A catchy beat can get you far in music, and the lyrics do not even have to make sense, but not every rapper chose that path to make their way to the top. You might have noticed that for some singers, the message is often the most beautiful part of the song: that is the case of Macklemore and his album The Heist.
Before the release of his next album, announced for this summer, I wanted to go back on his previous success, and particularly by focusing on an important part of this album, which helped him reach the top of the charts: the meaningful lyrics.
Released in 2012, The Heist is the final result of three years of work by the hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Independently released, it still reached the number one sale on ITunes within hours of the release without any promotion or support. Reaching the top of the charts was the first step, but its climb did not stop there; it was then followed by a Grammy Award for Best Rap Album.
All the work they both put into this album is even the subject of the first song of the album Ten Thousand Hours. The name of the song comes from a theory by Malcom Gladwell, in his book Outliers: the story to success. In this book, Gladwell explains that the key to high level success in any field, whoever you are, is to practice the task to achieve for a total of around 10 000 hours.
If we could use only one line of that song to explain it all it would be “The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint, the greats were great because they paint a lot”
Macklemore applied this rule to his career, to the time they prepared each song, each lyric, each beat, to the time they spend in the recording studio… By that, I mean that he explained how much he worked for his music, how much he put into it and what he would do to succeed.
However, the message he is trying to pass is that he is no exception, it is the same rule for everyone: if you want something, you have to go and get it, you have to work for it and not just wait around for it to come. The metaphor of the concert to explain this idea in the last verse is particularly clever and powerful, because it reaches all his fan that are in this same situation when he is on stage in front of them.
The album continues with another song with the same perspective: the single Can’t Hold Us. Even if this song is more catchy than meaningful, it is not completely deprived of sense. This song is a tribute to show that it does not take a major record labels to make it to the top, as well as showing that no one can stop him from achieving his dreams
It can also even sound like a kind of revenge against all the people that did not believe in them because they were not signed in a major label, like a way to show them they were wrong.
The third song of this album focuses on another issue that he believes in: consumerism with the song Thrift Shop. Whereas number of rappers and singers do not hesitate a second to show off their money, both in the lyrics and the videos, Macklemore goes in the complete direction by choosing to mock them.
This triple platinum single uses a funky beat to deliver its message: you do not need to spend millions on clothing, just to appear cool or to define yourself. The rapper even goes so far as mocking expensive brands and people trapped into thinking that they will find their identity in a $50 shirt.
Instead he prefers to show how much cooler he can be with the clothes he just found in the nearest thrift shop, and that at least he is unique, compared to brand clothes that everyone owns. He is proud of these clothes, and he is even going to get compliments out of it.
On the same topic, the duo released the song Wing$ which is a story-based song, in which we follow the evolution of what the shoes mean to Macklemore starting when he was a seven year old kid.
Macklemore himself explained in his blog “The song Wings is about the pursuit of identity through the means of consumerism. The subject I use in the song is shoes, but its aim is to paint a broader picture f being a consumer and tracing the lineage back to my first memory of retail infused desire.”
We can follow his thought and opinion during the whole song: from a seven-year-old Macklemore who believe that buying Air Jordan is going to make him fly and make him become the coolest kid in school, to the man who now understand that he bought dreams more than he bought the shoes. He was “stuck” in the box and he thought his clothes were going to define him, until the last line, when he says, “it’s just another pair of shoes”.
The way that we can go along with him through his thoughts is very powerful because we all remember one thing that we absolutely wanted as a kid, or even as an adult, just because we thought it will make us cooler. The power of the song is that each of us can identify to it and relate to his story.
The last song I want to talk about in this article is Same Love, firstly because it is a great song, in my opinion, but also because the message behind it is really strong. It is not the first hip-hop song to defend gay rights, but it remains rare, but Macklemore was brave enough to try and make homosexuality more understandable for general audiences.
Macklemore tackles most issues and beliefs concerning homosexuality, and try to explain it and re-establish the truth: firstly with the fact that no sexual orientation is based on a choice, and no cure or religious treatment is ever going to change homosexuality.
The second point challenged is the number of existing stereotypes concerning gays: they are not actually based on facts, but only come from pre-conceived ideas. He also compares hatred against gay to other kinds of hatred that have been tackled since a longer period: religion and skin colour. These hates are different, but they all have one thing in common, they are based on fear of the unknown more than real hate (“America the brave still fears what we don’t know”).
The last thing he challenges is the influence of the Bible on what people think: around the world many people quote the Bible to explain their homophobia, but Macklemore wished to remind everyone, that if people want to quote the Bible, they have to quote it right, and not just use the convenient part “And ‘God loves all his children’ is somehow forgotten but we paraphrase a book written thirty five hundred years ago”.