The Perception of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis (And Their Return…)


Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Downtown © Macklemore LLC

Let’s keep things 100% real – ALL-THE-WAY-REAL! For a share of hip-hop fans, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis became a sore subject a couple of years back. What did those guys ever do to anyone? Nothing personal of course, but they shocked the world by beating out Kendrick Lamar for every rap Grammy. Ah, that’s where those hard feelings come into play. Honestly, even Macklemore himself was shocked by beating out arguably the more transcendent artist and was perhaps too apologetic for no reason.

Those that are familiar with the voting demographic of the Recording Academy honestly shouldn’t have been surprised that the more commercial, less risqué hip-hop act came out on top at the Grammys. Even knowing the system though, seeing a golden opportunity like Kendrick Lamar walk out of the Grammys empty handed and his contemporary hip-hop masterpiece snubbed was disheartening. But this isn’t really about Kendrick Lamar – it’s about Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ perception and their comeback years later.

The arguable overvaluing of talented duo does raise the question, had Macklemore & Ryan Lewis been black, would the opinions of their Grammy success have been different? One part of me wants to say yes without question yet another part says the opinion wouldn’t have been that markedly different. There are legitimate points to both sides, so let’s break this [BLEEP] apart!

One the one hand, white hip-hop artists have grown in number over the past couple of years. For a long time in hip-hop, there were only a select few and garnering the respect was difficult. Even with the increased level of success of white hip-hop artists these days, only a few – namely Eminem – have experienced unquestionable commercial success and relevancy. So returning to the point, if Macklemore & Ryan Lewis been black might their success be better appreciated? – Quite possibly. Still, speaking as an African American myself, I enjoyed “Thrift Shop,” so race itself plays no role.

Had Macklemore & Ryan Lewis been black and experienced the same success that they did for The Heist, it WOULD NOT have changed the opinion or my own. Kendrick Lamar was considered something of a “savior” to rap music in 2012 and good Kid m.A.A.d. City was considered among the best album on many critics list including mine. While “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love” were terrific, pop cultural impactful songs, personally, Lamar’s conceptual autobiographical album was deeper . Hence, their race didn’t matter then and doesn’t now. Personal preference, and many folks felt the same way.

Moving on, the Grammy winners return with “Downtown,” which features Eric Nally, Melle Mel, Kool Moe Dee & Grandmaster Flash. The best way to describe “Downtown” is F-U-N – fun! Will the fun, fresh single win over folks who question the legitimacy of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, particularly after besting Kendrick Lamar at the Grammys? Probably not, but again it’s personal preference. If you enjoy more pop-oriented hip-hop that eschews the street and grimier facets of the genre, this should appeal. If you prefer a tougher, more honest brand of hip-hop with more f-bombs and ‘make you cringe’ filthiness, this isn’t for you. Objectively, this is enjoyable pop-rap, just like the duo and their guests intended it to be.

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