I really hate writing about music. I don't usually like reading what someone else writes about music either. But here! Let me write about music for you to read! And let me get controversial while I'm at it! Oh boy.
Music is such a personal thing, at least to me, that writing extensively about something that really moves you can often feel, to other people, like looking at your vacation photos but worse because telling someone you know what music they should be listening to can often come off as more than just a little bit condescending. So yeah! Hey! Let me tell you what you should be listening to because my musical tastes are so much more advanced than yours.
But, well, I've found out about a lot of good music, including the dude I'm about to tell you about, from other people so I guess I'm here to keep spreading the good word.
I need to tell you about Macklemore. If you haven't heard of him yet, that is. Actually, "him" is a they. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis or Macklemore X Ryan Lewis, as they're called. A couple months ago a friend tweeted the link to their video for Thrift Shop. You need to watch it. Song and vid are so rad you won't even be able to help yourself from getting jiggy with it. Awkward head bobbing, intense overbite, the whole thing. Seriously. Nothing preachy here, just go dig that shit while you're still groovy enough to appreciate it. You'll be singing it tomorrow, you'll be singing it next year. And not just you. Your kids too. The nearly thirty million other people who've checked it out can't be wrong.
There was a point in time that Violet and Henry forced me to watch the Thrift Shop video at least ten times a day. And you know kids, stuff never gets old. You end up reading them the same story eleventy-five times a day for a month and then they move on. So yeah, the kids are crazy for Macklemore. So crazy that when I picked up Violet from pre-school one day her teacher asked me, "Who's Macklemore?"
That thing Henry does when the music kicks in? Does it every time.
Yeah, I let my kids listen to swear words. They don't actually know which words in the song are swear words so I'm not making a big deal about it. If I don't care you shouldn't either.
So Macklemore is this white rapper from Seattle. I mention that he's white because it's relevant, in this case. Most rappers are black. Additionally, many rappers rap about stuff I can't relate to. Not that their beats aren't fresh, yo (how awkward was that?) it's just that I didn't grow up slingin' dope in the hood, (not as awkward as that.) I don't get racially profiled, I don't pop the cork on a glass of Cristal and make it rain at strip clubs, (although I'm not necessarily opposed) and so while I really dig all kinds of rap and have been down with it since Run DMC told me to Walk This Way and N.W.A. suggested I Fuck Tha Police, most of the time, the stuff I listen to isn't exactly telling my story. That doesn't mean I like the music any less, just that I can't relate to in that very personal way you sometimes can with music you feel personally. Oftentimes we like music because it articulates our feelings with a passion that even though we feel, we could never articulate. I can't really say most of the rap I listen to has done that for me, sick beats or no.
Regardless of being a lifelong fan of rap I often feel a fool rapping with Hova when he's telling me he's got 99 problems (including but not limited to being racially profiled) and a bitch ain't one. A white girl can feel a little silly rockin' some head phones, dueting with Lil Wayne.
Fuck you hoe I'm so 504
I hope every snitch die slow
Me too, Wayne, (or is it Mr. Lil?) me too!
I mean, don't get me wrong, I would like to "peel off in the Lamborghini like a tangerine, get the engine straight shakin' like a tambourine" as much as the next gal but sometimes, no matter how good a rap song is, and there are so many good ones, I feel more than a little sheepish singing along about how "Doctors say I’m the illest, cause I’m suffering from realness, got my niggas in Paris and they going gorillas, huh."
Did it make you uncomfortable when I typed nigga? Did it? Because it makes me super uncomfortable to write it even though it's the lyric to a Jay Z song and is poppin' in rap songs as often as the caps are popped in asses and the corks are poppin' from the Cristal.
Music is for everyone, this is true. But it's not that simple, is it? What respectable white person doesn't feel like a douche singing the word nigga?
In this case, after much thought, I've deduced it would be better to use the actual word nigga instead of tap dancing around it as was my original tendency. Because that's the word we're talking about here and not the word nigger, as would've been implied had I chosen to use the phrase "the N-word." With me so far? And anyway, using the phrase "the N word" as the great Louis C.K. opines, is bullshit. "Because when you say "the N word" you put the world "nigger" in the listener's head. That's what saying a word is. You say the N word and I go oh, she means nigger. You're saying the word in my head. Why don't you say it and take responsibility?" Besides, nigga is something else altogether; it's a good thing, the exact opposite of what the word nigger has meant for hundreds of years.
So even though the word nigga has a mostly positive connotation in hip hop, especially because the word has a positive connotation, things are all the more confusing for us white folks just trying to figure out the best way to listen to the rap that we like. Although the word is so prevalent in so many songs, it's still fraught with controversy, especially when issued from the lips of white people trying to get jiggy with it.
It's all so confusing, isn't it? Because even my typing the word to explain an anti-racist idea to you is cringeworthy, isn't it? You're wincing right now, aren't you? You're wondering if this is appropriate and you aren't sure... Even though this is a discussion about a very real issue we come up against time and time again in society, it's uncomfortable. So uncomfortable that I've thought several times about not writing this because who am I to get all up in the mix of this? Well, I'm a white person who has a lot of confusion about the word, why it's still so prevalent and how or if it should ever be used by white people singing along to or talking about hip hop, so I guess that makes me about as qualified as anyone.
Take Gwyneth Paltrow's controversial tweet wherein she used the word "nigga" when referencing the title of an actual Jay-Z song. The debate raged as to whether its appropriate for white people to use the word in a hip hop context. But how is that to be avoided when one of the most prolific rappers of all time uses the word on albums that are bought by millions of white people?
