Gold Mics, Trophies, and Platinum Plaques

Recently in the news there has been a social media storm concerning a rapper, Ben Haggerty — better known as Macklemore — receiving four Grammy Awards over other performing artists, such as Kendrick Lamar, for the year 2013.

Club music… I never gather names from club music.  Honestly I didn’t even know who Macklemore was until this year.  For a guy who won a Grammy, he was incredibly off my list of rappers. Macklemore, despite not being everyone’s favorite rapper, has actually been in the business for a while.  He is a Seattle rapper who started in 2000 with an EP (music illiterate, read: short studio album) named Open Your Eyes.  He subsequently released standard sized albums The Language of My World (2009), and The Heist (2013), respectively.  So one thing to establish, is that Macklemore is not someone coming from out of nowhere.  After rather fun research, I will say he is capable of changing up his rhyme scheme, and isn’t exactly an absurdly simplistic rapper.

Fast-forward to modern day: Macklemore won four Grammys. One of them, even he himself figured should have went to someone else:

“I’m honored and completely blown away to win anything much less 4 Grammys,” But in that category, [Lamar] should have won [in my opinion].” ~ Macklemore

So let’s meet back with the main point of this article — why Macklemore?  Why did he get four Grammys over other industrious rap acts such as Kendrick Lamar?  Aren’t there any other rappers rapping? Is he really that good?  Everyone else got bootlegged too hard and that dwarfed their sales numbers?  Are all the other rappers in 2013 wack or something?  Hell, are the Grammys fucked up and, simply don’t know hip hop after all these years?  Pink Elephant time: Is it because he’s white?

One factor may very well be the Grammys.  The majority of people on the Grammy voting panel have always been a little less knowledgeable about hip-hop.  Rap performances were “integrated” into the Grammys in 1989.  Being that there was no functioning knowledge of how diverse rap was, there was only ONE single rap music category  — “Best Rap Performance”.  Despite the fact that actual rap albums existed, Grammys saw rap as a “single’s genre” and not the strong genre of American music that it really was.  Best Rap Performance ultimately went to Will Smith and Jazzy Jeff’s song, Parents just Don’t Understand. Yeah, over Slick Rick’s total album, over NWA’s total album. Yeah, that happened.  Anyway, rap albums weren’t fully integrated into the Grammys Awards system until 1996.  If you can think of a few pivotal, fundamentally-important-to-hip-hop-history albums between 1989 and 1995, you have a 100% effective, full grasp of how lacking in intelligence the Grammy gods are in regards to hip-hop music in it’s totality.

Case in point: Tony Bennett, on the year that Ready to Die and Illmatic came into existence, won Album of The Year.  And since then, NO rapper or rap fan you have ever met claimed, suggested, or even remotely implied that they were influenced by him.  You will never find that.  Ever.  That’s how stupid the Grammys are concerning hip hop.  They are so dumb, it makes me Hulk-Smash-angry thinking about it. 

It would seem that the Grammys track sales, and sales govern who wins these awards.  But before we buy that bridge, let’s consider when hip-hop’s capitalistic success explodes across music genre boundaries;  in 2001, despite 1.7 million in it’s first week sales, The Marshall Mathers LP lost Album of the Year to Steely Dan (WTF?).  Similarly, Tha Carter III lost out to a record from bluegrass singer Allisson Krauss and Robert Plant.  So the sales myth is busted; it seems like it’s a sales award for hip-hop when it’s contained within itself, competing within itself.  But when hip-hop competes with all other music genres?  It becomes a matter of personal taste when it comes to the prestigious full-spectrum music awards the panel actually cares about.  So yeah, that’s definitely a factor.

