Before we get to my thoughts on the tweet that nearly blew up the rap internet:
I’ve been enjoying this series of documentary shorts that followed Macklemore and Ryan Lewis around the globe last year during their Fall World Tour. The clips have been insightful, entertaining and, at times, even uplifting. Episode five (above) went up yesterday and concludes the series. It’s worth spending the 22 minutes to watch.
And now, because I can’t leave well enough alone…
Regardless of how you feel about Macklemore’s success — recently manifested in the four “gold sippy cups” he collected in Los Angeles this past Sunday — the big takeaway from the Kendrick Lamar tweet is that the man’s life has become one massive no-win situation. Being white, and a rapper, and blah blah blah, leaves him open to unique criticisms that otherwise aren’t applied to many of his pop star peers.
Having said that, I think most of the critiques are warranted — the smart ones, anyway — and, ultimately, valuable in the grand scheme of things. The fallout from Macklemore’s success, as it pertains to the non-white and non-heterosexual communities especially, is a messy business. There are bigger societal concerns at play here that have nothing to do with Macklemore the person, and everything to do with our culture’s frustrations and fears. It seems Ben Haggerty has become America’s favorite proxy for its grievances which is spurring mass conversation.
I don’t know Macklemore personally. I shook his hand and spent about ten minutes in a room with him a few years ago, but we never shared a conversation. But by all second hand accounts from people who do know him, he sounds like a good guy. Even when he participates in stunts that draw a raised eyebrow — editing down “Wings” in order to fit the NBA’s All Star Game marketing agenda; playing a role in the dubious mass wedding at the Grammys; the curious tweet to Kendrick Lamar — I never really doubt his honesty. In these scenarios it seems like he’s either being earnest to a fault, or led to participate by the sort of denial that could only be catalyzed by a sudden and disorienting amount of fame. The machine that he’s chosen to dance with is unforgiving and dispassionate and cares nothing for an artist’s personal principles.
With regards to the Kendrick tweet specifically, what was probably meant as a generous and heartfelt admission came off as an awkward and ill-advised form of damage control: a way of diffusing some of the anger “real” hip hop heads may have felt about Kendrick not winning the award. But if we’re being honest here, those so-called “real” heads already know what time it is. They don’t need Macklemore to tell them Good Kid M.A.A.D. City should have won, and they don’t need him to explain the function of these awards which are handed out annually in what essentially constitutes a magical pop culture vacuum. To make his message to Kendrick public was to insult the intelligence of the hip hop literati.
So consider the tweet a simple misstep in a career that will likely continue to be filled with them. Macklemore is a white rapper who was just certified as the best in his field by the biggest music awards show in the world. He will stumble again because the field he’s playing on is the slipperiest slope of all.
[Update, 1.30.14, 7:15am PST: Kendrick's even-handed, democratic and existential response.]
I’m surprised there weren’t more “Oh, shit!” faces from the hapless commuters. Then again, New Yorkers are surprised by very little. The reaction from the girl waiting at the bus stop when Mack and RL get off is priceless, though.
Catch the duo performing at the Grammy’s on January 26 and scan this here list for a grip of nominations. Good lookin’ out, fellas.
VIDEO: “Macklemore & Ryan Lewis World Tour: Episode 1″ – Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (presented by Buffalo Jeans)
Mack and RL are touring fools. Click here for an accounting of the remaining US leg of their Fall World Tour. This is episode 1 of 5 in a documentary series chronicling their adventures; it takes place in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Glasgow, Dublin, Brussels, Amsterdam, Zurich, and Paris.
Town producer, engineer and label honcho D-Sane turned Mack and RL’s “Can’t Hold Us” into an industrial strength sharknado. Buy it on iTunes here.
Here’s what they shut Broadway down for a few weeks ago.
Road warriors Macklemore and Ryan Lewis allow Jay’s Life + Times into their trailer and back stage at the Camp Bisco music festival.
GMA would never let a Black rapper rap about his Caddy’s white walls. It all goes down easier when it’s a white boy. Just sayin…
(Shout-out to Hollis.)
Two white guys talking about hip hop on the “biggest” rap station in the country. The sky is fucking falling.
Macklemore gets down with Boston producer Clinton Sparks and someone named 2 Chainz. This from Sparks’ upcoming Disco Ball & Chain comp.
As a part of The Nature Conservancy’s All Hands on Earth Music campaign, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis share a few words on what it meant growing up in one of the most beautiful places in the United States. As a lifelong camping and canoeing enthusiast — and product of the impossibly resplendent San Juan Islands — I have to agree with everything they’ve said here.
