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Macklemore: Rap with a Social Message

By Kristy Webster | published Sunday, December 15, 2013 |
Thursday Review Contributor

Little did I know that when I graduated from the Evergreen State College in 2005 that one of my fellow graduates would eventually be nominated for SEVEN Grammy’s and named Person of the Year in Seattle magazine. My fellow classmate, Ben Haggerty, better known now as Macklemore, has become a highly influential sensation across the airwaves. It is not surprising that an Evergreen graduate would throw a socially conscientious wrench into the rap and hip hop genre. Greeners are notorious for their sociopolitical involvements, and Evergreen is known for its very progressive education philosophy: letter grades are replaced with student faculty evaluations, and independent contracts allow students to pursue learning experiences and earn their degrees outside the classroom. It is no wonder that it would be an Evergreen graduate who’d go on to write the powerful, timely song “Same Love”:

Don't press pause

Progress, march on!

With a veil over our eyes

We turn our back on the cause

'Til the day

That my uncles can united by law

Kids are walkin' around the hallway

Plagued by pain in their heart

A world so hateful

Someone would rather die

Than be who they are

And a certificate on paper

Isn't gonna solve it all

But it's a damn good place to start

No law's gonna change us

We have to change us

Whatever god you believe in

We come from the same one

Strip away the fear

Underneath it's all the same love

About time that we raised up

Though not as popular as some of his other songs “Thriftshop” or “Can’t Hold Us,” the song’s message about equal rights for gays has struck a chord with young and old, gay and straight alike, eliciting meaningful dialogue and discussion.

On the subject of consumerism, "Wing$" takes on the ever powerful “swoosh,” the Nike Empire, in this song about the overpriced, overhyped shoes that kids were killing each other over:

We want what we can't have, commodity makes us want it

So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it

Got to show 'em, so exclusive, this that new shit

A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in

Look at me, look at me, I'm a cool kid

I'm an individual, yea, but I'm part of a movement

My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it

They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said

Look at what that swoosh did...

When he’s not addressing some of the most pertinent and controversial social and political issues of our time, he’s addressing his own demons. In Starting Over, Macklemore chants, “If I can be an example of getting sober, then I can be an example of starting over…” as he confesses to a relapse after three years of sobriety.

And you know what pain looks like

When you tell your dad you relapsed then look him directly into his face

The seat on your shoulder’s the seemingly heavy weight

Haven't seen tears like this on my girl

In a while the trust that I once built’s been betrayed

But I’d rather live telling the truth and be judged for my mistakes

Than falsely held up, given props, loved and praised

I guess I gotta get this on the page

Rather than the often self-aggrandizing lyrics of other popular hip-hop and rap artists, Mackemore confessionary songs are often inspiring. He is also aware of his privilege as a white male and raps about the inner conflict he has a white man addressing the subject of race:

And my subconcious 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 f*ckin' song for radio

Why you out here talkin race, tryin' to save the f*ckin' globe

Don't get involved with the causes in mind

White privilege, white guilt, at the same damn time

So we just party like it's nineteen ninty nine

Celebrate the ignorance while these kids keep dying

In case you were wondering, no, I never met Ben Haggerty or even knew of him when I attended Evergreen. But chances are we probably ate the same infamously shitty pizza from the campus cafeteria. So here’s a shout out to a fellow Greener and the artist who produced my favorite album of the past two years, Get those Grammy’s!