I am not a hip hop guy so I am a little out of my element here, but people like it when you’re topical so here we go.
Macklemore, if that is his real name (it isn’t, Ben Haggerty), has been enjoying a fine time on the international Top 40 recently with his song “Thrift Store.” In “Thrift Store” Macklemore raps about the joy of finding good deals and wearing truly unique articles of clothing, which is a nice contrast to a lot of rap songs celebrating material success and frivolous spending. This life style described to us is more charming compared to the soulless life style of penis compensating materialism, mostly because there is personality, actual personality. I do love how Macklemore takes the piss out of brainless consumer culture and I nearly always laugh when he announces his fur coat “shit it was ninety-nine cents.” So all in all “Thrift Store” is a decent song, but “Thrift Store” is not the song music critics are talking about; we are all talking about “Same Love.”
I can’t believe I need to say this, but I do, it is okay to be gay.
It is a rare thing for a hip hop/rap song to have any kind of positive message and I strongly suspect “Same Love” is the first rap song celebrating love and rejecting homophobia. If you haven’t heard it, “Same Love” is a song about same sex relationships and how it is in fact the “same love” shared by straight couples. My brain almost exploded when I first heard “Same Love” because it is possible Macklemore might be the first non-homophobic rapper, other than of course P Diddy, but even P Diddy never sang a song in defence of his gay uncle or if I did I am not aware of it. In fact strangely, and I don’t know why this is but homophobia appears to be quite common in African American culture, it doesn’t help their case that a white dude had to be the first rapper saying it is okay to be gay in song. So basically overnight, with one song, Macklemore became the greatest force for social change and awareness in all of hip hop, and that alone warrants a review.
If I have one grievance with the genre of rap it would be that rapping is not constructive to creating proper song structure. What I mean by this is that the melody of a song, typically the vocals, is broken when spoken instead of being sung. It was never a mystery to me that 2 Pac was considered one of the best of his era, he gave himself a huge advantage over other musician in hip hop by simply singing his choruses, you know almost it was like a fucking song. Granted there are exceptions, rappers like Eminem have a talent for making their voices blend into a melody, and that fact that anyone can earn that accolade at all puts my whole theory about rapping being the antagonistic opposite of singing in serious doubt. Suddenly you see my one grievance is about quality not style. I have also noticed that a lot of the more agreeable hip hop songs have female vocals, like actual vocals, and this goes a long way. I never talk about hip hop so this whole paragraph seems necessary just to establish my generally negative feelings towards the genre while also establishing the fact that I am not completely divorced to it either.
After listening to “Same Love” you might have picked up on all the positives I could attribute to a rap song are in fact present. Macklemore does not break melody with his rapping, the chorus is completely sung and by a woman with a fantastic voice, plus you add in a piano and my undying love of string instruments is struck and I am satisfied. Quality of sound, this second attributed I believe was needed to for this song to have success both as song and as a message. Music critics like me care a lot more about quality music than we do about a casual declaration of good will, but an intelligent/poetic message does go a long way, and people fighting for equality have a much more powerful voice when things of beauty accompany their pleas for love and understanding. When art and philosophy are combined it is always more helpful to both if both aspects are well presented.
I am surprise “Same Love” hasn’t climbed the charts like “Thrift Store” but that might have something to do homophobia still being a problem, but at least there are signs of improvement, at least a song like “Same Love” exists.
- Colin Kelly