 One profound argument I see within the blogosphere, is that he got the four Grammys sweep because he’s white.  That’s a tough one to play Devil’s Advocate for; it’s highly documented and well studied that there’s a huge preference for people that are visually aesthetically white, and audibly aesthetically black.  In addition, much like how white defaultness works in Hollywood, the world of rap music, due to Afro-Americans being the ones that engineered it, is governed by the sociological trait of black defaultness.  That means everything concerning race works in reverse; black is the norm, white is the special, therefore he stands out more.  Even Macklemore himself pointed out that he benefits from being a white rapper.  So, is his skin the reason? It will have effect, but I doubt that’s the main reason why he won.

I think, based on my assessment of how society is moving, He got the award for more political reasons.  Macklemore got the Grammys because of his pro-gay song.  Yes, on top of having great production and a good voice, I assess that he got the awards due to his pro-gay song.  Let’s look back at a 2009 Beauty Pageant contestant that lost the pageant due to not coming correct in what was a personal opinion of gay marriage.  So, if a person can lose a contest with an answer that doesn’t supports the LGBT community, a person can certainly win one in support.  His song, Same Love, does two things for the Grammys: (1) It showed the diversity of hip-hop music and what it’s capable of, and; (2) serves a specific political agenda.

The Grammys, who are absurdly tone deaf on hip-hop, probably have no idea that political rap does exist, and has existed long before Macklemore. Dead Prez.  The Roots.  Pharaohe Monche.  Onyx.  De La Soul.  Mos Def.  Talib Kweli.  Lupe Fiasco.  Even as I hate to admit, Kanye West even has portion of political rap.  While I do not suggest that rappers get into doing nothing but cutting pro-gay songs (he beat you to it, stupid) we DO need our rappers to get back into the sociopolitical rap music.  We DO need to stop letting record label A&Rs dictate what and how a rapper sounds like, making them all sound alike.  If anything, Macklemore’s success in the Grammys should open up a new era, of our rappers discovering old way, and actually say something sociopolitically relevant in their albums. It doesn’t have to be the single. It doesn’t have to be track 3. But it needs to be there; the people are definitely hungry for our rappers to say something intelligent again. And that’s the Bigger Picture.

Photo Credit: Saaste

 

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  • Drag

    You know I’m somewhat conflicted on this myself.

    I do agree that we could use more social-political rap. But at the same time I feel that a lot of old school rap fans unfairly pressure the rap game to be all political all the time. Especially since no other genre of music faces those pressures.

    And I would argue that the social political aspect of hip-hop never left. I mean Lupe Fiasco and Kayne are still going strong and most of those older acts you mentioned are still touring too. And I would say Kendrick’s GKMC has a lot of social and political criticisms, they just aren’t spelled out for the listener so its a lot harder to digest.

    Really, I feel the major problem isn’t so much that the social/political aspects of rap left. Its that that isn’t the stuff getting played on the radio. That is where Macklemore won, because he managed to his commentary out to a bigger audience.

    And I feel a good reason for that(outside of his whiteness) was because most of his more political raps were extremely poppy and catchy. Made for the radio.

    And really, I’m not sure if that’s a turn that artists should take. The last thing I want is for rap to soften up so its more palatable. That said, I do agree that more artists need to try and take more control over their image and the product that they allow their labels to put out.

    That was another way Macklemore “won”. By being fully independent, he is in full control of what he peddles to the masses.

  • StarS

    While I agree that socio-political context is important, the basis of winning an award shouldn’t be because it gives a cursory nod to the LGBT community. The LGBT community has long held a stronghold in the Arts community with their own talent that has contributed extensively to the arts and any art contribution that wins awards shouldn’t be inclusive to a certain community. That aside, I believe that any genre of music should be awarded for innovativeness and raw, sheer talent. Something that breaks out of the norm. I don’t dislike Macklemore, some of his songs are funny but he’s no Tupac. I don’t think that he should have won and I do think that his skin color had a lot to do with him winning awards. Nor, do I think that he is the only one. Lorde, who is very talented, is well recognized but how many have heard of Twigs, who is actually even more talented and puts Lorde to shame. One can’t help but wonder.

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