Before I continue, let it be known that I am by no means a professional hip-hop music critic, nor do I consider myself a true fan of hip-hop music. I generally prefer more laid back music, tracks that help me relax and calm down. Needless to say, hip-hop usually doesn’t fit that bill.
That being said, however, there are always exceptions to the rule. My exception is Macklemore, but I see him as more than just an artist; Macklemore is the new face of hip-hop.
Born Ben Haggerty in 1983, the Seattle-based rapper released his EP, Open Your Eyes, in 2000, followed by his first official full-length album, The Language of My World, in 2005. Substance abuse problems, specifically with OxyContin, stunted Macklemore’s production for the next four years, but in 2009, he returned to the music scene with The Unplanned Mixtape, featuring his first hit single, The Town.
At this point in Macklemore’s career, he teamed up with current producer Ryan Lewis, who has helped catapult the Seattle native to stardom with The VS: EP (2009) and The VS: Redux (2010), as well as the pair’s debut full-length album, The Heist, released in October 2012.
Some will question, and fairly enough, how after only one successful album Macklemore can be considered the next big hip-hop star. However, to truly understand Macklemore as an artist, one need only listen to The Heist once through.
Macklemore’s greatest asset is the fact that he is dramatically different from almost every other artist currently in the genre. Look at some of the other big names in rap today: Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Chief Keef, 2 Chainz, the list goes on. But what is it that sets Macklemore apart from the rest?
For starters, Ben Haggerty is white. That doesn’t mean he should be compared to Eminem or Mac Miller, though; in fact, Macklemore couldn’t be more unlike Eminem, Mac Miller or the rest of the rap industry.
Does he still have an incredible flow? Of course. How are his beats? Excellent, courtesy of his phenomenal producer Ryan Lewis. But without a doubt, Macklemore’s present musical successes are a direct result of only one factor: his lyrics.
From same-sex marriage to consumerism to substance-abuse problems, Macklemore not only addresses contemporary social issues, but he takes stances that oftentimes go against the grain from the rest of the hip-hop world.
For example, in Same Love, Macklemore openly advocates for gay rights, a daring move for a rapper, considering how the rap world generally refers to homosexuals as inferior and less. However, Macklemore even goes a step further and criticizes the hip-hop industry as a whole, saying, “If I was gay, I would think hip-hop hates me.”
Macklemore’s social awareness doesn’t stop with same-sex marriage. In both Thrift Shop and Wing$, the Seattle rapper speaks out against consumerism, citing from personal experiences with Nike shoes and brand name clothes. While “Thrift Shop”, Macklemore’s most successful single to date, is more well known for catchy beats than social commentary, he still manages to condemn consumerism, rapping, “Fifty dollars for a T-shirt… I call that getting tricked by a business.”
However, perhaps most introspective of all is Macklemore’s Otherside, a heartfelt discussion of sobriety and the influence of the media on younger generations. Having struggled with substance abuse at multiple points in his life, Macklemore offers an honest take on the negative vibes being sent out by the rap industry. When he says, “Us as rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids,” he acknowledges his power as a role model and urges others to set a better example.
Now, is Macklemore without flaws? Of course not. Profanity is sprinkled throughout several of his songs. Not all of his tracks (I’m looking at you And We Danced) have a greater meaning, or any meaning at all to be honest.
On the whole, though, the fact that Macklemore has a message trumps all. Instead of disregarding females and acquiring currency, he preaches the importance of re-examining modern social issues… without sounding like a preacher.
Even if he weren’t breaking the stereotype as a socially conscious white rapper from Seattle, Macklemore’s music would sell based on its musical prestige alone. But combine all of that with what he says and what he stands for?
America, you are looking at the new face of hip-hop.