Macklemore has opened up about the harsh criticism he faced during his breakout years, which included him being accused of cultural appropriation.
After years of putting in work in Seattle’s underground rap scene, Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty) burst onto the mainstream stage in 2011/2012 alongside his then production partner, Ryan Lewis, delivering a slew of hits that would take the world by storm.
While “Wings” — the first single to be taken from the pair’s multi-platinum debut album, The Heist — teed up the success, it was follow-up tracks “Can’t Hold Us,” “Same Love,” “Thrift Shop” and “White Walls” that catapulted them to superstardom, combining for an RIAA (Recording Industry Association of America) certification total of 27x platinum.
But with the success came backlash. There were rap fans who believed Macklemore’s advocacy for Black and gay rights was disingenuous, and he seemed to make things worse for himself with his infamous text message to Kendrick Lamar, in which he apologized to the former TDE rapper because he felt like he “robbed” him of a Grammy.
At the 2014 Grammy Awards, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took home the Best Rap Album award for The Heist ahead of Kendrick’s good kid m.A.A.d. city, which many thought was the favorite to win. For some, Macklemore’s text apology — which he posted to Instagram, although later admitted he shouldn’t have done so — came off as too considerate to be believed.
But while K.Dot said Macklemore’s win was “well deserved,” the Seattle rapper still faced the wrath of social media as well as the press, much of it tied to the bigger conversation surrounding race and Hip Hop. Called out for cultural appropriation, Mack’s name was thrown around alongside the term “culture vulture” — something he’s denied time and time again, while also acknowledging that he is a guest in the house of Hip Hop.
“This is not my culture to begin with,” he told Hot 97 in 2014. “This is not a culture that white people started. So I do believe, as much as I have honed my craft, as much as I have put in years of dedication into the music that I love, I do believe that I need to know my place, and that comes from me listening.”
Speaking to HipHopDX to coincide with the release of his new album, BEN, Macklemore admitted that he found it hard being bashed for his art, but after a while he discovered a lesson buried deep within the vitriol.
“I think that it did hurt my feelings at the very beginning,” Mack told DX. “When ‘Thrift Shop’ was at its peak and the biggest song in the world, that’s when the think pieces started coming out around cultural appropriation, and one hit wonder, and all of this assessment and analysis.”
Aside from Eminem, and perhaps Mac Miller who was beginning to blow up around the same time as Macklemore, there weren’t many other hugely successful white rappers out when he and Ryan Lewis were enjoying their moment in the spotlight. “We were at a different place with whiteness in Hip Hop a decade ago,” he explained. “It was a very different time.”
While it was initially tough for him, Macklemore later found a positive spin buried within the depths of the scathing critique. “One thing that the criticism did, [it made me] dig deep into myself, and [I had] the realization that I don’t control who resonates with my art,” he explained.
“I get to tell my story. That’s it. That’s what I’m in control of. I get to make the music that I make. What happens after that is completely out of my control, I am powerless. Once I started to really work on that and do a deep dive — because I had no other choice, right? I was getting scrutinized by the world. I won the Grammys, I apologized to Kendrick, and everyone’s like, ‘You suck. You’re not Hip Hop.’ And I’m like, ‘Oh my God.’ There’s only two ways out of this: stopping or accepting it.”
He continued: “Because whatever everyone else was saying about me wasn’t my truth. If I know myself, if I’m coming from a place of faith rather than fear, if I’m coming from radical love versus hatred, if I’m coming from a place of, ‘This is authentically me, take it or leave it,’ it’s not my business what the final decision is. That’s it. I don’t control other people’s perspective. Really it’s like The Four Agreements — it’s not any of my business.”
Macklemore doesn’t even make it his business to read any online commentary surrounding him or his music. Not only does he not search his own name on Google — like some artists do — he doesn’t even have the login information for his Twitter account.
“Why would I do something that doesn’t serve me?” he asked rhetorically. “I know that that’s just going to hit my ego: either it’s going to make me feel really good or it’s going to make me feel bad or whatever. It’s like, dude, none of that is my truth.
“My truth is that I’ve made great art for the past 15 years, and I’ve been making it for the last 25. It took about a decade of some shitty art to finally get to the point of like, now I got some songs. And even those first 10 years when I was in high school and all that, that was so crucial to lay the foundation. That’s my truth.”
He then acknowledged that while he has some records that can “go toe-to-toe with anyone that’s ever existed,” there are parts of his catalog that won’t resonate with certain people — but it doesn’t matter. “I love what I make,” he said, “and there’s people out there that do too, and that’s such a blessing.”
Macklemore concluded by talking about the importance of gratitude and not getting caught up in the “comparison wheel,” explaining that some artists concentrate on the success of others too much and it stalls their progress and blinds them from the blessings they already have.
“The truth is, I’m the best version of me when I let go of all of that, and I actually have the best shot of changing the world if I can let go of that,” Macklemore told DX. “I cannot be someone that is a servant to a conduit bigger than myself if I am thinking about myself in this place of ego — tunnel vision ego versus the bigger portrait of this universe in my precious time here. That’s what matters.”
Macklemore’s new album BEN is out now — stream it here.