Macklemore, the 9/11 truther with a penchant for thrift shops and anti-Semitic getups, released his nine-minute opus “White Privilege II” yesterday. The song, a sequel to his 2005 original, sees the Seattle rapper rhyme about cultural appropriation, Black Lives Matter, and suburban rap biases, and elicited both praise and groans from fans online. It’s not hard to see why “White Privilege II” is so polarizing—this is Macklemore we’re talking about—but some listeners are overeager to applaud a track that more or less just centers white angst.
It’s certainly long and fairly ambitious, but whereas the ’05 edition questioned white peoples’ place as consumers and creators of hip-hop, this song attempts to reconcile the current political climate with Macklemore’s own status as a pop star. Unfortunately, a song such as this does more to give voice to the white guy rapping than the actual double standards that make many of his white fans turn a deaf ear to Black Lives Matter.
Sure, there’s something to be said for Macklemore’s awkward earnestness. Does he try too hard? Always. Part of what makes it easy to dismiss Macklemore is the way he presents his stabs at topicality—the lack of subtlety and nuance makes it seem like an after school special. And his hamfistedness often comes across as disingenuous and opportunistic—like when he sent a text apologizing to Kendrick Lamar for winning the Rap Album of the Year Grammy in 2014 and then shared the exchange via Instagram. Whether it’s bringing out hip-hop legends at the VMAs or writing a song about racism, he often seems like a panderer which neuters a lot of what he attempts to convey here.
Now I don’t know the inner workings of Macklemore’s brain, and I won’t make assumptions about his intentions. But “White Privilege II” seems more predicated on him voicing his frustration with being a misunderstood white guy in a black medium than it is any real political statement. That’s not inherently bad, but it muddies things when the song is presented as something grander. His desire to vent should be married to some idea of how to best elevate the issue itself. To his credit, Macklemore does seem to want to be a “part of the solution.” He just doesn’t seem to have a clue what that means.
“You’ve exploited and stolen the music, the moment, the magic, the passion, the fashion you toy with. The culture was never yours to make better. You’re Miley. You’re Elvis. You’re Iggy Azalea.”
Iggy Azalea wasn’t too fond of Mack’s lyrical reference. The Aussie rapper—who’s become the poster girl for cultural appropriation—responded to “White Privilege II” with a rather pointed tweet after a fan asked if she’d heard the song.
“He shouldnt have spent the last 3 yrs having friendly convos and taking pictures together at events etc if those were his feelings,” she tweeted.
Azalea’s response is an example of how white defensiveness is the biggest impediment to understanding and dismantling white supremacy: Iggy focused on a personal attack as opposed to addressing the larger issue being discussed. But this is what she’s consistently done whenever her problematic rise to fame is scrutinized. Talib Kweli fired back at Iggy after her reaction to the track.
“The fact @iggyazalea thinks Macklemore song was a diss to her, instead of actually listening, is proof of her privilege,” Kweli tweeted. “Fuck Iggy Azalea.”
“True story. I actually rooted for Iggy when she first came out. But she's disrespected hip hop culture one too many times.”
Iggy is the more flippant side of the appropriation coin: an artist who would rather view her or himself as the victim of mean press than acknowledge that they are the beneficiary of cultural preferences. Even Elvis acknowledged the white privilege that led to him being labeled “the King of Rock and Roll.” In 1958, Presley talked to Jet about misconceptions surrounding rock and roll music. “A lot of people seem to think I started this business,” he said. “But rock ’n’ roll was here a long time before I came along. Nobody can sing that kind of music like colored people. Let’s face it: I can’t sing like Fats Domino can. I know that.”
This isn’t about beating up on Macklemore. “White Privilege II” was him sharing his perspective on what’s going on—which is what we want artists to do. The Mileys and Iggys would rather duck the issue entirely as they build their names off of cultural aesthetics they have no respect for and have never invested in. Whether or not you think this is a good song, everyone should be careful to not overpraise artists simply because they’ve attempted to “say something.” Even with the aforementioned apathy exhibited by so many white superstars, we should hold artists accountable even when their intentions are noble. We can’t afford to just give A’s for effort, even in times like these.
Especially in times like these.