Track Review: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – “White Privilege II”

For many it’s easy to hate on Macklemore, even if not for good reason. Whether it’s because of his text apology to Kendrick Lamar for winning the “Best Rap Album” Grammy, that came off cheesy to many when Macklemore made the private messages public on social media, or whether it’s because he is a rapper that makes (what many people consider) pop music, or even simply because he is a white rapper who doesn’t rap like Eminem raps, many find a way to dislike an artist who genuinely comes off as one of the nicest people in music. No matter the levels that his commercial and critical success has reached (or will continue to reach), rap fans and publications alike have found a way to poke fun at Macklemore.

Now I’m not trying to be the hero that stops the bully from picking on the nice kid, but it’s time that those who haven’t yet jumped on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis bandwagon hop aboard (something that I admittedly jumped on far too late). He may not come from a broken home, he may not have the lyrical fire of a J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar, and yes… he isn’t black, but he isn’t acting like it either. Macklemore has consistently stayed true to himself, making music from a perspective that is 100% his own. However being real isn’t enough, if an artist’s music isn’t relatable in one way or another, then what’s the point? Or if your music doesn’t have a message, then why make music at all? Fortunately for Macklemore though, his music and his new record especially is not only true to Macklemore but it carries a great message, that music fans across all different races and genres can relate to.

‘White Privilege II’ is another great record to tackle a huge social issue on a bigger platform than anyone before him has. On his last LP, The Heist, Macklemore broke ground with his record ‘Same Love’, rapping about same-sex relationships. Although Macklemore himself is not gay, and in fact is a new father to a baby girl with his wife Tricia Davis, he spoke from his own perspective, a straight person who supports equality and with loved ones who are gay. Even though it wasn’t “his fight to fight”, Macklemore spoke up for equality instead of sitting on the sidelines.

Macklemore takes a same approach as in ‘Same Love’ with his new record ‘White Privilege II’, dedicating nearly 9-minutes to tackle issues of race. Like in ‘Same Love’, this one isn’t Macklemore’s fight to fight, but as Jamila Woods sings in the new track, “silence is a luxury.” Music aside, if you ask many different people “what can white people do to help the Black Lives Matter movement”, they will tell you first to be aware of white privilege. And that is just what Macklemore does throughout the entire record.

In his opening verse, Macklemore vividly tells a story of when he joined the protests and march in support of Michael Brown, where a police officer )(Officer Darren Wilson) was not indicted for the death of another unarmed black man. Immediately Macklemore acknowledges the uncomfortable situation one finds themself in when supporting a cause that they aren’t directly part of. “In my head like, ‘Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?’ Thinking if they can’t, how can I breathe”?, Macklemore raps.

In the second verse, Macklemore aggressively battles the voices and demons inside him, for stealing from black culture. A common critique of many white artists who cross over into black genres, whether it’s Macklemore, Iggy Azalea, Elvis, Justin Timberlake (pretty much anyone J. Cole mentions in his track ‘Fire Squad’), Macklemore raps “You’ve taken the drums and the accent you rapped in. You’re branded hip-hop, it’s so fascist and backwards.” Throughout the verse, Macklemore shows that he is his biggest critic, that he isn’t immune to the blogs and tweets and ‘Fire Squads’ of the world. Although Macklemore’s inner thoughts are far too hard on himself, the humility he shows is remarkable and the overwhelming amount of “white guilt” (for lack of better words) he shows is almost depressing.

In his third verse, Macklemore switches from the voice of his inner demons to the voice of his fans that just don’t get it. The first half of the verse starts out positive, where a mother of two approaches Macklemore and commends him on the positivity and social awareness of his music. Soon after, the mom’s inner racist comes out, labeling rap music as nothing but “guns, drugs and hos”, and then speaking on the protests she says “if a cop pulls you over, it’s your fault if you run.” After the verse ends, the track transitions into a power montage of racist sound bites of people denying their white privilege.

Perhaps the most powerful verse of the record, Macklemore builds off the verses prior to come to an eventual realization of his role in our modern day civil rights movement:

“I can book a whole tour, sell out the tickets,
Rap entrepreneur, built his own business.
If I’m only in this for my own self-interest, not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with,
Then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick.
The DIY underdog, so independent,
But the one thing the American dream fails to mention,
Is I was many steps ahead to begin with.”

Fully acknowledging his white privilege, being many steps ahead of the game because of the color of his skin, Macklemore continues to rap “my success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson”, and then ending the fourth and final verse by repeating the lines, “we take all we want from black culture, but will we show up for black lives.”

‘White Privilege II’ perhaps isn’t just the best Macklemore record to date, but it is also his realist. Beautifully articulating what it’s like to be white person in 2016 who is conscious of their white privilege, and someone who wants to support causes which they otherwise could easily ignore, Macklemore again proves that he is a rapper with substance far beyond the popular fun tracks like ‘Downtown’ and ‘Thrift Shop’. It will be interesting to see what J. Cole says about this one…

9.5

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