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CALL ME "RUKUS"
I hate Macklemore, I hate Kanye West, I hate Alica Keys and I hate you too.
Let me explain.
I remember watching a boy burn to death in Nigeria*. A tire had been thrown over his head, followed by another, the last of which corralled him and sent him stumbling onto the dirt road. Quick thinking voyeurs, sprung to action and rushed to the place where the boy was screaming and began to douse him with liters of diesel. A match was struck and dropped and pretty soon the boy was writhing along the dirt as the flame erupted.
“That should teach him to steal from the market!” one man screamed.
No one blinked as the body burned.
Of course, when you watch video of this kind of monstrocity, aptly dubbed as “jungle justice” you just feel disgusted. How could human beings burn a teenage boy…just for stealing? But Africans will quickly tell you that once you have lived in an African nation, breathed the air of corruption, greed, and consistent theft from the less fortunate…and once you have realized that there is a sense of lawlessness and a lack of protection for your fundamental human rights…well…when someone steals from you, its your chance to take it out on him and set an example. At some point its time to make up for the politicians, police, and greedy business men that steal but never get punished…right?
Welcome to hip-hop in 2014 - Jungle justice. We want to burn Macklemore – we think its because he “stole” hip-hop, a traditionally Black artform…he made it white-face; or that he stole the Grammy’s from Kendrick Lamar. But we are really mad at the people we can’t see. The corporations that have commoditized gritty Black music and repackaged it as pristine white bubble gum. Even if Macklemore did nothing more than steal a little bit of his idol’s (Talib Kweli) swagger, he MUST burn.
If you’re Black, you probably hate Macklemore. Some of you may not even be able to articulate why. Some say his music is wack (numbers indicate otherwise, as does a look in any club where “Thrift Shop” plays). Others have claimed he doesn’t even make rap or hip-hop music (yet, few protest the ever-singing Drake as a rapper); they say he’s pop. Others say Kendrick Lamar made a significantly better “rap” album (is Kendrick rapping and Macklemore isn’t?). Some are tired of him being forced down our throats (Ok, you win). Some just say he’s a fraud, phony, and fake (even though his stories of addiction, and regular-guy status has been verified). How could someone as good as Kendrick Lamar, as talented and naturally gifted, be denied his due credit? This whole Grammy system needs to be overhauled, uprooted and destroyed because the systemic racism and prejudice is so obvious, right?
If you agree, are you any different from Kanye West? I watched for a week or two as media outlets and social media rained abuses down on Kanye for voicing that he was talented and naturally gifted, but that he was being denied his due credit and opportunities because of the color of his skin, and that those same opportunities were being given to his counterparts who were white. People within the hiphop community told him to shutup and start his own “everything” (clothing line, production factories, fashion house, etc). “Why do you need their validation Kanye?” …and yet here we are, with the same principals at play bemoaning a Grammy system that was never architected to highlight marginalized artforms, then promptly tuning out of the BET hiphop awards when we see iced-out artists with jeans sagging and “Free Lil Boosie” t-shirts accepting awards for classic songs like “Versace Versace” (read: sarcasm). How are YOU different from Mr. West?
Whether Macklemore’s album was “good” is certainly subjective, but hip-hop purists will relate his flow, breadth of subject matter, and general style to Talib Kweli. Talib Kweli himself was a marginalized artist, until he was mentioned by Jay-Z on The Black Album’s “Moment of Clarity” with the line, “If skills sold truth be told, I’d probably be, lyrically, Talib Kweli”. The influence of that co-sign by Jay-Z garnered Talib Kweli popularity and attention and helped propel him from an underground rap fixture, onto his next two albums receiving Billboard number 1 status. Many rejoiced that Kweli brought fresh subject matter to rap, lyrics that were positive, and avoided the misogyny, excessive foul language, homophobic slurs, and money-lust of most rappers. Yet here we are with Macklemore simply following in the footsteps of his mentor….but we hear comments like “he’s soft”, “he’s not real”, “the music isn’t good”, etc. When Eminem came out, yes he was talented, but the truth we deny is that he was accepted by hiphop because Dr. Dre (street credibility) co-signed him, and a major marketing machine (Interscope Records & co) pumped his alleged “blackness” into our TVs and radios. At the same time that market machine stifled the small outcry that arose when audio of Eminem calling a black woman a “ni**er* emerged. Oh how we forget. Half of you are wearing Beats by Dre headphones and there was nothing wrong with your old Sony, JVCs, or Skullcandies - you’ve been had!
The truth is, we hate when our hero doesn’t win. Black women hated that India Arie who had arguably as good or better an album than Alicia Keys in 2002 did not win a single one of her 7 Grammy nominations, while Alicia brought home 5. The argument then was that Alicia won because she was light skinned. No one looked at the broader picture to see that Alicia Keys was making “broader” songs about love (“Fallen”, “A Woman’s Worth”, “How Come You Don’t Call Me”) while the subject matter of India Arie’s music was unmistakably Black love and confidence in herself as a Black woman (think “Video”, ‘Brown Skin”) – songs that can sometimes narrow relatability down to a more niche crowd. Neither is necessarily better or more talented than the other. But when Black faces are not the majority of the judging panel’s faces, and invariably a certain level of popularity and notoriety influences some of these decisions, when in doubt the judges (who may not be resident genre experts) will choose what they know or have heard about. Its human nature.
So what can you do to stop me from hating you (and really change this whole messed up situation)?
1.) If you want to “own” a genre of music, buy it. Its not Black music, if Black people don’t buy it. Consuming it makes for great talk, but buying it starts to affect who’s faces get more time on TV, who gets endorsements, and can play a role in who becomes the “shoe in” or “only logical choice” for certain awards. There’s a reason Jay-Z has Grammy’s and Nas…well…not so much.
2.) If you still don’t feel step 1 changes anything, don’t watch the Grammy’s. Boycott it and get all the people that feel the way you do to as well. Get your favorite artists to refuse to perform at it (and they would refuse if you, their always-purchasing-customer, stopped buying their albums if they agreed to perform…ha). Don’t expect validation from an award show that intrinsically is designed to show more preference to “popular” artists.
3.) Support award shows that you feel have a better handle on what your music/music culture represents. They may take awhile to get off the ground, but in 40 or 50 years you could have a Grammy-like program going…look at the evolution of BET’s award show.
4.) Stop throwing the race card. It’s too easy sometimes. Race is a component in so much of our daily lives and interactions, but its not the end all and be all of everything. Don’t hate something because its from someone of a particular race – judge it on its own merits and hate the system that put it in front of you, but don’t be as bigoted as the people you criticize.
The truth is I like Macklemore, love Kanye’s spirit, and I’m really not a big Alicia Keys fan…and how could I hate anyone that finished reading this long as hell rant.
* I didn’t witness someone get burned literally, but I started watching the video, got grossed out and had someone fill me in on the rest. Close enough.@6 months ago