I want to have this conversation in light of the attention that the VMAs are getting for being, well, super crazy racist. BRIMSG led a few threads about the VMAs, and many people, but NinjaCate in particular, have posted thoughful critiques of Miley Cyrus' problematic behavior.
The part I'd love to discuss more is Macklemore. I'm not generally a fan of rap or hip hop, and my husband has always tried to get me into it. I recently asked him who his favorite rappers are, and he listed Ludacris, Jay-Z, Biggie, Lil Wayne, MIA... it wasn't until I mentioned Macklemore that he said, "Macklemore too." Macklemore has been one of the very few artists that he's introduced me to that I've actually liked (aside from MIA, who I love). I think "Same Love" was one of the first songs he played for me, and it made me cry. He played more, and I liked it all. Then I looked him up. Honestly, I was very surprised to see he was white. (I live under a rock, if you haven't figured that out yet.) I brought up cultural appropriation to my husband, and he played "White Privilege" for me. I was impressed, but still slightly uneasy.
This comment from BRIMSG's live blog on the VMAs struck a nerve:
I like this Macklemore fellow! In the midst of all these 'rappers' there's something so reassuring about him. I'm glad he is winning all these awards and is so successful. It makes me so peaceful and comforted knowing that someone like him is a prominent face in this genre. I can't explain what it is. I mean, I hate all the other rappers and think they are quite menacing and threatening and I would not let my children listen to them. But I don't feel that way at all about this guy! I could watch him all day! I think I'll give him more money. Such a catchy song, too! Hmm. I can't put my finger on it. I wonder what it could be.....
Why is Macklemore one of the very few rappers I enjoy? I like his style and beat, sure, but mostly I like his socially conscious lyrics. And the vast majority of rap and hip hop that I've heard is not socially conscious, and in fact, is usually pretty offensive. But that's bullshit. Zemarsea-Urchin wrote a good post on the evolution of hip hop culture that's relevant to discuss here.
Then came the nineties. And hip hop died. It became a lucrative commodity. And it became homogenized, striped, and monetized. We had a bit of fun in the early years but by 1995 the main stream hip hop lost it soul. It began a descent into bamboozled territory. It became a parody of it's roots. Bitches and ho's, making it rain, MC's only, CREAM became the reality of hip hop and record execs wanted to sell one version and that version is palatable to a larger white audience. We lost the dancer, we lost the fashion, we lost the art and the dj. We lost essential elements.
Why is the rap that gets the most press all about bitches and hos, bling and violence, until a white rapper comes around with some progressive lyrics and gets tons of attention? Could it be that the white guys controlling the media like to promote "black music" that fulfills black stereotypes?
Cultural appropriation has always been a tough topic for me to wrap my head around. As a relatively privileged white woman, there's a lot I just don't get about it. At what point does something cross the line between appreciating an art form and taking it over? But what I do know is this: there is absolutely no way that Macklemore is the only rapper out there with smart progressive lyrics. Tupac was certainly a brilliant artist, but who's out there right now that should be getting some of the attention Macklemore is getting?
So. I do still like Macklemore, but I'm going to take that discomfort and irritation about cultural appropriation and channel it towards finding more awesome socially conscious black rappers to support. As I said, I do live under a rock. Other threads on the above-mentioned articles have mentioned Black Star, The Roots, and Common. Any other suggestions?
As a final note, there are many, many more conversations to be had here, but this is already a long piece. One thing I wanted to get into here is how I think this whole deal relates to classism and the loss of the middle class, but I will leave that for another day.