So this just dropped. Pretty epic from the minds of Ryan Lewis, Jason Koenig and Jon Augustavo (credited as co-directors, though Ryan cites the importance of other parties’ influence in the video write-up). Also Macklemore wrote some raps for it. I hear these guys are pretty popular these days.
[Update: 4.17.13, 2pm PST]
A few more stream of conscious thoughts I had while watching this video:
- “Magical brown people” all over the place. John Coffey, Bagger Vance, et al.
- Macklemore stunting wildly on a “pirate ship” / “Can’t Hold Us”‘s re-appropriation of soul music. Hmm… (Editor’s note: This thought credited to my friend; name withheld.)
- The Space Needle as Mack’s metaphorical penis.
- This some bullshit, fam.
- I know hella white dudes who “planted their flag” on the tops of really tall shit — whether that means proposing to their girlfriends, or just summit-ing a damn mountain because it’s really big. (And yeah, this is a masculine thing not unique to the color of one’s skin, but still…)
- I don’t think there was menace behind any of the stuff in this video, but that doesn’t change the fact that this kind of imagery is pervasive. (And often damaging.)
- Yeah, I’m grinding axes. Deal with it.
You’ve only made it once you’ve been interviewed by the incomparable Nardwuar who, next to my girlfriend, is Canada’s greatest national treasure. So congrats, Mack and RL, you’ve arrived and shit.
The white rapper with the crazy red fringe game and un-Googleable hairstyle danced across Saturday Night Live’s venerable stage two weekends ago like it was his last performance on earth. At first glance, the “blandly handsome” Macklemore (as Grantland’s Steven Hyden put it) didn’t look much like a rap music harbinger of doom, but for a concerned segment of hip-hop’s literati that’s what he closely resembles.
If you were a viewer watching at home, or maybe even in the studio audience, your reaction was likely one of either intense bewilderment, extreme delight, or furrowed disdain. Macklemore’s number one hit single “Thrift Shop” has very humble origins and the story of its rise to fame contains the standard tropes now associated with meme-powered feats of acclivity. But while sectarianism as it concerns bubblegum acts like Carly Rae Jepsen and petri dish experiments like Lana Del Rey can be reduced essentially to matters of taste, Macklemore’s ascent is complicated by the genre he practices in and the resultant untidiness endured by racial semantics.
Red fringe game bowl-leg swag. Or something.
During my initial descent into an internet K-hole this Sunday morning, I came across this documentary from last October by Jabari Presents. Nice piece of work.
Yet another feather in the caps of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. They’re gonna need more caps.
Every time a new appearance by Mack and RL causes me to think, “Alright, now these dudes have really arrived,” yet another big-time feature re-boots the whole damn thought. What’s next? Saturday Night Live? (If that happens, you heard it here first, by the way.)
More Town goodness from the last 365 days.
Today concludes our year end list of the Best Seattle Hip-Hop Albums of 2012. Yesterday was the Honorable Mentions and today is the Top 10. Holler at me in the Comments section or on Twitter. Expanding the debate is part of democracy. Just remember: I’m right and you’re wrong. Happy New Year!
(Click on the album covers for links to purchase or free download, where available.)
10. Fleeta Partee – Lifemuzik
Sportn’ Life Records co-founder and OG in the Central District rap game Fleeta Partee (real name, no gimmicks) enlisted the two best area producers for the majority of Lifemuzik, an 8-song EP full of hard-worn street knowledge. Vitamin D lends board work for over half the tracks, his keyboards and drums on “Inception” and “Part of the Game” sounding bigger and deffer than everyone else’s, except for maybe Jake One’s whose “Apathy (No Love)” captures a blues feeling in boom-bap form. As far as the well-traveled Fleeta Partee goes, his free-wheeling, old-school flow rejuvenates rap purists’ earholes the way a pair of fresh laces lends new life to sneakers. Are you feeling bogged down by all the vapid swag excursions through chattering high-hats and cheap synth? Lifemuzik is the remedy.
9. Nacho Picasso & Blue Sky Black Death – Exalted
There’s a small part of me that worries Nacho Picasso’s Exalted made this top 10 because of other blogs that put it on their year-end lists. The power of group think is a motherfucker. After all, let’s face it: over the course of four mixtapes Nacho has become somewhat of a one-trick pony. But damn what a trick it is. There’s certainly no one else in the Town that does what he does: the monotonic nihilism accented with wicked one-liners, all pulled to a degenerate end by the wobbly, hazy renderings by production partners Blue Sky Black Death. For Seattle, Nacho is the vital counterpoint to the easy party-rocking optimism of the city’s most visible rap stars. Macklemore is an expert jokester, sure, but like all great comics Nacho finds his humor in the dark recesses of his own psyche. When the pathos is threatening to overtake your soul, sometimes smoking, fucking and, of course, laughing, make for the only true medicine.
