Sunday night, local do-gooder/rapper/producer duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis capped a historic, chart-topping, platinum run by taking home four Grammy Awards. And then it got complicated.
The wins came in the categories Best New Artist, Best Rap Performance for “Thrift Shop”, Best Rap Song for “Thrift Shop” again, and perhaps most notably Best Rap Album for “The Heist,” beating out Compton people’s champ Kendrick Lamar’s extraordinary, nearly-perfect second album “Good Kid, m.A.A.d. City” – a decision that nearly blew up the Internet, bringing Mack’s legion of haters out in full force.
But then Mack himself took to his Instagram account to let the world know that he didn’t deserve that particular award.
The caption read,“My text to Kendrick after the show. He deserved best rap album… I’m honored and completely blown away to win anything much less 4 Grammys. But in that category, he should have won IMO. And that’s taking nothing away from The Heist. Just giving GKMC it’s proper respect. With that being said, thank you to the fans. You’re the reason we were on that stage tonight. And to play Same Love on that platform was a career highlight. The greatest honor of all. That’s what this is about. Progress and art. Thank you. #grammys”
The screenshot showed an iPhone screen with a blue text cloud to “Kendrick Real” (how many fake Kendricks did he get before this one?) containing these words:
“You got robbed. I wanted you to win. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you. I was gonna say that during the speech. Then the music started playing during my speech and I froze. Anyway, you know what it is. Congrats on this year and your music. Appreciate you as an artist and as a friend. Much Love.”
The words that stand out most? “Anyway, you know what it is.”
“It” is the textbook white privilege being flexed in everything that goes on during the industry/major-label’s annual self-congratulatory celebration, where two white guys from Seattle beat out a black dude from Compton for best rap album despite the latter’s being better in every imaginable way. It’s the same “White Privilege” Macklemore discussed at length in the second track on his 2005 “debut” “The Language of My World,” the same one that allows 17-year-old New Zealander Lorde to win the “Song of the Year” award with a song disparaging gold teeth, Cadillacs, Cristal, Maybachs, and “diamonds on your timepiece.”
The tweets and thinkpieces have been flying nonstop for almost the past 72 hours:
Detroit-born, NY-residing author/cultural critic/filmmaker dream hampton tweeted:
If @macklemore had gone onstage & said: I’m receiving this award because of white privilege, & I refuse it. Kendrick, pls come take this…
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) January 28, 2014
…he would have been a hip hop legend.
— dream hampton (@dreamhampton) January 28, 2014
Spin.com questioned Macklemore’s motives in his text Instagram, calling the action “a microcosm of what irks people about Macklemore in the first place: He can’t do something good without using it to call attention back to himself.”
Writer Ayesha A. Siddiqi was also critical:
“sucks I robbed you” Macklemore is apparently powerless to refuse the prizes of white privilege but powerful enough to end homophobia
— Ayesha A. Siddiqi (@pushinghoops) January 27, 2014
The Seattle Times’ Paul de Barros pointed out that there is a historical precedent for both the uproar and the apology, writing, “Even in our more enlightened, post-Motown era, when black musicians from Smokey Robinson to West also can and do make millions, the paradigm persists. Black innovation; white imitation; white wealth; black anger; white guilt.”
In a New York Times article Jon Caramanica wrote, “In interviews, Macklemore speaks readily about his position of privilege and the role it has played in catapulting him to fame. But incidents like the text to Mr. Lamar reinforce the narrative of Macklemore as tortured intruder, keen to relish his success but stressed about all the shoulders he’s had to step on along the way. It’s a transparent ploy for absolution, and a warning of robberies to come.”
On Flavorwire, in a piece entitled “The Problem with Macklemore’s Self-Deprecating Nice Guy of Hip-Hop Persona,” Tom Hawking wrote, “If Macklemore really feels that Kendrick Lamar should have won the award, then Macklemore should go ahead and give it to him, not just post a message to his Instagram to show what a Nice Guy he is. If he really feels like he’s drowning out black voices, then he should stop talking. (But he won’t.) If not, he’s ultimately being disingenuous — and it’s hard to believe someone so self-aware isn’t aware of that.”
Some online outlets resorted to somewhat petty mud-slinging, with Slate.com running an article titled “Don’t hate Macklemore because he’s white. Hate him because his music is terrible.”
Plenty of thinkpieces have emerged that at least address the deeper issues with the Grammy Awards. Huffington Post ran an article titled “Don’t Blame Macklemore For Best Rap Album, Blame The Recording Academy,” that points out Grammy voters’ lack of expertise when it comes to categories like rap.
“In general, the Grammy system is very flawed, with voters having a say in categories that they have no understanding of or experience in,” writer Ryan Kristobak points out. “Best Rap Album wasn’t added until 1996, and since its inception, voters have just checked off on whatever is the most mainstream, highest-selling record that year.”
Salon.com’s Brittany Cooper dug even deeper in her piece “Macklemore’s useless apology: Grammys and the myth of meritocracy,” referencing the artist’s Award Show performance of “Same Love.”
“The Grammy’s force-fed us a lie of American progress in the form of a diverse marriage ceremony,” she argues. “We know America is no more post-race than it is post-hetero, but each of these lies fuels the other.”
For his part, Lamar was gracious, saying in an interview with XXL ““It’s well deserved; he did what he did, man. He went out there and hustled and grinded. Everything happens for a reason; the universe comes back around, that’s how it go.”
Someone going by the Twitter handle Advice To pointed out:
I hate to say it, but winning all those Grammies might be the worst thing to have happened to @macklemore ‘s career.
— Advice TO (@Advice416) January 30, 2014
But perhaps the best, most concise comment about this entire situation came from a local rapper who Macklemore came up following in the footsteps of: Prometheus Brown, a.k.a. Geo of Blue Scholars, a group that Macklemore has performed opening sets for countless times:
All that energy spent deconstructing the master narrative could be used constructing the future narrative you know that right
— Prometheus Brown (@prometheusbrown) January 27, 2014