What works of pop-media (books, TV, music, movies, art) have had the most profound impact on your life?
For over two years, I would yammer to anyone that was even remotely interested in hip-hop about Macklemore. ”He’s a white guy from Seattle who raps about real issues and his life, not just 40s, bitches, and blunts, man,” or so my elevator pitch would go.
Recently, Ben (Macklemore) has experienced worldwide success thanks to the insanely popular “Thrift Shop”. I recently expressed my dislike for the song, which instantly brought accusations that my antipathy was only because an artist I had liked for a while suddenly became popular. This is a half truth, sure.
While I am subject to the phenomenon of snobbery that anyone who was a fan of an artist before they got big is, what actually ’bothers’ me is that of all his work, the song people now associate Macklemore with is the one with the least important message.
It’d be the equivalent of the most moving, dramatic, and soul-enriching film you’ve ever seen only being remembered by the masses for a scene that was merely comic relief.
And that’s exactly what I fear– that Mack will fade into one-hit wonder oblivion (yes, you could make arguments about “Same Love” also being a hit- I just wish it was as popular as “Thrift Shop”) and be remembered only as the goofy white guy that rapped about poppin’ tags and zebra jammies, when his lyrics have so much more to offer the world.
Ultimately, it’s not his success that bothers me at all, considering I used to tell anyone that would listen about his music. It’s just that I wish it was almost any other song of his that people got to experience first.
The source of this contradiction and, sure- selfishness- is that, more than any other musician, Ben has had a lasting and extremely positive impact on my life and creative pursuits, one that I can only begin to describe in this post. Thus, I have a strong emotional connection with his music, which doesn’t make me a bigger or ‘better’ fan of his compared to anyone else, it just makes me feel a certain away when I hear “oh yeah Macklemore, I know him, the Thrift Shop guy, right?”
But that’s the amazing thing about music, is it not? One song can mean a thousand different things to a thousand different people.
That, and as my brother put it so eloquently, I am going to miss paying less than a small fortune to see him live again.
In my small effort to share the so-much-more Macklemore has to offer, here are five songs of his that inspired me to be more:
1. Inhale Deep
Cause it’s easier to spend your life drunk and high on drugs
Than to put everything in a recording, put it out, and then get judged
I really paid attention to the lyrics and message in “Inhale Deep” when I was beginning the ascent out of what I consider to be the lowest point of my life. I devolved from leading an active social life and being on my college’s rowing team to falling into the 420 24/7 lifestyle, and my social circle consisting of whoever was out of their mind next to me on the couch staring at the TV.
For nearly two years, I had been in denial that marijuana had any kind of effect on my social skills, grades, relationship with my family. . .anything. After catching mono the winter of my junior year, reducing what semblance of fitness I had left to skin and bones, and giving me plenty of time in social isolation to evaluate where my life was headed, I started to see how much my lifestyle had been holding me back from reaching my potential.
“Inhale Deep” spoke to me at just the right time, in the way a song can come on the radio that perfectly describes your life and emotions in that instant. It was refreshing and a relief to hear that somebody else recognized the drug’s subtle power in stifling creative productivity and causing life to revolve around fear and anxiety, when everyone I had surrounded myself with at college was telling me the opposite, still in denial.
So I stare into this paper instead of sitting at a cubicle
Take all the ugly shit inside and try to make it beautiful
Use the cement from rock bottom and make it musical
A hip-hop song about meditation? It’s exactly as amazing as it sounds. The track peaked my interest in the practice, and now that it’s a daily habit of mine I can relate to many of the realizations and ideas mentioned in the lyrics.
The song touches on mindfulness, permanence, and other spiritual concepts that I was just starting to comprehend a little over a year ago. Around that time, going on a Vipassana (a 10-day retreat where you don’t say a single word the entire time) retreat also made its way onto my Bucket List.
3. Starting Over
But I’d rather live tellin’ the truth and be judged for my mistakes
Than falsely held up, given props, loved and praised
To me, much of Ben’s appeal, more than any other artist I’ve ever listened to, is the pure unadulterated honesty about his life. A recovering alcoholic and drug addict, he recounts in detail the pain that falling off the wagon after three years of sobriety caused him, his family, and potentially his relationship with his fans. In a chill-inducing verse, Mack discusses having a fan come up to him just 48 hours after his relapse, confessing that she wouldn’t be standing there today if not for his music.
While the addictions I fought were undoubtedly very minor in comparison to what Ben went through, the song made me realize that this is one of the secrets to producing great art- telling the truth about life in the simplest and most relatable manner possible. For too long my writing endeavors were spent trying to please an audience that didn’t exist. This ultimately lead to frustration and little improvement in the craft. As soon as I started just writing whatever was on my heart and mind, several things happened- I started having fun again, my motivation to write everyday couldn’t be contained, and perhaps most rewarding, people began to reach out to me and tell me that they enjoyed my writing and that they could relate to my message.
4. Hold Your Head Up
Freedom is acknowledging the mask you have on
And possessing the strength to take it off
The ultimate pick-me up/pep-talk track. “Hold Your Head Up”, with it’s mellow, rainy day kind-of-vibe, touches on all the truisms and cliches you become desensitized to from hearing so many times in your youth. Be true to yourself, accept the things you cannot change, choose your friends and job wisely, and so on. While such a song concept could easily come off as try-hard and cliche, Ben pulled it off in such a way that makes the song really hit home to absolutely anyone across all walks of life.
5. The End
I strayed, you brought me back in
Trying to sneak a flask outside of that gym
She said “You don’t need that, look within.”
At first listen, “The End” sounds like a charming recollection and romanticization of a high school prom or homecoming dance. When you examine the lyrics further and take into account Ben’s past, though, you start to realize that something bigger is being referred to. In my mind, he is using “Winter Ball 2012″ as a metaphor for his relationship with music, how he was scared of the places it would take him at first, how it makes him feel alive, and ultimately how it would save his life and take him to the heights he is today.
The dance could also be a metaphor for life in general, and his date reality, but however you interpret it, it’s one of the most touching, beautiful, and well-crafted hip-hop songs you will ever hear.