On Sol’s Bandcamp page, the rapper dedicates Yours Truly to “the human pursuit of deep understanding,” an endeavor the MC is no doubt currently pursuing on a post-college graduation trip around the world. Most of this album — the culmination of a series of shorter, free EP releases — is an attempt at universal appeal, heavy on the pop hooks and R&B melodies which serve to make it all just feel very…easy. But when you consider Yours Truly in the context of the artist’s statement, it makes sense: we’re more immediately bonded together when our commonalities are highlighted, hence the depth of understanding we can find when enjoying an album like Yours Truly together. This may sound annoyingly meta and shit, but the threads that connect us through musical experience don’t exist at the surface of listening, which is true even when an album as easily enjoyable as this comes along.
7. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – The Heist
I’m super hyper-critical of Macklemore. Mostly because his puritanical rhymes are written and delivered so evidently as to diminish that vital trait which separates good poets from great ones: nuance. Then again, I agree with virtually everything the MC has to say on The Heist about marriage equality, white privilege and artistic integrity, three poignant topics that are sadly absent from about 90% of all other hip-hop I listen to. Plus producer Ryan Lewis conveys pop sensibilities in a manner that no other Seattle-birthed rap album featured so expertly this year, or perhaps ever.
I nitpick Ben Haggerty’s rap game in the same way I fixed upon every full-count, two-out, man-on-second strikeout by Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997 — you know, the year dude hit 56 home runs and won the AL MVP award. My criticisms of Macklemore are undeniable in the same way “Thrift Shop” undeniably moves butts and endears fans all over the globe. Is The Heist polarizing for a lot of rap heads? Sure. But the fact that this duo is killing the game right now while simultaneously causing haters to chatter is proof that they’re doing something right.
6. Gabriel Teodros – Colored People’s Time Machine
Seatown rappers went certified worldwide in 2012 and that’s word. But none of them in the fashion of Abyssinian Creole teammate, Gabriel Teodros. His Colored People’s Time Machine cuts a broad cultural swath with guest rappers from different countries rhyming in their native languages (English, Spanish, Arabic, and Tagalog, by my count).
While home is the central theme on CPTM, Teodros fashions the concept on his own terms, grappling with the intricacies of identity as a person of color and the realization that just because you were born in a specific place, it doesn’t mean that locale represents your cultural center. As always, the MC dons a critical, analytical cap, dropping piercing knowledge but always with love and a deft touch. As an ambassador to the rest of the rap world, Seattle can’t do much better than the homie GT.
5. THEESatisfaction – Awe Naturale
Cat and Stas of THEESatisfaction are no longer the Costco-employed “starving artists” of their earliest mixtapes, That’s Weird and Snow Motion. Both of those quirky hip-hop/R&B low-fi’s were recorded in the comfort of their own bedroom closet-turned recording studio and it endearingly showed. Neither is THEESatisfaction the little sister act of Shabazz Palaces, though the two forward-thinking groups do share a label home (Sub Pop) and a decidedly left-of-center musical spirituality. Awe Naturale was THEESatisfaction’s official debut and it garnered a ton of praise from both local and national outlets, much of it due to the quiet confidence of the group’s two members who are double threats in both rhyme and song. “Queens” is a funky, heady feminist groove that doesn’t name itself as such and was winning enough to garner a video treatment by the venerable dream hampton. Awe Naturale stands out, like Shabazz’s records, because it doesn’t sound like anything else in hip-hop.
4. The Physics – Tomorrow People
Tomorrow People reaches for a broader context than The Physics’ previous album (last year’s outstanding Love is a Business) without sacrificing any of what makes the group so appealing. Soulful, funky and beautifully nuanced, TP is 13 tracks of grown-man/woman hip-hop. MCs Thig Nat and Monk Wordsmith are thoughtful, conscious and raunchy always right when they need to be. And producer Justo and don’t-call-them-back-up singers Malice and Mario Sweet put the finishing touches on each track so they shine at just the right angles. This is a crew with a rare nonchalance that never translates to dull, a sure sign of artists who truly know who they are. There is something for everyone on Tomorrow People. You could play this album for your grandma and she would probably love it, and I mean that in the best way possible.
