The facets of the modern racial experience are so vast that you can't start one conversation without beginning several others. Perhaps that's why many of our relatives, loved ones, co-workers and casual acquaintances are so quick to dichotomize race issues and move on, because to them, it's all just black and white.
I apologize to Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for beginning a piece about their upcoming show with a polemic on race. However, when working in an African-American-dominated medium it bears stating that we, white people, often cannot allow ourselves to simply be spectators. That, as the subjects of a country literally designed for white economic and social betterment, we feel one of the tenets of our privilege is to not have to earn our involvement in a particular cultural ritual, but that in the name of progress and inclusion, we deserve a place at the table. Because, after all, to do otherwise would be racism, reverse racism.
The irony of white folks' inability to appreciate cultural rituals from the sidelines is that far too often we have remained entirely neutral, silent and submissive when another white person or people terrorized people of color.
Again, it pains me to begin a piece on two musicians this way, but they aren't playing West Virginian hillbilly music or Anglo-Saxon ballads. And they aren't fledgling musicians anymore, either. The lyrics to "Ten Thousand Hours" clearly state such. I can sympathize with the years of hard work, sleeping in basements, trying your damnedest to get some "tastemaker," some blog-writing Internet jockey to substantiate your art and make you rich as fuck so you can finally quit Subway and Jet Ski all day. For that time I'm sure Ben Haggerty, the birth name of the man known as Macklemore, now feels substantiated and that his success is well-deserved.
The Heist, the breakthrough record from the duo, is one of those records that was almost sure to make a splash in the pop markets. All that was needed was a marketing budget. On its own, all things fair, it's a topically sound record. In the field of hip-hop pop, it's a bar-setter. ATL trap it isn't, it's also not the smoove righteousness of Compton's Kendrick and it isn't industrial-strength Yeezy; closer to a PG-13 Drake-does-Seattle.
This is where props need to be given to the duo. They aren't the white prep school kid that becomes an Internet sensation because of the disgusting obliviousness of his Rodney King Halloween costume. Macklemore has invested years into his craft. That's years of navigating a scene that, for all we know, is as authentic and real to him as it is for anyone else. What the success of the duo does illustrate is not only the expanding doors of hip-hop, but the expanding doors of cultural authenticity.
We know that race is a social construct. We know it has been a dividing line for those in power to pit us against each other. To erect tough hurdles and sit back and proselytize on the inferiority of one "race" as they struggle to overcome said obstacles.
Interestingly, Haggerty and Lewis have helped jimmy the doors of acceptance open for others who have not always been a part of mainstream hip-hop culture. Their championing of gay rights in the single "Same Love" is the kind of alliance-building and humanistic assertion that not only makes for great art and culture, but expands it. It satisfies some of the long-held requirements of hybridization and syncretism, of the joining and evolution of cultures: taking something old and/or established (hip-hop), and reinvigorating it with a new perspective. It further illustrates the point that it is in fact our differences, our complexities that make us better human beings. It shows us that we must go forward. If we approach any art form with respect when necessary, reverence when required, criticism and an equitable dialogue, then we're forging a new culture altogether, toward inclusivity and unity.