A brief note about A/Rs & the music industry: See, the thing is, everything you might hate about the music industry has been carefully cultivated by a relatively small, extremely affluent group of older white men. That’s not pointing a finger. That’s stating a fact.
So when people criticize hip hop and rap music based on what’s popular in the mainstream, they’re criticizing the choices of a select group of men who would rather promote that vision than what might actually be the case. It always gets me when “rapper” or “hip hop” is used as a negative code word for “black people” because, when you look at that, the reaction to a people and a genre of music has been meticulously chosen by a group of people more comfortable with stereotypes of them than countering them.
There have been plenty of conscious rappers in the history of hip hop (still are). Plenty of rappers uplifting communities, stressing the importance of education, frankly discussing class differences, safer sex, and breaking the cycle of poverty, drugs, and incarceration. As well as plenty of skilled lyricists who just have flow for days with eloquent nuggets of gold tucked into lyrics. But these aren’t necessarily the cats getting signed. Mainstream hip hop has a past littered with the corpses of people who were trying to bring better and be better for the music and the scene. I don’t know why the stereotype is preferred but it is. Maybe it’s easier to swallow because it reinforces the idea that the social order is there for a reason, as opposed to it being a completely arbitrary system designed to disguise privilege and inequalities.
Cut to Macklemore who enters the scene and is basically treated as the hope of hip hop. A break from the misogynist, homophobic monotony that people blindly think of as hip hop. Nevermind that there are LGBT rappers who are perfectly capable of telling their own stories who don’t get the spotlight because they’re actually LGBT. Nevermind that there are black rappers who can’t get the time of day if they’re not spitting minstrelsy. This one man is the hope and salvation. Now here’s the thing: I’m not saying he can’t rap. On the contrary, he’s actually decent. But if Macklemore was black, you probably wouldn’t know anything about him. He probably wouldn’t get any play, most probably wouldn’t get attention from the A/Rs. If he had to do it independently, he wouldn’t be lauded as being innovative for it. He’d be dismissed as just another wack rapper on the hustle. Selling bootlegs and mixtapes after shows where maybe 1-2 people would show up. If Macklemore was black and rapping about being positive and preaching acceptance, he’d be just one more black rapper most people wouldn’t know about.
So he got a Grammy. A few. And that’s all well and good. He’s a talented person with a positive message. And that’s also good. But I remember more than a few rappers who preached love, who weren’t rampant misogynists, who talked about personal edification, and spoke about building up instead of tearing down who got nowhere. And when you realize just how many black Macklemores got left behind thanks to an A/Rs decision, and when you realize how many rappers are trying to move ahead without compromise who don’t ever get the opportunity to be better or do better or broaden anyone’s horizons, and when you see that minstrelsy gets rewarded while it’s also being used as a reason to denigrate a people; while the man is talented, it also kinda smarts.
And I’m not even all that into hip hop. Mostly nostalgia for me. Still….