“you’re the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to”

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released “White Privilege II” today, and boy, it’s something. It’s not very good, but it’s definitely a big something.

If you’ve been following and actively supporting Black Lives Matter, “White Privilege II” probably doesn’t matter to you, especially when far better songs addressing the movement exist. He doesn’t say anything new, nor does he challenge any notion of white solidarity with Black social justice, but the simple action of him addressing Black Lives Matter in a song has already manufactured significant discussion. After all, this isn’t just any white artist talking about Black lives. This is Macklemore, and that’s a pretty big deal regardless of the message.

To his credit, Macklemore has been addressing his privilege for the last decade. And despite his newfound mega success, he hasn’t shied away from social issues, though “Same Love” and “Growing Up” now seem safe in comparison to his scatterbrained new single. He’ll probably blow up Twitter and get national news coverage. Maybe he’ll go on an interview circuit with Clear Channel stations and a performance on Colbert (but more likely Fallon). And as much as I don’t think the spotlight will be warranted over better artists who have spent the last few months getting no attention for similar work, even I’m buying into Macklemore’s weight by addressing his mediocre single. So what’s wrong with it?

Independent of the lyrics, the song is only okay. The foundation of the song’s first two verses rely on an Ab-Soul-lite jazz orchestration, as if To Pimp a Butterfly‘s horns have suddenly become the soundtrack to hip-hop’s righteous anger. Mack’s flow is professional, but not entirely impressive or original. There’s no hook, which won’t help its case for radio executives (who might send it through the air anyway, because hey, Macklemore). Overall, it feels a bit tired, and the mood shift into his third verse doesn’t excite enough to keep attention for its way-too-long nine-minute duration.

Macklemore finds himself lyrically charged in the third verse, however. After spending the first few minutes spitting platitudes about social justice, he takes the perspective of a white mother complimenting his music. “Even an old mom like me likes it ’cause it’s positive,” she tells him, “you’re the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to.” It’s the climax of the song, and the most enthralling moment of his career. Any printout of the song’s lyrics should have that line drowned in hi-liter ink, because what Macklemore lacks in Chuck D protest anthems he makes up for in self-awareness.

“You’re the only hip-hop I let my kids listen to” is a sentence only he and Eminem have ever heard. And while Eminem fans can shrug off that oft-said statement as white ignorance towards some of the most vile music ever made, there’s still enough mainstream compromise in Macklemore to warrant his music bumping in minivans. If “White Privilege II” somehow gets into those minivans, Mack may lose all credibility amongst those that financially support him the most. This is a huge risk, especially for someone whose credibility in the rap community teeters on the support of carefully handled PR moves and influential friends like Schoolboy Q and everyone who rapped in the eighties. We’re about to find out if that’s enough to get him through the meltdown in case this blows up in a bad way.

“Your silence is not a luxury/hip-hop is not a luxury” Jamila Woods sings in the song’s outro. It’s a fitting ending, because after a few years of being hip-hop’s white crossover star, Mack has risked it all on a worthwhile piece of art that’s just alright. It’s not worth a discussion, but we’re having it anyway, and it won’t be long before we see if Macklemore can survive it or not.


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