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September 29, 2023

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Hip-hop artist dares to be different

John Lennon once said, “Music should either make a statement or tell a story, and if it doesn’t, it’s just background music.”

My wife says I’m a “music snob,” because as someone who spent 10 years playing bass and singing for a living, I have a hard time listening to background music. In fact, my number one complaint about today’s popular music is that it doesn’t say anything. It is largely just out there so that someone can make a buck or two with no worry whatsoever about the message it is sending out into the world.

That is one reason why I have never really been a fan of hip-hop music. Nothing against anyone who does like it, but it’s not generally my cup of tea because the overall message of most hip-hop songs seem to be so superficial.

The songs always seem to me to just be bragging (check out my car, how much money I have and all the girls that I’m going to sleep with tonight) set to music.

I find humility to be one of the most endearing qualities a person can have and consequently I have little tolerance for others telling me how great they think they are.

That’s why I was so surprised, and pleased, when a friend of mine showed me a YouTube video of a hip-hop artist named Macklemore.

The song was called “Thrift Shop” and has been viewed on YouTube more than 97 million times.

In case you’re the one person on campus who hasn’t watched it (though I’m pretty sure I was the last one on campus to not have seen it) “Thrift Shop” is an ode to frugality in an over hyped, overtly materialistic world.

Instead of talking about how he spent tons of money on his wardrobe, in “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore talks about how stupid it is to spend $50 on a shirt (“I call that getting tricked by a business”) when you get a decent looking shirt at a thrift shop for a fraction of the price.

The whole song is wrapped in the guise of a joke, but at its heart there is a certain poignancy to “Thrift Shop.” It is about having confidence in who you are instead of the clothes on your back.

I was impressed with “Thrift Shop,” but the more I looked into the life and career of Macklemore, the more impressed I became.

Another of Macklemore’s songs, “Same Love,” starts off by saying “When I was in the third grade I thought I was gay because I could draw, my uncle was [gay] and I kept my room straight.”

I was floored. A hip-hop song that comes right out of the gate addressing stereotypes and our preconceived notions of what defines who we are.

Macklemore goes on in that song to equate the struggle for marriage equality with the women’s suffrage and civil rights movements saying, “I might not be the same but that’s not important, no freedom ‘til we’re equal, damn right I support it.”

Talk about setting yourself apart from most other hip-hop artists.

Being gay still faces many stigmas from certain communities, such as the worlds of team sports and hip-hop music. As I watched the video for “Same Love” on YouTube, I couldn’t help but think, “Man, this guy has got some balls to stand up and take such a vocal stance on an issue that is unpopular with the crowd that he is trying to sell his music to.”

Upon further research, I found that Macklemore has turned down several offers to sign a recording contract with some of the biggest record labels in the business because he feels like it would limit him in what he is able to say in his songs. That is what we in the music industry (or formerly in the music business) refer to as artistic integrity, and it is tougher to find these days than someone saying something sensible on Fox News.

I know that Macklemore is not the only hip-hop artist with such integrity (even a non hip-hop fan like me has mad respect for Tupac Shakur), but when someone creates themselves a platform, and then uses it to say something positive and different from what everyone else is saying it deserves to be praised.

We need more music that isn’t background music, and in that respect John Lennon would be proud of Macklemore.

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