I'm not really offering a solution here, just presenting the problem of rap when it comes to a white girl singing along to her tunes while working her ass on the treadmill at the local YMCA. As of yet there is no solution. The word nigga remains controversial yet still popular and is becoming increasingly awkward for white folks who, instead of trying to deduce when and if it's ever appropriate to use, would probably do better to avoid it altogether, yes, even when singing along to your boy Jay-Z.
Racism continues to live and breath in the hearts and minds of millions of people whether or not you're aware of it and even though the word nigga isn't always considered racist I think it's best for white folks to steer clear. And maybe black rappers ought to consider avoiding it as well. Yes, I know it's "their word" but to fling it all over hell and back in albums they damn well know millions of white kids are buying and still get outraged over white use of the word is somewhat hypocritical, isn't it? Or is this where white people just shut up and deal with the awkwardness? Yet, is it okay to acknowledge the awkwardness, as I'm doing right now or is even that inappropriate?
But here I am walking the thin line again, right? Because who am I to deny a race a word it took back from a race (my race) that used it as a weapon? A weapon so mighty it caused a pain so deep and debilitating that I, being who I am, born when I was, could never, ever fathom or fully understand the destruction its use wreaked upon the hearts and minds of its millions of victims.
And still, the point is a valid one, is it not? "Nigga" continues to be one of the most confusing words of our time and we're all pussyfooting around the whole thing because we don't want to offend anyone. But how can a word be okay for one race and not for another, if no ill will is meant by it? Does it really only belong to one race or has that race successfully taken it back, popularized it and made it okay for everyone to use as it pertains to singing along with black hip hop artists? Or will that never be okay? And if it's never going to be okay, shouldn't the word (even though some see its usage as a victory of sorts) just go away in much the same way we're slowly (hopefully) eliminating the word faggot from the lexicon or explaining to our children that calling something "gay" to describe its suckiness isn't cool.
Do you say the word nigga when singing along to rap songs?
But this whole dilemma, this whole left-turn into discussing the word was because it's a part of why I like Macklemore. Not because he's a white rapper but because he gets this whole dilemma about which I'm laboring to impart and verbalizes it so articulately and he's able to do that because he's white. So yeah, in this case, the fact that he's a white rapper is important. And, let's be honest, really good white rappers are few and far between, so he is a bit of a novelty not only because his music is dope, as the kids say, but his message is even... uh... doper.
Now every month there is a new Rodney on Youtube
It's just something our generation is used to
And neighborhoods where you never see a news crew
Unless they're gentrifying, white people don't even cruise through
And my subconscious telling me stop it
This is an issue that you shouldn't get involved in
Don't even tweet, R.I.P Trayvon Martin
Don't wanna be that white dude, million man marchin'
Fighting for our freedom that my people stole
Don't wanna make all my white fans uncomfortable
But you don't even have a fuckin' song for radio
Why you out here talkin race, tryin' to save the fuckin' globe
Don't get involved if the cause isn't mine
White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time
So we just party like it's nineteen ninety-nine
Celebrate the ignorance while these kids keep dying
To listen to the song above, called A Wake, click here. (I've listened to this song at least a hundred times this month.)
Nailed it. For me, anyway. As a white girl I sometimes feel stupid speaking out about certain issues because they aren't "my" issues. Who wants to hear what my privileged ass thinks about something, you know? To tweet RIP Trayvon Martin almost felt disrespectful. How dare I try to jump on that particular cause when I know next to nothing about the racist environment that killed him?
And yet I want to acknowledge it. Because I care. Because I want it to change and a journey of a thousand miles begins with one step and so maybe my tweet or my blog is a small step toward something. And then I get embarrassed again because it isn't "my" issue. It is my issue! It's everyone's issue.
"Don't get involved if the cause isn't mine, white privilege, white guilt at the same damn time."
So Macklemore. I am stone cold in love with this dude. He is brilliant. The entire album he just released is awesome. Slick beats, funny lyrics, wise words. And I can relate. No longer have to feel a fool runnin' my fat ass on the treadmill and singing about how "I ball so hard muhfuckas wanna fine me...What's 50 grand to a muhfucka like me?" when I've got Macklemore all up in my rotation.
But it's all so complex because even the fact that I'm so stoked about a white rapper makes me feel guilty. Is that what I need to be able to enjoy rap music? A white rapper? No. I like black rappers but they aren't usually rapping about stuff that relates directly to me. Now, for the first time, I know what some kid who was raised in the hood felt like when he started hearing talents like Biggie and Tupac and Dre and Snoop rapping about their lives; finally, somebody gets it. So that's kind of how I feel listening to Macklemore. Finally, somebody who gets my particular journey is creating kick ass rap music to go with the message.
I guess what I'm saying is this is the first time a rapper, yes, a white rapper, is turning out some stuff that is speaking to specific life experiences of mine. Someone to whom rap definitely isn't marketed toward. Ain't no music exec anywhere that has ever said, "This song will really kill with white, middle-class moms in their thirties!"
One of Macklemore's best messages? Something that you definitely haven't heard rapped about before. Gay rights. You might be familiar with a video of his for a song he wrote that went viral. Same Love. Watch and try not to cry.
Yes. Macklemore X Ryan Lewis. By the way, they've never signed with a label. They do everything on their own so they can do it their way. Recently hit number one on iTunes without a record deal. How about that? So check 'em out.
By the way, you can also watch them on NPR's famous Tiny Desk Concert. If you can watch this entire video and not be madly in love with Ben Haggerty (AKA Macklemoe) by the end, why then, you should ask Santa Claus for a heart for Christmas you cyborg, you.