Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are two of the most exciting things to happen to rap for a while. Seattle-based Macklemore, a.k.a Ben Haggerty, a self-proclaimed white dude with a big cock that I would very much like to see, is one of the only rappers in the game who can spit like the best of them, but who uses his rhymes to do some cultural critique about things you would think have no place in rap music: homosexuality, the evils of consumer culture, and how ridiculous white people can be. It’s nice to see Macklemore bring rap back to its political roots, though he’s not the only one doing this.
The best part about Macklemore’s music is that it is music, not just an assortment of sounds and utterances that have been tested and proven to sell records.
“Can’t Hold Us (feat. Ray Dalton)” from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ debut studio record The Heist is music in capital letters, and it is everything. I’ve always been drawn to electronic beats, especially when they crop back into rap songs the way they used to back in the day. And actually, the first thing I listen to when I hear a new song is all the stuff happening under and around the words — the beats, the synths, the percussion. And that’s where “Can’t Hold Us” really pulls it off. It’s fast moving, like a train, and you feel like it’s taking you somewhere fabulous you’re really excited to get to. But by the time the song is over you’re like WAIT WHAT?!!? and you’re already pressing repeat because you’re eager to go back on the journey again.
In some way, Macklemore is an intellectual, hipster rapper. When No Fun Christy Wampole, a stodgy Princeton professor who has perhaps never set foot in Terminal 5 or, you know, wherever, published a takedown of hipster culture in The New York Times, the brilliant Ann Powers of NPR wrote a takedown of her take down, arguing that hipster culture wasn’t just about irony for the sake of it. Using Macklemore as a primary example, Powers tells us that hipster culture, for all its insistence on irony, nostalgia, and silliness, is a symptom of our current cultural moment and the difficulties of being a twentysomething in the age of the Internet. This is why Macklemore is so good: some might think he’s a hipster rapper, but he’s smart, talented, largely self-produced, and has found a place for himself according to his own terms.