It's very easy to dismiss everything Macklemore does, as many people do: He makes corny rap, has no self-awareness and appropriates black culture.
It's just as easy to applaud everything he does, as many others do: He makes fun music, but also isn't afraid to stand for something.
Neither of these extremes, though, should be applied to "White Privilege 2," the song he and producer Ryan Lewis released overnight.
The track, which also features Jamila Woods, is a complicated response to a complicated litany of issues: After you acknowledge your privilege, then what? As an ally, what is helpful, and what is not? He spends nearly 10 minutes setting the stage and grappling with these questions.
The song will be included on the duo's upcoming album, This Unruly Mess I've Made, and is a sequel to "White Privilege," a song from Macklemore's 2005 solo album, The Language of My World, written years before mainstream America (or hip-hop fans) knew who he was or how his privilege would one day be a point of major discussion. As such, though at its core part two comes from a similar place as the original, the specifics have evolved.
“Writing that song in 2004 -- that was a different version of me,” he told Complex last year. “I was an unknown. I was making an observation: Look at what’s happened. Pointing -- not in a negative way -- but making cultural observation. Fast-forward ten years, my vantage point isn’t pointing the finger at anyone else anymore. It’s pointing the finger at myself. It was pointing the finger at myself then, too, questioning things. But it’s different when -- cultural appropriation and white privilege in regard to hip-hop -- you’re the example.”
That song, too, was particularly about white privilege within hip-hop. Its successor attempts to look more broadly.
"White Privilege 2" is broken into four verses, featuring the rapper attempting to unpack his privilege, the way he engages with the black community and issues that affect them (and specifically Black Lives Matter), and the way his white fans -- soccer moms, suburban white kids -- engage with him and his music.
"Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury," Jamila Woods sings to close the song.
And so Macklemore isn't being silent, as he has, as a white man, the luxury of being.
At one point, he raps:
'The DIY underdog, so independent'
But the one thing the American dream fails to mention
Is I was many steps ahead to begin with
My skin matches the hero, likeness, the image
America feels safe with my music in their systems
And it's suited me perfect, the role, I've fulfilled it
And if I'm the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain
White supremacy isn't just a white dude in Idaho
White supremacy protects the privilege I hold
White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home
White supremacy is our country's lineage, designed for us to be indifferent
My success is the product of the same system that let off Darren Wilson guilty
He also references some major names: "The culture was never yours to make better
You're Miley, you're Elvis, you're Iggy Azalea." Some have written that he's dissing Elvis, Iggy Azalea and Miley Cyrus. But it seems what he's actually doing is swallowing the (what must be hard for him) pill that, in many ways -- and, frankly, the most essential -- he's no different from these artists.
Even if this song wasn't about such a weighty topic, the responses would be deeply divided. This is Macklemore, after all. But given the nature of the song, the reactions, written and on Twitter, have been particularly polarized.
Could Macklemore be doing more about racial injustice? Yes. He admits as much in the song. Perhaps he's trying to, writing on WhitePrivilege2.com, "As a company (Macklemore & Ryan Lewis LLC), we are committed to a long-term investment of our time, resources, finances and creative capacities towards supporting black-led organizing and anti-racist education & discourse." (The entire site is worth poking around, and has illuminating quotes from all of the song's collaborators.)
But is it beneficial, for his audience, that he's discussing these issues? Yes. Macklemore's audience is largely white. They're teens. Or younger.
I'm 27 now. I'm white. When I was a teenager, some of the artists I listened to and what they said -- names, for the purpose of this conversation, like dead prez, Talib Kweli and Immortal Technique -- piqued my interest about ideas and histories that caused me to read, research and consider them further.
If "White Privilege 2" inspires some white kids (who otherwise wouldn't have ever considered this issue to feel uncomfortable) to question their own privilege, and to ultimately get involved in working towards erasing that large gap atop which they're perched, that, at least, is a good thing.