1. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis released a new song for free on iTunes, titled “White Privilege II.”
It’s almost nine minutes long and discusses Macklemore’s position as a white artist working with music created by people of colour, and the ongoing #BlackLivesMatter conversation.
2. The initial response to the track was varied, as some people were very positive about it.
3. And were happy with his intentions.
4. Others, however, were unhappy with every aspect of it.
5. The opening lyrics reference Macklemore’s participation in the Black Lives Matters protest in Seattle after the death of Michael Brown.
“Pulled into the parking lot, parked it / Zipped up my parka, joined the procession of marchers / In my head like, “Is this awkward, should I even be here marching?”
6. He then explicitly mentions #BlackLivesMatter, and his own uncomfortableness around it. “OK, I’m saying that they’re chanting out, “Black lives matter”, but I don’t say it back / Is it OK for me to say?”
7. People praised him for the use of his own white privilege to raise awareness of the wider issues.
9. In the next verse he links these struggles with white artists who’ve been accused of cultural appropriation in their music - “The culture was never yours to make better / You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea.”
10. At around the time of the track’s release Iggy Azalea tweeted this, which some people took to be a comment on it.
11. Then she talked about pasta a bit.
13. Charlamagne Tha God did not think that this mea culpa was particularly effective, however.
15. One criticism of him is that his socially conscious music could actually be very cynical.
17. The new album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made is scheduled for release on Feb. 26, the proximity of which has made some people suspicious.
This new track is a direct sequel to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s previous 2009 song, “White Privilege,” which talked about similar issues.
18. A later verse uses language very similar to the older track. “If I’m aware of my privilege and do nothing at all… So what the fuck has happened to my voice if I stay silent / when black people are dying / Then I’m trying to be politically correct?”
20. This self-awareness, however, did not stop the opinion that his innate white privilege could never be fully extricated from the music he was making.
21. Which means that he is still using his advantages to make money.
While the song was actually released for free, it’s easy to see that increased prominence could help his income for other projects.
23. A number of people said that the wider refusal to listen to “the voices of millions of Black people” was equally at fault.
24. As other artists who said similar things were unlikely to get the same amount of coverage.
25. So while Macklemore accepts the help he got from the system, he continues to benefit from it.
26. However, there is still a fundamental problem that makes people angry.
28. Deray McKesson defended Macklemore for making the track, and repudiated the claims that he was “Columbusing” the concept of white privilege.
29. He also warned against reading more into the track than was actually there.
30. However, he also raises the thought that it is possible too limited in it’s scope.
31. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis also released the song on its own website, which describes some of the process of its creation.
The website also says they support black-led organizations, listing Black Lives Matter, People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism & Freedom School (a project of AFSC and The People’s Institute), and Black Youth Project 100 as those they are currently engaging with.
32. A number of collaborators, both musicians and activists, are also included describing how they came to be involved in the song and recommending further reading.
Nikkita Oliver, a Seattle-based anti-racist organizer and performance poet, said, “Ultimately, this song is birthed out of black struggle to break free from oppression and white supremacy. It is not a song to be celebrated. Rather, it is opportunity for an important and necessary dialogue. This song is by no means the end of anything. It is merely a piece of the conversation. I hope it gets people talking about the right things in a creative way.”