With a new album just out, Macklemore (and Ryan Lewis) sat down with Billboard for an interview that covered Mack's parenthood and his ongoing struggle with drug addiction, but the bulk of the piece centers around race, and the most compelling moment comes when he discusses his "You're Miley, you're Elvis, you're Iggy Azalea" line from "White Privilege II."
When asked if he would place Eminem in that same group of artists who have benefited from their whiteness, Macklemore responded:
“He’s a white person who raps. I think regardless of where you come from or how amazing you are, you’re still a white person appropriating a black art form.” —Billboard
Really, Macklemore could have just said those two sentences in the first place and saved everyone a nine-minute song. He's right, I feel the same way as a white hip-hop writer. You work to contribute something meaningful to the culture, you try to also use whatever power you have to help amplify black voices, but there's just no escaping the fact that you work in an art form founded by people of color. Like Macklemore, no matter what I do I'll be privileged, but denying that or attempting to hide from it is both privileged and cowardly.
And while I know Em fans loathe to place their idol next to Mack, those two sentences are essentially exactly what Eminem's said himself. Em never apologized for being white, but he was also always acutely aware that while his race could rightly serve as a barrier within the predominately black hip-hop world, it was also a huge advantage in the mainstream music world, a dynamic that he best laid out in "White America."
"Look at these eyes, baby blue, baby just like yourself / If they were brown Shady'd lose, Shady sits on the shelf / But Shady's cute, Shady knew Shady's dimples would help / Make ladies swoon baby (ooh baby!) Look at my sales / Let's do the math: if I was black, I woulda sold half / I ain't have to graduate from Lincoln High School to know that / But I could rap, so fuck school, I'm too cool to go back / Gimme the mic, show me where the fuckin' studio's at / When I was underground, no one gave a fuck I was white / No labels wanted to sign me, almost gave up I was like, "Fuck it" / Until I met Dre, the only one to look past / Gave me a chance and I lit a fire up under his ass / Helped him get back to the top, every fan black that I got / Was probably his in exchange for every white fan that he's got / Like damn; we just swapped: sitting back, looking at shit, wow / I'm like my skin is just starting to work to my benefit now?"
There's really no conclusion here, not a neatly tied up point that I can close with. Discussions about hip-hop and race on a larger level are too complex to ever come to some sort of definitive end, but as long as we're talking, that's a good thing. And whether it's Macklemore, Eminem, Talib Kweli, J. Cole or anyone else, I'm here for the discussion.