Kendrick vs. Macklemore

I wasn’t going to comment on the fact that Macklemore “robbed” Kendrick at the Grammy’s. But it’s the confluence of Hip Hop and Race! How could I let it go completely and not say anything?!

So here it is. To be honest I didn’t listen to the entirety of Macklemore’s album, I did listen to the singles that were popular “Same Love”, “Thrift Shop”, and “Can’t Hold Us.” Let’s just say I wasn’t impressed enough to buy the CD (Yes I still buy CD’s although I’m slowly weaning myself of the antiquated habit.”)

I also slept on Kendrick Lamar…at least at first. I don’t listen to the radio anymore so most of my knowledge about what is popular comes from what people in my virtual or real social networks are talking about. Since people know I’m a Hip Hop fanatic they are always suggesting new music to me. Kendrick’s name was one that came up in my circles repeatedly. So finally, I gave in and bought a copy of his album. The first time I listened to it I wasn’t blown away and actually wrote him off. I commented on a Hip Hop discussion site I frequent that the album wasn’t impressive to me. Immediately there were people pushing back on my opinion and calling me names. I caved in and said I would give Kendrick another listen. Conversely, no one in my circles was talking much about Macklemore. In fact, it seemed like I was one of the few people who even slightly cared that he existed.

In any case I did end up changing my opinion on Kendrick. In my opinion his album is great. I think it really does a great job of relaying the experiences of a young Black man growing up in Compton in 2013.

When I listen to Macklemore I hear a pretty good rapper who addresses some important issues and has a depth to his raps that most rappers aren’t even attempting. I mean how many rappers do you know that reference Malcolm Gladwell in his music? So I’m not knocking Macklemore. Personally, I don’t think his album does more for Hip Hop culture than Kendrick’s does but that’s me.

But that’s also the point. For those people saying that Kendrick got robbed by the Grammy’s.  My response is “yeah…what else is new?” The Grammy’s are not about Hip Hop culture, the Grammy’s are about American Pop Culture and among the people who vote for Grammy’s it’s highly likely that Macklemore’s music is more familiar to them than Kendrick’s is. Macklemore said as much himself.

That’s not a reason to dislike or diminish Macklemore, that’s just the way society is structured in this case. The Grammy’s have never been very kind to Hip Hop if you want to speak in the Hip Hop purist…”the album with the absolute best rapper on it should win” sense.

First of all Hip Hop came into public consciousness around 1979 give or take a couple of years. The Grammy’s didn’t recognize Hip Hop albums at all until 1996 and in that year Naughty By Nature’s album “Poverty’s Paradise won over 2Pac’s “Me Against the World.” Hip Hop purists shouldn’t be surprised to find out that Tupac, Nas, and Biggie have a collective 0 Grammy’s. They have some nominations but no wins, and that’s arguably 3 of the top 5 rappers of the past 20 years.

In fact, it’s probably more of an honor to get snubbed by the Grammy’s than win the award for Hip Hop. It’s likely when their careers are over Kendrick will be the more substantive artist.

For those who are making this about race, just understand it’s not about whether Macklemore is better than Kendrick or that the Grammy’s gave Macklemore the award just because he’s White. I disagree with that. But let me point out that the Grammy voters have never cared much about actual Hip Hop culture. This year Macklemore was the benefactor of that, but in the past other more established artists have been the benefactors.

For Macklemore supporters who say he won the album because of his social critiques, I would just say that social critique doesn’t make Macklemore special actually. For years, rappers who are better than Macklemore have been making social critiques and not getting the type of recognition that he has. Rappers, such as Common, Black Thought, Mos Def, Lupe Fiasco, and Nas have made a living making intricate social commentary and none of them have a Grammy. Hip Hop has a long proud culture of social commentary and critique, and the Grammy’s have a long disgraceful history of ignoring those rappers. It is interesting that this would change with Macklemore, let’s hope that this is the beginning of a trend in recognizing that there is more to Hip Hop than ballers and gangsters. I’m also hoping that this is used as a way to recognize that social commentary has always been a part of Hip Hop and not something that began with Macklemore and the 2014 Grammy’s.