3. Fatal Lucciauno – Respect
Fatal Lucciauno’s stubborn refusal of the Seattle rap status quo is probably one of the most important statements made in the local arts. In a city home to the nation’s annual White Privilege Conference, it’s no surprise that the gregarious Macklemore has become Seattle hip-hop’s envoy to the rest of the world. That shit happened basically by default.
On the colder end of town, however, is where Fatal stages his operations. Hardcore and unforgiving to a fault, Respect is the other side of Seattle rap’s truth. It rejects even the militant-light stylings of acts like Blue Scholars and Gabriel Teodros, preferring to cast flickering reds and blues on the folks too preoccupied with basic survival than to be troubled with thoughts of the revolution. And in a year when we viewed all local rap through a Heist-colored lens, it’s important to ask ourselves: What percentage of those “Thrift Shop”-ers actually understood how their discovery of joy in a dirty bargain bin can be construed as yet another ironic luxury borne out of privilege?
It’s true we’re all better people when re-purposing perfectly useable disposed goods, feeding our souls with something truer than what is marketed to us. But Fatal’s Respect speaks on a different type of hunger: the one for things untarnished after a lifetime of languishing at the bottom.
2. Kingdom Crumbs – Kingdom Crumbs
Cloud Nice teammates formed like Voltron for Kingdom Crumbs, a hazy, danceable, electro-funk departure which was by far the most fun Seattle hip-hop release of the year. Jarv Dee, Mikey Nice, Jerm, and creative mastermind Tay Sean managed to find unique swag in a diverse array of funk compositions, from the hippie smoke session “Evoking Spirits” to the stuttering swankfest “Ridinonthestrength.”
Cloud Nice have evolved into one of the most diverse and reliable rap collectives in Town and much of that is owed to Tay Sean’s virtuosic keyboard and drum programming. Kingdom Crumbs rides on the strength of its accessibility (dreaded word, I know) and its musical intellect, the two factors that most often determine the level of quality in pop music. In a year when pop stylings thoroughly influenced Seattle rap, determining the best release of the last 365 days often came down to a single question: Which album would I rather listen to on repeat? More often than not Kingdom Crumbs was the answer.
1. Dark Time Sunshine – ANX
You could never accuse Dark Time Sunshine’s music of being cheery, but on the group’s third album, ANX, Chicago producer Zavala allows enough cracks in his heavy, electro-organic compositions to let a little bit of sunshine in. Onry Ozzborn’s deadpan science drops are illuminated by tad brighter synths, driving breakbeats (which were all but absent on DTS’s previous two albums, Believeyoume and Vessel), and a few well-placed cameos (vocalist Reva DeVito on “Never Cry Wolf” and a livewire Swamburger on “Take My Hand”, for example).
ANX is also less claustrophobic than its predecessors, its aesthetic welcoming well-equalized car stereo speakers rather than just the strict confines of headphone cans. Dark Time Sunshine’s music has always aurally represented the variations in weather of the group member’s home cities: the frigid wind of Chicago, the lidded grey Seattle sky. But finally with ANX we have tunes that go equally well with our Town’s de facto cloud cover and this past September’s exquisite atmospherics.
Don’t get me wrong, everything that makes Dark Time Sunshine one of the best hip-hop crews working today is still here; much of ANX still heaves and sighs like a concrete robot and Onry hasn’t lost a touch of his scathing pessimism. But that glow you see underneath an electronic heart is evidence of an evolved sentience. ANX can be cold to the touch, but the soul under the surface gives off uncommon warmth. It’s this new layer of complexity that elevates ANX above Dark Time’s great past work and places it in a superior class over every other Seattle hip-hop album of 2012.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis went live from New York about two hours ago on YouTube. Check it out above.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Score (PiMB scale): 3.5 / 5.0
Seattle rap superhero Macklemore and his production partner Ryan Lewis released their debut album last week, The Heist. Read my full album review at Potholes In My Blog, here.
Somehow I missed posting this. At nearly 4.5 million views already, these dudes (and, more importantly, this issue) are going places.
Fresh out of the press box, a video interview featuring Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and Murs at this year’s edition of Rock The Bells. Full album review of Mack and RL’s debut full-length, The Heist, coming soon.
As promised, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released the video today for the team’s new single, “Thrift Shop” (featuring Wanz). Good nature and humor abound in this clip about finding treasures among trash. Go here to buy the track.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ grass-rooted fans are eager for the release of October’s The Heist (and accompany massive world tour — no, really, it’s going to be huge). For now though spin through “Thrift Shop” the new light-hearted single about the joys of bargain hunting featuring Wanz.