Rap music has been plastering the radio and smashing the charts for nearly 50 years after it exploded onto the US music scene in the 70s. From Tupac to Biggie Smalls, Lil Wayne to 50 Cent, there have been countless artists to make their mark in the music industry by basically singing lyrics incredibly fast, usually with a nice dollop of profanity and other R rated loveliness.
A lot of the time, a rap song is released and it serves no other purpose than to shock listeners. With this brings intrigue, and with intrigue brings sales and massive pay cheques. That is not to say however that there have never been rap songs which don’t carry good wholesome messages. In amongst all the rapping about liking big butts (thank you Sir Mix a Lot), and Gold Diggers (nice one Jamie), there are songs which deliver true and personal meanings from the artists, such as Mosh by Eminem, a song of rebellion against the ways Bush led America, and Tupac’s Changes, focusing on race, poverty and violence on the streets. But now two new miraculously bright rays of hope have been emitted into the rap industry, in the forms of Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
So how did this unsigned white rapper and his music companion manage to change the face of rap music in such a short period of time? After Macklemore became the second unsigned artist in music history to hit #1 on the US billboard charts, 19 years after Lisa Loeb managed the feat with Stay (I Miss You), he managed to secure a platform which most aspiring artists could only dream of. Instead of using this new found fame to rap about women and money however, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis decided to go for a different approach.
Although the number one song Thrift Shop sounds like just another upbeat fun song which teens everywhere can go crazy and bust a few moves to, that is only the outer layer of the song. The real message behind the words is simply, money doesn’t mean squat. Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty) sings about the sheer craziness of going out and buying a $50 tee-shirt, when every other person you meet in the street will be wearing the same thing. He’s crying out for people to not care about money, be original, be yourself, and I suppose, shop in thrift shops.
Along with this mega hit, the pair have also created songs like Wings and Same Love which go against the grain of culturally accepted rap music. Wings is about consumerism being a way in which young children are tricked into having an identity that doesn’t belong to them, all because of the apparent need to have the newest designer brands which Macklemore is against. Although much more serious and personal, the song is reminiscent of Thrift Shop.
Same Love on the other hand is a simple song about marriage equality, with Macklemore essentially beating down all the outdated arguments against gay marriage. The song was released just as proposition 8 in the states was being reconsidered, and also as the bill for gay marriage in Britain was being passed. The concept of rapping about gay rights is totally foreign to music lovers as no one has ever stepped up and made a plea for equality like Macklemore and Lewis.
There is absolutely no denying that rappers over the years have been immensely talented and have released some extraordinary songs, however it now seems like a new generations of rap is starting to form, blending sincerity, bravery and a thrift shop full of individuality.