Macklemore Said He Wouldn’t Be As Successful If He Were Black

Macklemore said some interesting things in a recent Rolling Stone interview and I happen to think they are great. I am also very curious to know what y’all think.

“If you’re going to be a white dude and do this shit, I think you have to take some level of accountability. You have to acknowledge where the art came from, where it is today, how you’re benefiting from it. At the very least, just bringing up those points and acknowledging that, yes, I understand my privilege, I understand how it works for me in society, and how it works for me in 2013 with the success that The Heist has had.”

What Macklemore is talking about is something that I talk a lot about on here: whether cultural appropriation is helpful or hurtful to some groups of people and how light skinned privilege allows some to wear garments or participate in a culture that is typically marginalized and have success, while the people of that culture remain marginalized or unacknowledged. Macklemore is a white rapper. Hip hop was an art form created by people of color in The Bronx in the ’70s and ’80s so it will always be associated with people of color, as it should, they invented it.

When Vanilla Ice, The Beastie Boys and Eminem got mainstream success people started to wonder, is it because they are white? Is it because it’s easier to listen to this music form when a white person does it because it is more comfortable, more close to home, less “intimidating”? I think the answer is that, this is probably true for some people but certainly not all, certainly not most. After all the majority of famous rappers are still black.

Not to mention that all of the white rappers who have become famous are actually very talented and embraced by people of all colors. Even Vanilla Ice at the time, was talented. Vanilla was a good ass dancer, y’all: respect! However, I think it’s great that Macklemore is acknowledging that he is a part of an essentially black legacy and that it does matter that he is white because unfortunately, those things are still relevant today. I am not going to hit you over the head with the Trayvon Martin case or incarceration statistics, but race does matter, even if you and your friends are all kinds of pluralistic, some folks are just not.

Macklemore continues, “We made a great album but I do think we have benefited from being white and the media grabbing on to something. A song like ‘Thrift Shop’ was safe enough for the kids. It was like, ‘This is music that my mom likes and that I can like as a teenager,’ and even though I’m cussing my ass off in the song, the fact that I’m a white guy, parents feel safe. They let their six-year-olds listen to it. I mean it’s just…it’s different. And would that success have been the same if I would have been a black dude? I think the answer is no.”

Essentially he’s saying that because of rifts in our cultures some people are just going to believe Macklemore’s music is inherently safer because he is white, even though the musical content of other rappers is probably not too far off. I think it’s great that he is acknowledging that there are still racial hangups in the world and that because he happened to be born with his skin color he will benefit from those hangups while others will suffer because of it.

I also don’t want to diminish Macklemore’s success to mere race, when he obviously engages with topics that other rappers typically don’t sing about like same-sex marriage and the benefits of shopping at a thrift store. Good on you, Macklemore.

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  1. joshriggins says:

    Re-blogging! Great post and worth a conversation.

    I think Macklemore and other white rappers get some benefit of being "novelty". Obviously that's not enough; there are plenty of white (and other racial profiles) rappers getting absolutely no public exposure despite their novelty. So you have to be good at the craft, smart about marketing it, and have the "it" factor if you're going to blow up like Macklemore did.

    And it works in the reverse: there are plenty of black country artists that get no play, despite their novelty. But when Darius Rucker came out with a country album, he did pretty well. Is it because he's good? Or is it because he brought his name with him from Hootie & The Blowfish? If he were a white rock'n'roll artist crossing over to country, would anyone have blinked? Was he given a chance that most black country artists are not given? He's certainly seen as "safe" by the vast majority of country music consumers.

    A lot to think about. Consider that Robin Thicke has been a huge artist in the R&B and Hip-Hop world (look at his collaborations: Mary J, Jay-Z, Kanye, Lil' Wayne, etc) but it wasn't until he released a silly-ish song with naked models and a couple crossover stars added in as guests that he had a Billboard #1 hit. He's like 5 albums deep into his career, and he has better songs than many artists who sell far better than he has.

    Thanks again for the post!


  2. marcus moris moss says:

    i think the success of an artist depends on his/her material…period! Make catchy songs, make entertaining movies, the public will buy the product.
    Race, marital status, sexual orientation, criminal record, etc…. Publicists use these lame excuses when artists put out half-baked songs or movies.

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