“There’s nothing wrong with PlayStation and jacking off. . . . but it was really messing with my creativity.”
See that dude in the photo up there? Yeah, that’s not Macklemore. Sorry. You’re cruising BottleRock, you see a guy in a fur vest and waxed-down blonde hair, and chances are that with the amount of Macklemore impersonators out there, it’s not really gonna be Ben Haggerty, b. 1983, hit song, “Thrift Shop.”
And what do you care? You’ve come in hopes that your gut feeling on Macklemore is off-base. You want Macklemore, live and on stage, to somehow take those eyes you so irritatedly rolled at first hearing (or, realistically: seeing) “Thrift Shop” and knock them right out of your head, and say: “Hey man, don’t be so fuckin’ jaded, I grew up on Paid in Full too. Just have fun, okay?”
On this night here in Napa, kicking off BottleRock, Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us” has just hit Billboard’s #1 spot, and while you’re watching his dutiful set you realize why he enjoys such wide mainstream appeal: there is simply no reason to really hate the guy. He bounces and traipses around the stage as if following an exercise regimen, he delivers his repeated patter as if it were fresh every night, and he shows up on time (big points in the rap world for that last one).
Macklemore also energizes the hell out of a crowd. You’re up front, surrounded by a constant smash of people. Thousands strong, their voices chanting along with plain, straightforward rhymes about liking baseball announcers, wearing grandpa’s clothes and playing video games. You get a little lost in the swarm.
But if you’re being honest here, Macklemore is rap music for people who don’t listen to rap music. “He’s such a breath of fresh air unlike all those other ignorant rappers” is the thing you hear most from teenagers and teenagers’ parents, both of them target audiences that probably don’t understand the nuances of rap and its many subgenres in the year 2013. That’s fine, Macklemore provides a wide enough entry point, but you’re watching the spectacle of hero-worship over the milk-faced guy in the dirty V-neck, and you start to wonder what’s special here.
“Thrift Shop” comes early, third song or so, introduced by Macklemore scanning the crowd for some choice threads. He gets it in the form of a fur vest thrown to the stage, which he compliments, dons, and tosses back afterward. Ballsy move, you think, playing the big 292-million-views hit so early, but you know most everyone here digs deeper than that. “Otherside,” Macklemore’s honest ode to recovery, is introduced with a nod to Napa: “So this is wine country, right?” he says. “I think I came here a little late in my drinking career. . . . But I am gonna drink a shit-ton of Martinelli’s tonight!”
And then there’s “Same Love,” his call to embrace love in all its forms, which has the crowd in jubilation. A couple in front of you pulls out two plastic rainbow flags and waves them aloft to the beat.
This, this here, “Same Love,” is the moment that makes it worth it, and that knocks those rolling eyes out of your head. What is this here, 8,000 people strong in this field? All applauding when Macklemore says, “We are currently in a very, very, very interesting time in American history—in fact, I would say we’re in the biggest civil rights movement of our generation. . . . Now I don’t know about you, but me, personally, I believe that no government, no state, no institution. . . . no one can tell you who you can love. . . . I believe in compassion. I believe in tolerance. I believe in equality. This song is called ‘Same Love,’ let’s go.”
And then the rainbow balloons come out and bounce all over the crowd, and you’re thinking about those who want to mark Macklemore for death, and you’re thinking of calling for a little more prudence in the rap game discourse. One can cling to Ready to Die and obsess over the illest new shit on SoundCloud and love the stupidity of Trinidad James and defend “Stupid Hoe” to the death (and believe Macklemore owes Slug from Atmosphere a few thousand dollars in borrowed-style royalty checks) and still, one can at least appreciate this little moment. It is not revolutionary, this song—the revolution happened over a very, very long time, due to a lot of people along the way—but it is a celebration of how far things have come. Maybe a lot of people in the crowd weren’t around when the groundwork was being laid, but Macklemore gives them a reason to voice their support.
The night’s fallen. You know you should get a headstart on the shuttle line. But just a few more songs of this hardworking guy from Seattle, who loves rap just as much as you do. Is he doing it wrong? Who are you to say?
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