CULTURE WATCH: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis: A Different Kind of Hip Hop

By Brandon Hook 11-20-2012

It’s not unusual to hear someone rapping about clothes — and how expensive theirs are — on the radio these days. Consider Jay Z and Kanye West’s collaboration “Otis,” where Jay Z belts, “Photo-shoot fresh, looking like wealth / I'm 'bout to call the paparazzi on myself.”

And if you don’t hear about their diamond studded jewelry and designer clothes, some rappers aren’t shy about showing them off in music videos.

But Seattle-based hip hop group Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, who recently hit number one on the iTunes album charts and stopped by D.C.’s 9:30 club on Nov. 13, chose a different approach to the whole clothing concept and, for the most part, hip hop in general.

Their music video “Thrift Shop” (BEWARE: LANGUAGE) has been trending on YouTube for the past few months, garnering more than 16 million views, and glorifies the eccentric clothing bargains at thrift shops. Macklemore, it seems, would pick Good Will over Gucci any day.

But when he isn’t rapping about wearing your grandad’s clothes and crowd surfing, Macklemore opens up in his songs, busting rhymes about personal struggles, like his bouts with alcoholism and drug addiction. He told the D.C. crowd that in order to be successful, he needed to stay sober. It’s the only way he could write good content. 

And the content is definitely good both musically and morally, for lack of a better word. His more serious songs detailing his struggles, like “Otherside,” had the crowd chanting “It won’t be us!” It was powerful to hear a packed club shouting and declaring, whether they knew it or not, that they wouldn’t let drugs and alcohol consume and ruin their lives.

However, Macklemore is perhaps more famous for his insistence on equality for all humankind, specifically when it comes to marriage. He appeared on The Ellen Degeneres Show last month to perform his song “Same Love,” a currently trending song supporting marriage equality for heterosexual and homosexual couples.

Macklemore wanted to make Seattle, which is known for its dance and indie music scene, a hip hop city as well. And with their hugely successful new album The Heist — an independent release, mind you — immensely enthusiastic and emotionally driven performances, substantive content, and viral videos,  they may have done just that. 

Brandon Hook is the Online Assistant at Sojourners.


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