Is Macklemore A Sell-Out?

May 6, 2013 -


This particular topic is one that I've heard quite a few people talking about over the past few months. With the exception of Kendrick Lamar, Macklemore has been the hottest thing in hip-hop since he and his DJ/producer Ryan Lewis released their debut album as a pair, The Heist. What's especially surprising is the fact he actually makes good music. If you told me this would be the case just 1 year ago, I would have thought you were smoking some of those funny cigarrettes. Yet here we are, almost half-way through 2013 and he's getting the same amount of radio spins as the likes of Drake, Lil Wayne, and Nicki Minaj. But does this mean he's a sell-out?

A lot of people think Macklemore is new to the hip-hop scene. These same people are mistaken. He dropped his first EP as Professor Macklemore 13 years ago and slowly started making a name for himself in Seattle's underground hip-hop scene until he released his first full-length LP in 2005 called The Language of My World. He soon gathered a very loyal following among the Seattle faithful and was considered, along with the Blue Scholars, as the king of Seattle hip-hop. This shouldn't be ignored because, in my opinion, Seattle has the best underground hip-hop scene today. So if you think Macklemore hasn't paid dues, think again.


Now I'll be the first to admit that The Heist does sound different from Macklemore's earlier work. His older tracks have that grittier "underground" sound while The Heist has a sound that's definitely more conducive to today's mainstream hip-hop listeners. Does this mean that he sold out?  The hipster in me wishes that Macklemore's old stuff topped the charts. However as a fan of Macklemore, and even more importantly, as a fan of hip-hop, I couldn't be happier. As far as hip-hop is concerned, I define selling out as diluting and dumbing-down your music, both sonically and lyrically, in order to sell more records and/or conform to the latest fads. On the surface, "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us," his two most successful singles seem like typical mainstream hip-hop, but are they really? I can't remember the last time I heard a rapper brag out the fact that he shops at Goodwill. And when's the last time you heard the sax used so well in a beat? (If you say "Mr. Saxobeat," I'll slap you.) "Can't Hold Us" is definitely a party song, but it has some pretty good lyricism, including some allusions to old-school hip-hoppers like Mark Morrison and A Tribe Called Quest. The rest of The Heist doesn't necessarily conform to what is considered mainstream, either. If talking about gay marriage, drug relapse, and dissing one of the most influential record executives in hip-hop is mainstream, then maybe The Heist is.

The bottom line is that hardcore underground hip-hop fans need to chill out. I understand that when you've been following and artist for so long and then they become big, they kinda lose a certain uniqueness about them in your eyes. At the same time, it's important to remember that finding mainstream success doesn't necessarily mean selling out. I'll admit that Macklemore is walking a very fine line, but he's walking it nonetheless and is doing it well. It's such a trip when I hear "Can't Hold Us" in commercials and when my friends talk about how they heard "Thrift Shop" on the radio. I was at a Laker game last month and when I heard "Thrift Shop" over the PA system, I couldn't help but smile. Now I'm not saying that Macklemore should get a free pass just because he was an underground darling. If he does sell out, everyone should call him out on it. But until then, let's just be happy for the guy.


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