First, I’d like to start by saying that I do not think Macklemore is better than Kendrick Lamar. Other than “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love,” not much happening on his debut album in my opinion. But where Kendrick and other artists who probably should have been awarded GRAMMYs lacked, Macklemore gladly picked up the ball.
With that being said, I’m not surprised that Macklemore took home several GRAMMYs. Why? Because he incorporated a theme into his marketing strategy and music that few black artists are willing to. The theme of social justice and advocacy.
Let’s travel back in time for a second. While every year in American history has been the year of the oppressed, 2013 shed a brighter spotlight on two marginalized groups. Thanks to right-winged Republicans, women’s rights dominated the first half of the year, with advocates constantly fighting to keep legislators out of their wombs. 2013 was also a pretty eventful year for same-sex advocates. At least five additional states joined the ranks of those that already condone and recognize same-sex marriage, bringing the total to 33 that carry some form of recognition for the community.
Hip Hop has long been a genre that disrespects and dehumanizes women. With the exception of Kendrick Lamar and a few others, when your favorite rapper isn’t glorifying his bling, chances are that he’s talking about his latest sexual escapade with a “bad bitch.” Macklemore’s lyrics are absent of misogyny, a move that instantly makes him popular among the female demographic.
He’s also not a fan of the “no homo” philosophy prevalent in Hip Hop and the African American community. By promoting a positive social justice agenda for same-sex couples, and blacks (he did speak up for Trayvon Martin), Macklemore walked the fine line of getting approval from hip hop heads with “Thrift Shop,” and picking up fans from other major groups that are excluded.
Basically, the man catered to a market that black rap artists were not checking for due to rampant homophobia in hip hop, and with just a couple of songs and no singing, he solidified his spot in the genre.
What makes Macklemore’s appeal particularly successful is that neither of these oppressed groups affect him personally. So it appears that he is standing up for marginalized people out of the kindness of his heart. Kind of like a white knight in shining armor of sorts. Macklemore didn’t take home those GRAMMYs because he’s better than Kendrick, Hov or any other artist nominated. He simply did what other rappers refused to do: openly include the same-sex community.
As artists, you must be able to adapt to the times and music is no exception. By adding just a splash of flavor to his cocktail, Macklemore executed the perfect branding strategy that folks can’t help but to recognize. In just his first year of commercial success, the man has mastered the practice of cross-over appeal in a way that goes beyond that of pairing up with a white rock legend. For that, he deserves a little recognition.
Am I denying the fact that white privilege had its foot all up in this awards ceremony? Nope. Am I saying that we have a serious issue with white folks coming in and bringing attention to our issues and getting all of the fame for it? Hell yes. Was the GRAMMYS white-washed? Yup. But I also cannot deny the fact that black artists need to think about inclusion if they want to be on top, and I have to give Macklemore props for doing just that.