What on earth is Macklemore doing?

Now that I’ve had a couple days to digest the new Macklemore video, I must admit that I still have no idea what’s going on. For the uninitiated:

You could reasonably conclude that “Downtown” is a song about mopeds (in which Macklemore shamelessly proclaims “honestly, I don’t know nothing about mopeds”), which would be a conversation ender for most rappers. But remember: Mack hit it big with a song about hand-me-downs, so no topic should be terribly surprising.

You could also reasonably conclude that “Downtown” sounds like it’s trying to capitalize on the 80s nostalgia that “Uptown Funk” brought to the mainstream. And while Ryan Lewis’s stellar production harkens back to the days of shiny suits and blaxploitation, cameos from Grandmaster Caz, Mellie Mel, Kool Moe Dee, and Ken Griffey Jr. amongst others suggests that Macklemore wants to advance an old-school rap agenda.

“Downtown” is schizophrenic. The old school verses are fun, the rock-opera chorus nails it without sounding too cheesy, but there’s no cohesion between the two. It doesn’t help that Mack is a constantly compelling but often lackadaisical writer (“I take it to Ponderay/and water-skate/I mean water-ski/olly olly oxen free”), and his contributions are easily the track’s least interesting moments.

Though I’m sure the radio will eat it up, I’m not sure if “Downtown” is a good song or just a good effort at creating another cultural phenomenon. If there’s anything I don’t like, it’s that his second single is taking attention away from his first single “Growing Up,” released earlier this month. “Growing Up” repackages “Same Love’s” sincere pathos in a touching love letter to Macklemore’s newborn daughter. It’s not the ideal follow-up from the guy that burst through with “Can’t Hold Us,” but “Growing Up” is both genuine and really, really good.

So while I don’t really know what Macklemore is doing to continue his hot streak, I’m confident it will continue (mostly because Lewis is better at producing than Mack is at rapping). And while I don’t think he necessarily deserves worldwide acclaim for his technical abilities, I’m glad to see Macklemore hanging on to his unique sense of cool. You can’t fault a guy for his success when it looks like he’s just being himself.



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