Police brutality and the ongoing Black Lives Matter movement has not been absent from hip-hop and rightly so. Big K.R.I.T, Common, Kendrick Lamar and The Game are all artists who have either released songs or spoke about on the ongoing issues effecting African American communities. But last week everybody (ie White media) zeroed in on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis ‘White Privilage II’. The song was released to mixed reviews and rather than judge whether it’s good or bad I’d like to look at what Macklemore is trying to say with it.
Most of the track takes place inside Macklemore's own head as he struggles with his and White American’s place in the black lives movement. The song begins with the lines:
These lines place the listener inside the mind of white people who don’t know their place in the movement. They see the violence and don’t want to be apart of the problem but don’t exactly know how to become the solution. This is a nod to the main theme of the song which is silence being an action itself, but more on that later. After the hook an interlude plays where Macklemore is again in his own head. Multiple voices are coming at him criticizing and second guessing his (a white mans) place at a Black Lives Matter protest. The song is clearly intended for a white audience and immediately sympathizes with listeners who have felt that they have been on the outside looking in on the movement.
The second verse (still in Mac’s head) has the artist calling out other white artists who have been accused, like him, of appropriating black culture to make money:
Cultural appropriation is rampant but the unapologetic theft of African American music is one area that has been extremely well documented. Jazz, Rock and most recently hip hop has all been stolen and repurposed by some white artist without a creative bone in their body. Macklemore is earnest as fuck on this song and doesn’t want to be remembered as one of those artists. So he tweets ‘RIP Mike Brown’ and goes to protests but he’ll continue to be second guessed as merely co-opting the movement to sell records. He echoes ‘whats the intention?’ several times before a second interlude of protesters yelling ‘ Hands up! Don’t shoot’.
Next verse finds Macklemore turns the self doubt dial all the way to 11 and the song is starting to seem like it's more about his own insecurities than social privilege. He wades into his own success years after middle America discovered him as the ‘safe’ rapper for their kids. No guns and hoe’s here just curse free positivity:
This verse and the interlude that follows is the most powerful part of the song. Here Macklemore address privilege head on and plays the voices of people who think that police violence and racism don’t play a big role in American society today. As the annotation for this verse on Genius states “This is a common occurrence when talking about “White Privilege.” Some believe that we live in a post racial society. The people who are offended by the term become defensive because they don’t fully understand what it is people mean by White Privilege.”
In the final verse Macklemore unpacks his feelings for privilege and states why he has decided to no longer remain silent. He says:
One of the most important acts White America can do to better the lives of African Americans is to talk about the problems facing that community. It is only with acknowledgement
of the problem that any progress will be able to be made. With this song Macklemore is attempting to start that conversation in many of the middle America homes he has been able to infiltrate using Black culture.