I genuinely am not sure what he can do that will express how he may feel about getting this award over something he feels is more deserving, but not get attacked for his actions.

Would really love to hear what an appropriate course of action would be because I feel kinda stumped.
lipstiq 29th-Jan-2014 04:05 am (UTC)
Thank you, this needed to be said. Like, desperately.
loonylolydarko 29th-Jan-2014 03:43 pm (UTC)

I side-eye most celebrities who openly call themselves allies or 'anti-racists' or 'feminists' because those are titles w/ a lot of weight and doing anything anti- is harmful to the cause, not just your rep
justkeepworking 28th-Jan-2014 03:16 pm (UTC)
But incidents like the text to Mr. Lamar reinforce the narrative of Macklemore as tortured intruder, keen to relish his success but stressed about all the shoulders he’s had to step on along the way. It’s a transparent ploy for absolution, and a warning of robberies to come.

Whoop there it is!
butt_or_skotch 28th-Jan-2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
The NYTimes is not messing around. lol
warsawed 28th-Jan-2014 03:26 pm (UTC)
they went in!!
stylista_11 28th-Jan-2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
teperizada 28th-Jan-2014 03:34 pm (UTC)
put the finger on the issue
_xxtom 28th-Jan-2014 03:52 pm (UTC)
baptismtonight 28th-Jan-2014 04:09 pm (UTC)
oh shit, they came with an AK 47 to a water gun fight HAHAHAH…bless them
lidahbidah 28th-Jan-2014 04:32 pm (UTC)
Well, damn. Preach!
democralypse 28th-Jan-2014 04:37 pm (UTC)
gotdamn i didn't realize this was the freaking nytimes
nathanandbarry 29th-Jan-2014 12:16 am (UTC)
Caught out there. lol.
thebloomroom 29th-Jan-2014 06:13 am (UTC)
dringen 28th-Jan-2014 03:17 pm (UTC)
Fuck Macklemore and his tendencies to do anything and everything to get publicity. Posting this text was way OTT
pistol_eyes 28th-Jan-2014 03:18 pm (UTC)
"I don't really like rap, but I love Macklemoore."

"At least Macklemoore has a message in his raps other than bitches and weed like the other people in the rap categories."

blueboatdreams 28th-Jan-2014 03:33 pm (UTC)
sunredskyblue 28th-Jan-2014 04:06 pm (UTC)
LOL that tweet. the gospel truth. 
homicidalslayer 28th-Jan-2014 03:19 pm (UTC)
robotpotatoes 28th-Jan-2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
damn FRY this potato head and make me some french fries
helders 28th-Jan-2014 04:57 pm (UTC)
ik it wasn't your intention, but your comment made me realize he looks like fry from futurama
brightstarsure 28th-Jan-2014 03:25 pm (UTC)
chuk_is_dazzled 28th-Jan-2014 03:36 pm (UTC)
Lol idk why I'm looking at this in class I'm grinning like mad
zombieroadtrip 28th-Jan-2014 04:05 pm (UTC)
literally every one of his facial features is bland roundness

there are no angles anywhere on his face
readmymiind 28th-Jan-2014 04:14 pm (UTC)
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