After the massive success Macklemore and Ryan Lewis achieved in 2013, the duo remained relatively quiet this year, appearing solely on singer-songwriter Fences’ emotional track “Arrows.” The pair have emerged in recent months, though, marching at a protest in their hometown of Seattle after a Missouri grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson in the death of Michael Brown.
As race relations increasingly become a hot-button issue in both hip-hop and America on the whole, Macklemore gave an hour-long interview with New York radio station Hot 97 Monday morning to discuss cultural appropriation, white privilege and the role race has played in his success.
The rapper eschewed any personal shots at peers like Iggy Azalea — who’s been criticized by Azealia Banks and others for what Banks called “cultural smudging” — focusing instead on thoughtful, nuanced responses on the issue and climate of race relations in America. The whole interview is worth watching, but here are some of the rapper’s most insightful parts, including his explanation of an infamous text he sent to Kendrick Lamar after beating Lamar for Best Rap Album at this year’s Grammys.
On Racial Injustice
Eric Garner, Mike Brown [are] very sad situations; situations that left so much frustration in me watching these injustices happen again….If there’s anything positive that has come out of their deaths, I believe it has brought attention to the injustices that have been plaguing America since the [beginning]. Racial profiling. Corrupt judicial system. Police brutality. Now people are talking about these things and mobilizing. I’ve been inspired by watching people in the community get involved. For me, as a white rapper, I’m like, “How do I get involved on a level where I’m not co-opting the movement, but also realizing the platform that I have and the reach that I have and doing it in an authentic, genuine way.”
On White Privilege
White people can turn off the TV when we’re sick of talking about race. White, liberal people want to be nice. We don’t want to be racist. We want to be, “Oh we’re post-racial. We don’t want to talk about white privilege and it’s all good, right?” It’s not the case. Silence is an action and it’s my privilege that I can be silent about this issue. And I’m tired of being silent about it. We have to get past that awkward stage of the race conversation. As a white person, we have to listen. We need to direct the attention to the people of color that are on the ground mobilizing and listen to those people.
On Race as a Factor in His Success
Why am I safe? Why can I cuss on a record, have a parental advisory sticker on the cover of my album, yet parents are still like, “You’re the only rap I let my kids listen to.”…If I was black, what would my drug addiction look like? It would be twisted into something else versus maybe, “Get back on your feet!” The privilege that exists in the music industry is just a greater symptom of the privilege that exists in America. There’s no difference…I got put in that “hero” box and I think that when that happens, it’s because of white privilege.
On the “Thrift Shop” Backlash
“Thrift Shop” became massive…When that happens, for one, people are going to be polarized. The minute my niece starts singing a song, I’m like, “That song’s wack.” The minute you’re in a car and you turn to five different radio stations and they’re all playing “Thrift Shop,” you’re like, “This shit is played out.” We didn’t make pop music; pop music came to us. When it hits that level of mass consumption, people are immediately going to put it into a box and be like, “That’s wack and why the fuck is he winning anything?” “Everyone likes this. It’s not cool anymore.” I do that all the time.
On White Appropriation of Hip Hop
You need to know your place in the culture. Are you contributing or are you taking? Are you using it for your own advantage or are you contributing? I saw a tweet that said, “Hip hop was birthed out of the civil rights movement.” This is a culture that came from pain and oppression. It was the byproduct [of white oppression]. We can say we’ve come a long way since the late Seventies and early Eighties, but we haven’t. Just because there’s been more successful white rappers, you cannot disregard where this culture came from and our place in it as white people. This is not my culture to begin with. As much as I have honed my craft…I do believe that I need to know my place.
On Kendrick Lamar and the Grammys
We’ve texted [since the incident]. I made a mistake and a lot of fear was going into that moment. I wanted to win some Grammys…I think we made a great album. I think it had great impact….I wanted to win Song of the Year. I wanted to win Best New Artist. I wanted to win some rap categories. But I thought Kendrick had a better album…The mistake came from Instagramming the text message and betraying my homie’s trust. That’s wack…The language that I used was a bad call. “Robbed” was a bad choice of word. White people have been robbing black people for a long time. Of culture. Of music. Of freedom. Of their lives. That was a mistake.
Looking back at it, I learned about the voting process of the Grammys. Random people that aren’t necessarily part of the culture whatsoever joining in on the ballot that comes back down to this whole issue of privilege because they’re familiar with whoever is the biggest artist. That’s who they check the box [for]. And in 2013, we had the biggest record.
On “Same Love”
I’ve worked my whole life to get to that stage. We had the opportunity to perform “Same Love.” Over 30 couples, mostly gay and lesbian, got married on national television in front of millions of people…It was a moment that I’m proud of. It was a moment that was powerful for America to see that. And it completely got overshadowed by this text message.