Macklemore Releases “Buckshot” With KRS-One & DJ Premier. Is That “Real Hip-Hop” Enough? (Audio)
Ever since the blockbuster success of their album The Heist, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have been scapegoated as the poster children for the appropriation of Hip-Hop. To some, their catchy hooks and pop-influenced productions are anathema to the culture. The hate for the group was compounded by their win for Best Rap Album over Kendrick Lamar’s good kid, m.A.A.d. city at the 2014 Grammy Awards, a victory that Macklemore, himself, decried.
After the group’s year-long hiatus from the music scene, the furor over the group died down a bit but was stoked again in the Summer of 2015, with the release of their song “Downtown.” The song featured Hip-Hop pioneers Grandmaster Caz, Kool Moe Dee and Melle Mel, and would eventually yield the three veterans their first ever platinum certification for sales of over a million copies. Ironically, rather than being praised for celebrating the legends, Mack and Ryan were criticized and accused of using them for legitimacy.
The outrage reared its head again, upon the release of “White Privilege 2,” a song where Macklemore openly acknowledged that he and some of his white peers were the beneficiaries of greater success than their Black counterparts, simply because of the color of their skin. Rather than being praised for calling out systemic and enduring racism, and continuing the dialogue around such an important issue, Macklemore was once again the target of vitriol and accused of simply using the song to draw attention to himself and assuage White Guilt.
But, here’s the thing. At some point, the spotlight needs to be turned back on the critics. For those that don’t believe what Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are doing is “Real Hip-Hop,” they simply don’t know the history of the culture. For the vast majority of people in the world, save for those living in certain neighborhoods of The Bronx, Brooklyn and Queens in the 1970s, the first taste of Rap music and Hip-Hop culture came by way of The Sugar Hill Gang’s song “Rapper’s Delight.” The song was a worldwide phenomenon, and it was chocked full of whimsical party boasts (many written by and stolen from the same Grandmaster Caz that was celebrated by Macklemore on “Downtown”) over the sugary sweet Disco confections of Chic’s “Good Times.” To say that Rap music’s foundations do not include Pop music, is sheer ignorance.
As Hip-Hop evolved, however, its rise, in part, was predicated on the important messages it was able to deliver about the state of the world, when the news either refused to cover such matters or did so misleadingly. Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “The Message” (featuring Melle Mel, who again, also contributed to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “Downtown”) was the embodiment of that transition to substance-oriented Hip-Hop, and is widely-considered the genre’s most important record of all-time.
When those 2 underpinnings of Hip-Hop are considered–its pop beginnings and its rise due to its messages–Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are the embodiment of Hip-Hop at its core. Songs like “Thrift Shop,” “Can’t Hold Us” and “Downtown” are feel good music that get the party started, much like “Rapper’s Delight” did all those years ago. On the flip side, songs like “Wings,” “Same Love” and “White Privilege 2” stand with the most well crafted message music of the last decade, addressing issues like the detrimental effects of materialism, homophobia and racism, respectively. If that’s not “real” Hip-Hop, what is?
However, if that’s not convincing enough, the duo’s latest song involves two of Rap music’s most sacrosanct icons, KRS-One and DJ Premier. “Buckshot” features a 90s-styled production, complemented by Preemo’s signature scratches and one of KRS’ best verses in years. It is another stake in the ground that shows not only how serious Mack and Ryan are about the culture, but also the respect they’ve earned from its guardians.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ upcoming album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, hits stores on February 26.