1. Google tells me this song is called “White Privilege II” because Macklemore & Ryan Lewis already recorded “White Privilege [I]” in 2005. I don’t think Google is joking. If you remade This Is Spinal Tap to spoof earnest white rappers instead of ‘80s metal hedonists, it would be a documentary about Macklemore.
2. Credit where it’s due: Ryan Lewis is a talented producer. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s music always sounds shiny and intriguing, and the opening moments of “White Privilege II” are no exception. In between the song’s intro and outro, there’s not a lot to hang onto, musically — but points for starting and ending strong.
3. That said, I’m not going to keep typing “& Ryan Lewis” through all this. Sorry, Ryan.
4. To get the obvious out of the way, it’s important to state that criticizing Macklemore’s artistry is not the same as attacking his politics, or his sincerity. I find Macklemore’s 2012 gay marriage ballad “Same Love” dumb and irritating (more on that later), but I also recognize that if even just one kid growing up in the Bible Belt learned that it’s OK to be gay from it, that’s still a net social good. Macklemore deserves a lot of credit for that.
5. On the other hand, a cynic can wonder if this isn’t all strategy on Macklemore’s part: insulating his too-obvious lyrics and too-eager rapping from legitimate criticism by dressing them up as Important, instead of just middling. If it is, it’s been a smart career move: two #1 U.S. singles, four Grammys, more mainstream attention than any white rapper since Eminem. (For better — social responsibility! — and worse — general boringness — Macklemore is the Bizarro Eminem.)
6. Oh man. This is long.
7. The reason I’m talking around “White Privilege II” is because there’s really not a lot to unpack about it. It’s not good, for the same reason “Same Love” wasn’t good: Macklemore seems fundamentally incapable of not filtering every issue through his own first-person experience. With “Same Love,” instead of just writing a song about a gay person, he wrote a song about how he, Macklemore, knows its OK to be gay. He’s definitely not!! But, it’s OK if you are. The effect is flattening, as if the highest compliment Macklemore can think to pay anyone is that he or she is, in the end, just the “same” as him.
8. Like with “Same Love,” I don’t disagree with anything Macklemore raps in “White Privilege II,” exactly. I just question the emphasis: “Being a person of color is tragically difficult, still. Much, much more difficult than my life as a white man, let me tell you! No, seriously, let me tell you, for nine minutes. Take your coat off.”
9. The song’s outro, sung by Jamila Woods, is soulful and lovely, and turns on the smartest lyric in the whole damn thing: “Your silence is a luxury / Hip-hop is not a luxury.” You know what’s definitely a luxury? Being able to release a song like “White Privilege II” — overlong, self-indulgent, only fitfully meaningful — without having to worry about whether or not it will sell. Maybe that’s the truest expression of Macklemore’s white privilege: He’s chosen to talk about race in a song that few people will listen to more than once.
Want more Sharp?
Like us on Facebook and get the very best in culture and music sent to you daily.