Macklemore, Ryan Lewis, a choir and jazz musicians gathered on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert’s stage Monday night for a dramatic interpretation of the rapper’s latest single, “White Privilege II.” For the first two-thirds of the epic-length tune, Macklemore grasps the mic, a sole figure in the spotlight, as glimpses of the singers and other musicians come into view.
He eventually steps away and African-American poets Nikkita Oliver, whose sweatshirt reads “reparations,” and Danez Smith, in a “black god walking” sweatshirt, both step up to the mic to indict white privilege. It ends with everyone except the rapper and his counterpart in view, as singer and poet Jamila Woods sings “your silence is a luxury.”
Macklemore told Rolling Stone last month about how challenging it was to make the song, a sequel to his 2005 track “White Privilege,” as he struggled with his own white privilege. “I think that, as a white person stepping into doing any sort of anti-systematic-racism type of work, asking yourself, ‘What is our intention?’ needs to happen on a consistent basis,” he said. “Check yourself, like, constantly. ‘Why am I making this song?’ Because through all the variations of this record, we lost perspective.”
To gain perspective, he looked outward. “We had to work with other people in the community, we had to play it for other people in the community,” Macklemore said. “We had to play it for people that have been at the forefront of this work, have been at the front lines, have committed their lives to changing the systems.”