As the ever-buzzing internet has probably told you, Macklemore just released a sequel to his 2005 track “White Privilege,” and it’s definitely got people talking. The response is predictably mixed, with some applauding the rapper for speaking out regarding the titular topic, speaking on external and internal issues relating to it, but there have also been a good amount of detractors, either claiming the song is a publicity stunt or that Macklemore should have just kept his mouth shut altogether.
But this is not the first time Ben Haggerty has spoken on this controversial topic; as already mentioned, a decade ago he released the first “White Privilege,”an honest, analytical take on what it means to be a Caucasian immersed in hip-hop culture. However, this was years before he blew up into the global superstar he is now, alongside producer Ryan Lewis. Most people who are voicing opinions on “White Privilege II” haven’t heard the original, or may have skimmed through it after hearing its sequel.
The fact that Macklemore revisited this topic at an extremely volatile time for race relations in America, after achieving exponentially more notoriety than he had the first time he discussed it, comes off less like an attempt to keep his name in headlines and more like an artistic risk coming from a genuine place. To make it even more risky, the track is almost 9 minutes long and only contains one hook repetition, with numerous spoken interludes interspersed between the four verses.
“White Privilege II” contains some of the best, most thoughtful writing of Macklemore’s career; he speaks from multiple points of view on the track, from that of a critic of his own alleged cultural appropriation and false activism, to that of an out-of-touch white soccer mom/super fan. In the verse from the perspective of the former, Mack raps:
“You can join the march, protest, scream and shout
Get on Twitter, hashtag and seem like you’re down
But they see through it all, people believe you now
You said publicly, “Rest in peace, Mike Brown”
You speak about equality, but do you really mean it?
Are you marching for freedom, or when it’s convenient?
Want people to like you, want to be accepted
That’s probably why you are out here protesting
Don’t think for a second you don’t have incentive
Is this about you, well, then what’s your intention?”
After that already self-deprecating verse, the Seattle rapper then takes biting sarcastic digs at his own music and brand by imitating the aforementioned soccer mom in the next one, spitting:
“Look what you’re accomplishing
Even an old mom like me likes it cause it’s positive
You’re the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to
‘Cause you get it, all that negative stuff isn’t cool
Yeah, like all the guns and the drugs
The bitches and the hoes and the gangs and the thugs
Even the protest outside – so sad and so dumb
If a cop pulls you over, it’s your fault if you run”
It is this self-realization and raw honesty that makes “White Privilege II” transcend beyond ‘hype machine cash in’ status; as much as you may hate him for whatever reasons, the lyrics alone in this track overcome any theory that this is capitalization. Yeah, the timing is right for this song to be talked about, but that’s not a bad thing in any way. It’s a sad truth that it took a white artist to put the reality of white privilege under a clearer lens for those who don’t understand it, or even deny its existence, but is this not better than the message not being sent at all? If this is the recipe it will take for white hip-hop, soul, and rock (pretty much white artists in every genre) performers to understand that, as Jamila Woods sings in the closer, their “silence is a luxury,” then just be happy the food for thought is being consumed in general.
In the song’s final rap verse, Macklemore speaks with his own voice, realizing the ramifications of staying silent as a prominent white voice performing and profiting from a black art form:
“Hip-hop has always been political, yes, it’s the reason why this music connects
So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent when black people are dying
Then I’m trying to be politically correct?
I can book a whole tour, sell out the tickets
Rap entrepreneur, built his own business
If I’m only in this for my own self-interest
not the culture that gave me a voice to begin with
Then this isn’t authentic, it is just a gimmick
The DIY underdog, so independent
But the one thing the American dream fails to mention is I was many steps ahead to begin with”
You have the right to think Macklemore is corny for his gimmicky songs about thrifting and whatever “Downtown” was. You have a right to think he has a tendency to be melodramatic, like the anti-Nike anthem “Wing$.” And yes, you have a right to think his socially conscious songs like “Same Love” and both “White Privilege” tracks are opportunistic; but in the case of the latter, the rapper’s eviscerating criticisms of himself and willingness to admit his privilege without hesitation is needed right now, regardless of whatever motives some may assume he has. If you were to say that Macklemore being able to release a track like this without any real damage to his sales or reputation is a direct product of white privilege, you’d be right…and he’d be the first to agree with you.
As another Caucasian hip-hop artist, I’ve always known my position in this culture and been grateful to have been given the opportunity to earn my keep; doing the knowledge in a culture not inherently yours is essential in order to excel in it. But I’ll be damned if somebody tries to tell me I’m just in this for the money, and after having a lengthy conversation with Macklemore back in 2011 when I opened for him at a dive bar in Philly, I don’t think that’s his M.O. either. The difference between a white artist ignoring their privilege and just cashing checks written on black backs, and a white artist doing their part to add the best work possible to the culture’s ever-growing mosaic, is the option of silence or activism.
So, a message to white rappers: publicly acknowledge your privilege. Make it known that you’re aware who built the foundation for the building you’re working your way up in. Then thank them every chance you get by making sure your contributions to this culture count. Whether your strides to align with, empathize with, and build with the culture you’re striving to live off are in the music or not, just make sure they’re real.
article by Mike Voss