Why was Macklemore’s Grammy win for Best Rap Album Such a “Travesty”?
One performer is the “industry standard” of what you think of when you hear the word “rapper” — a young, African-American male from Compton, California that is signed to a major label. The other (or others) are the minority in the rap community — a 30-year old white guy and his 25-year-old white producer friend from Seattle, Washington that rose to stardom on the independent circuit.
Both performers — Kendrick Lamar and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis — were nominated for multiple Grammy Awards on Sunday including Best New Artist and Best Rap Album. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis took both trophies.
Internet explosion in 3… 2… 1…
My initial reaction to the win was simple. “At least Drake didn’t win.” (We can get into my dislike for Drake later, but this is not about him.) This is about why Macklemore & Ryan Lewis winning Best Rap Album at the Grammys was such a slap in the face to rap and hip-hop fans. Is it so wrong that the Seattle duo won an award for a Grammy that has been dominated by a specific type of performer?
Before I even continue, let me say this. Kendrick Lamar’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City was a fantastic album. In a more poppy age of rap music, it was very nice to see a return to what made hip-hop amazing in the late 80s and all of the 1990s — bass heavy beats with a perfect blend of production and lyrics. It was a fresh sound to hear after album after album was filled with more “dance tracks” and a lack of “lyrical tracks”.
THAT BEING SAID.
The Heist by Macklemore & Ryan Lewis was an equally fantastic album. What made the album great was production. Lewis has this ability to layer multiple sound styles on one track — as evidenced in the album’s first real hit called “Wing$”. You heard it again with “Can’t Hold Us” — the quintessential club anthem — and once more with “Thrift Shop”. Combine that with Macklemore’s lyrics, and you get an album that paints a picture from start to finish.
Lamar’s album does the same thing, but in a different way. That’s understandable when you consider (again) the contrasts of both performers. Clearly, no one would have been upset if Good Kid, M.A.A.D City won the Grammy for Best Rap Album, but is it such a travesty that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis did? Absolutely not. What are we talking about, then?
“Macklemore & Ryan Lewis aren’t rappers.”
Ryan Lewis probably isn’t, but that’s only because he’s the producer. Macklemore ABSOLUTELY is a rapper. He isn’t a pop singer/star. He isn’t Bruno Mars or Robin Thicke or Justin Timberlake singing and flowing on every track. That’s not even what The Heist sounds like when you listen to it from start to finish. That’s not what that album is about.
The Heist is a RAP ALBUM. Billboard — the #1 authority in music (whether you like that or not) — recognized it as a RAP ALBUM, and yes, Macklemore is rapping on every song on The Heist. Even on “Can’t Hold Us”, Ray Dalton may be providing the sweet serenade during the hook, but Macklemore is rapping on that entire record. Listen to “Wing$” again and say that Macklemore isn’t a rapper.
What else is there?
“Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are white.”
Oh. Now I see. I get it. This (naturally and unfortunately) is the argument and response that was tweeted and stated most. Black culture has been copied over and over again since the 60s. It’s a sad and true statement for the most part. Is that why Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s win is so anger producing? Because they plagiarized our (African-American) style and won awards for it? Let’s just stop that narrative right now.
The “white rapper” has evolved since the days of Vanilla Ice. Thank God. Eminem made sure of that from jump street with The Slim Shady LP in 1999. He made sure people realized he was not what you’re used to when you hear a white rapper. Eminem’s success has brought about more white rappers to the rap community — namely Mac Miller and Macklemore & Ryan Lewis. Is that what this is ultimately about? Macklemore & Ryan Lewis can’t be the winners of the Best Rap category because they’re white rappers? Tell that to Eminem. He’s won that award multiple times.
When you hear the word “rapper”, you’ve had to change your thinking as to what a rapper is because of artists like Eminem. Traditionally, yes, rap has been an African-American dominated art form, but things change all the time. This is just one of those things. The Heist was a great album and was better than Good Kid, M.A.A.D. City by the slimmest of margins. (We’re talking hundredths of percentage points.)
Whatever your reason for your disappointment or disapproval, make sure it’s for the right reasons, not the ignorant and misguided ones.