For a minute last year, Seattle became the center of the pop music universe based solely on the appeal of a pretty-good-for-hip-hop-karaoke indie smash hit. (Don’t worry Macklemore riders, I’m not forgetting the handful of Billboard sediment that got stirred up in the post-“Thrift Shop” tidal action. But I am saying the country wouldn’t know “Can’t Hold Us” in the same way if Mack hadn’t first rocked the faux tiger skin.)
The biggest irony of this unlikely shift in cultural orbit around the Upper Left was that even though the song in question was, in fact, a rap song, the city from which it emerged was never fully acknowledged as a “rap city.” Seattle as a bonafide center for hip-hop culture hasn’t been named as such in the Court of Public Rap Opinion. Of course we all know that’s unfair, especially if you’re a frequent reader of this blog, or, better yet, one of the many hard-working, nine-to-five wage-earners who also moonlights as a dope MC in the Town. Hip-hop grows wherever struggle lives, and that is to say everywhere. I know this, we know this. Blue Scholars, The Physics, Dyme Def, Thraxxhouse, and Moor Gang know this. But in a broader cultural context, half the battle in getting your town put on the hip-hop map is getting more than just a grip of outside observers to project that most nebulous of conditions upon you: Realness. Whatever that means.
In yet another corner of Seattle’s rap mini-verse stands Raz Simone. The Central District’s chief street reporter was busy in 2014 making moves with one of the most preeminent figures in rap music history. If you’re prone to making such subjective proclamations you could have said that, other than Macklemore, Raz was Seattle’s other “big story” in rap music in 2014. Since signing a creative partnership with 300 Entertainment Raz has been — in the parlance of our times — “on his grind,” touring with Strange Music’s Rittz and amassing a cadre of well-wishers, energetic collaborators and — very likely — straight dick-riders (hey, it comes with the territory). Raz’s “The Village” is equivalent to Macklemore’s Shark Face Gang, except that the latter’s import exists now only to stoke its fellow members’ enthusiasm for Mack. Shark Face Gang is the cult underwritten by Dr. Pepper. The Village, on the other hand, is still a natural resource. A resource that Raz himself knows is necessary should he wish to continue his ascent to music stardom.
Which brings us to Raz’s new video: “Macklemore & Chief Keef.” It’s true, Raz calls out Macklemore for not doing as much as he could to put his city on and that’s undoubtedly what internet commentators will obsess over. But Raz is savvy enough to know that charges of outright jilt are more complicated than that. He also knows that a particular contingent of folks in Seattle wish him to be the darker (pun intended) counterpoint to Macklemore — the real side of this 2-0-6 rap shit. (Again, whatever the hell that means.)
“My city thought I might part the sea open,” Raz proclaims here. But even a deal with Lyor Cohen and a national coast-to-coast tour hasn’t changed the fact that he’s “still in the field” in order to make ends meet. The further you get into this song, the more peripheral Raz’s displeasure with Macklemore becomes. There are grievances to be aired sure, but in the end it’s really only about what hip-hop’s political operatives have known all along: It’s the game, stupid.
Of course the greater lesson here is the natural attrition your creative vitality suffers as celebrity grows. The more number one hits Macklemore accrues, the more he becomes engulfed by the fake empire that his main collaborating partner preached about in a college art project. As celebrity grows, so too does the abstract nature of your persona. Jay Z, at this point in his career, is more of a story — an idea, really — than he is flesh and blood. Raz isn’t ignorant; he knows that’s how it works. My guess is that the venom he spits in “Macklemore & Chief Keef” is more a product of his frustrations over the reductive nature of ubiquity than the fact Macklemore might not be returning his phone calls.
In any case, the shit’s real, son.