“I’m gonna pop some tags, only got twenty dollars in my pockettt
I’m, I’m, I’m huntin, lookin for a come up
This is fucking awesommme”
If you don’t know those lyrics, go Google them and listen to the song. And watch the version with the official music video. Good? Damn right it is. Did you hear that sexy sax riff? The delicious baritone chorus? UNF. But we’re not talking Barry White here; this is a song about carousing thrift stores for cheap clothes. The premise is so crazy out-of-nowhere ridiculous that it makes you wonder how it could possibly be the first rap song to ever make the Billboard top 100 without any backing from a major record label. Is it really just that catchy? Yes. Oh yeah it is. But let me tell you why it deserves to be on that list.
I would love to harp on why the music video itself is so good, but I’m here to talk about the song, so let’s get into that. The first time I heard this bad boy, I was sitting in my mom’s Volvo, half an hour early to meet my family at a diner after their movie-going experience with Les Miserables. When this song came on, I was bored out of my mind and half-asleep, lulled by the lightless parking lot’s dark embrace. I gotta tell you, I perked up when that little opening thing with the “Wut wut? Wut? Wut?” and the guy yelling some indecipherable three word phrase kicked in. It sounded like some stupid gimmicky crap, and I went right for the radio dial. But that sax riff started just as I was about to change it, and I paused. Then the chorus came in talking about…what, buying beer for twenty bucks or some shit? “Hm…you know, it’s probably the usual fanfare about getting smashed on Saturday,” I thought to myself, “…But that sax riff’s pretty sweet. I’ll stick it out, see where it goes.”
Now, pretty much all I got out of the first listen was the ear worm chorus and that bit about wearing your granddad’s coat. Oh, and the style. I hardly knew any of the words, but there was just this flare to the music. It was saying something cool, even if I didn’t know what at the time. Let me try to explain what I mean, since I’ve familiarized myself with the lyrics a bit more by now. Look at the chorus: the final words are “this is fucking awesome.” Macklemore’s first line in the whole song is “Nah, walk into the club like, ‘What up, I got a big cock!’” That’s ridiculous. How could you pull anything meaningful out of a song like that?
The thing that makes this song so magical is how it presents itself. It takes itself seriously, if you can believe it. It’s written in such a way that it’s fun without being silly, real without being harsh. Even with all the humor it throws in, it isn’t really self-deprecating. All that clothing that not just Macklemore, but everyone in the song, is buying—yeah, it’s cheap, it’s outlandish and sometimes downright odd, but there’s more to it. It’s not about the clothes these people are wearing, it’s about the person wearing them. “I wear your granddad’s clothes. I look incredible.” It’s not because the style’s cool, it’s because the person wearing it rocks it. Macklemore spends half the music video running around in a (piss-scented) fur coat with an absurd collar/hood ordeal. And yet it looks fly as hell, because he’s a player. “What up, I got a big cock!” It takes balls to wear something like that. And that’s what this whole song’s saying: get courageous, be yourself. Don’t pay for the $50 Gucci shirt; that trash isn’t worth your money and it wasn’t worth the money of the other six guys in the club wearing the exact same shirt. “Tryin to get girls from a brand? Man, you hella won’t.” The video treats the issue humorously with an upbeat tone, but at the end of the day, it’s like, “But seriously-I’m bein’ real right now, even if it sounds all ‘Wut wut? Wut? Wut?’ – Do yourself a favor and be your own label.”
Macklemore might be heralded as the new Eminem, if only because he’s a (by now) popular white rapper. And it’s not an invalid comparison outside of that: they’re both artists. And I don’t use that to mean they produce music. I mean the take words and dab them on the ethereal canvases of air and sound. They don’t just use words, they make words speak.
“What are you talking about, Steel.” Alright, let me broaden the playing field a bit. Go listen to another song by Macklemore, “Same Love.” It’s on The Heist, the same album as “Thrift Shop”. No, I mean it, go. This article has so much less value to you if you don’t listen to these songs. As a matter of fact, your LIFE has less value for not hearing them. It will take less than ten minutes. Go.
…Holy shit! Was the guy who rapped about wearing a onesie just making a compelling argument for gay marriage equality? A straight, white male rapper made a song about gay marriage equality that (as of my writing this) has twenty million views and counting on Youtube? On at least some level, that is groundbreaking. To do something like that takes courage that only a guy who wears my grandpa’s hand-me-downs could pull off. As a gay guy myself, I found that the video really spoke to me, not because I’ve been oppressed or anything, but because of how beautiful the love expressed in the video is; the love story part of it, the interactions between only the two guys in love, could have just as easily been between a guy and a girl (or two girls). All this coming from a guy I’d normally expect, in his profession, to be homophobic at worst and unconcerned at best.
See, this is (a not entirely perfect proposal of) the difference between Eminem and Macklemore. Eminem’s got a passion all his own, but it’s angrier and more personal. He raps about his life, his struggle to get where he is, how he had to fight to get there. Macklemore instead takes an issue or experience that bothers him, then he looks outside himself and finds a message regarding it that needs to be spread. He pulls it in, absorbs it in his essence, and then bleeds it out in language. He bleeds truth. I don’t need to tell you that he’s a talented rapper in terms of the speed and complexity of the vocals he writes himself, but his real power comes from the words themselves and the way he says them. If you’re not convinced, listen to “Wing$,” also off of The Heist. Listen to the whole damn album.
You know what I love recently? And maybe these are just isolated incidents, but it seems to me like musical acts with…agendas, I guess, though I’d like a less political word for it…they’re getting played! Like, huge! I’m sure you either love or hate the band Fun. by now; you know, the guys who did “We Are Young,” “Some Nights” and “Carry On”? The ones who got played like every hour on the hour on every radio station for the past year? Yeah. If you’ve never taken any of the near-infinite opportunities you’ve been given by the media to do so, sit down and really listen to the lyrics of a song of theirs some time. They’re cool, man! But they’re not just cool, they speak to you in a way that’s more profound than a lot of lyrics you hear floating around in mainstream music. Their whole album Some Nights is actually supposed to depict, with each song, a different night, and how they can each be so similar yet so different. They take a look at a bigger picture; not quite the one Macklemore sees, but one all their own. That’s awesome! And people really like it! Yes, I realize many people just like a song for how catchy it is, but I like to think that the majority of people also like the music they listen to because it speaks to them. And these songs that we’re seeing become popularized recently? They convey some really heartfelt, insightful messages.
At the end of the day, we all want to have our voices heard. But it’s cool when the voices everyone hears have something powerful to say.