Macklemore Vs. Kendrick Lamar: Battle Puts ‘Real Hip-Hop’ In The Crossfire

With the 2014 Grammy Awards just days away, MTV News asked the experts to pick a side.

Hip-hop has always had an interesting tug-of-war with the Grammys, and Sunday’s ceremony will be no exception.

In one corner you have Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with all of their platinum plaques, #1 Billboard singles and independent pop success. In the other you have Kendrick Lamar, who dazzled critics with his coming-of-age major-label debut good kid, m.A.A.d city — a masterful album that pushed more than a million copies while at the same time satisfying hip-hop purists.
Both acts received seven nominations and will face off against each other in four categories: Album of the Year, Best New Artist, Best Rap Album and Best Rap Performance.

Now debates are raging about who will have the biggest night. Will it be Kendrick, who fits neatly into the traditional hip-hop mold or the pop-drenched Macklemore & Ryan Lewis?

“The reality of it is that Macklemore is going to win over Kendrick, he has more record sales, he’s more commercial and that’s just the reality of it,” Joey Bada$$ told MTV News of his prediction, before doubling back and giving us his personal preference. “That’s Grammys. That’s what you got, but I personally feel like Kendrick deserves that more.”

Mack Wilds, whose New York: A Love Story LP is up for Best Urban Contemporary Album, also picks Lamar to win, though his opinion is slighted. “I’m biased. I know Kendrick. Kendrick is my boy and I know how much he put into this album; not saying Macklemore didn’t. Macklemore is another talented artist on the rise. But I just know everything Kendrick put into this album so, if you want to know who I want to win, Kendrick hands down,” Wilds told us.

While you can’t argue preference, there does seem to be an undercurrent in motion that aims to remove Macklemore & Ryan Lewis from the hip-hop conversation altogether. According to an unnamed AP source “most” members of the rap committee of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences looked to keep the Seattle, Washington duo out of the award ceremony’s rap categories. According to an article on Vulture.com, members of the committee saw the rap group’s overwhelming success on radio and pop appeal as a strike against their hip-hop cred.

Macklemore has far and away been the most successful rapper of 2012 in terms of sales and Billboard metrics. Rappers like Jay Z, Kanye West, Ludacris, 50 Cent, OutKast and Nelly have reached similar heights in years past, but their hip-hop credibility doesn’t seem to come up in question in quite the same way.

“The dude is rapping right? He’s doing what we’ve been doing for the last 40 years in hip-hop,” BET.com Music Editor Rondell Conway told MTV News of Macklemore on Thursday (January 23). “It’s a thing now in hip-hop to hate success and he has so much of it. That’s a backlash for being as successful as he has been.”

XXL Magazine predicted Mack’s success back in 2011 when they chose him to be a part of their annual Freshman cover, a high-profile celebration of up and coming hip-hop talent. The magazine’s editor-in-chief Vanessa Satten does believe that when it comes to Mack & Ryan, race plays a factor.

“Why is it not hip-hop, because he’s a white dude doing it? Because he’s a white dude who’s not Eminem doing it,” she questioned. “I’m not really sure why we can’t say it’s hip-hop. I think it’s more about your preference of hip-hop.”

MC Serch knows the pressures of being a white rapper in hip-hop. In the 1990s his group 3rd Bass counted acts like N.WA., A Tribe Called Quest and Public Enemy as their contemporaries, still he doesn’t see the race issue when it comes to the “Thrift Shop” duo. “I don’t think it’s pitted against black or white; I don’t think it’s pitted against real or fake because Macklemore was on the cover of XXL as a freshman. The culture accepts him as an MC, you can’t knock him for making great music that is listened to and seen and perceived by the culture,” he said.

In fact, Serch doesn’t even see the whole Macklemore versus Kendrick thing as an issue, but just two different MCs, telling two different stories.

“That we can in 2014 have a spectrum that allows all those stories… it’s such a blessing,” he said. “I don’t see it as competition. I hope that we been able to rise ourselves up enough that we can say God bless Kendrick, God bless Macklemore. Whoever wins deserves it.”

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Mentally been many places, but I'm Brooklyn's own. Hip-hop gives me life!
@RobMarkman