I bring this song up not because that track has withstood the test of time (though it has, damn it!), but because it demonstrates something of the utmost importance: Macklemore is not new. Now, some of you are old farts like I am, so you may not have heard of Macklemore. He’s a rapper, of a sort, who got famous because of this song (with nearly half a billion YouTube views; if you haven’t heard it, don’t click this, because its little hook will immediately latch itself to your brain, and you will hate me for it; also, it has some f-words in it, at least one of which is not safe for work):
In fact, one of the first things I thought when I heard it (thank you, teenage son) was, “Man, this is some Fresh Prince shit,” and also, “Man, this is like the vanilla version of early Eminem, during the Slim Shady years.” It is just another entry in the long tradition of quirky rap songs, a tradition that goes back to the very beginning of rap. You’ve all heard this one:
So when one of the semi-official narratives that came out of his Grammy win this year was that Mackelmore is something heretofore unseen in the hip hop world, I was like “Whaaaaaaaaaaaaaa?” I mean, in what sense is he new? Is it because he’s white? Well, given its history, the Best Rap Album award might as well be called the Eminem award. Granted, Eminem became serious, but his Slim Shady LP won in 2000 (beating out Nas and The Roots Things Fall Apart, which is one of my favorite hip hop albums ever, just as Macklemore won over Kendrick Lamar). And then there’s Vanilla Ice. Vanilla friggin’ Ice. Or is it because he’s more pop than hip hop? Hammer, don’t hurt ’em! ¡Bienvenido a Miami!
Hell, Macklemore’s not even the only one making quirky but accessible hip hop today. Fans of the NBC sitcom Community may recall a character named Troy Barnes, played by a young comedian named Donald Glover, who was also a writer for 30 Rock. In addition to writing and acting and doing stand up, Glover has also released a couple rap albums under the name Childish Gambino, a name that he got from a Wu-Tang name generator (it gives me “Dubious Masturbatah-X,” which you can feel free to call me from now on). He got his name from a Wu-Tang name generator! Take that, Macklemore, whose Wu-Tang name would be Curly-Haired Slacker!
Lots of bad words in this one, including the n-word. It is not even remotely safe for work.
Most of the bad words taken out of this one, but there is at least one n-word.
Now that we’ve established that Macklemore isn’t a unique phenomenon even today, much less historically, I’ll be honest with you: unless it’s The Fresh Prince, the quirky pop hop can only hold my attention for so long, even when spit by a talented young rapper like Glover/Gambino or Eminem in his prime. But I’ve been listening to the underground version of this strain for as long as I can remember, and there is a bunch of really good stuff just beneath the surface. Like Cleveland’s The Lab Rats:
Oh, and speaking of guys who can rap their asses off, what about an MC named Swamburger who raps about, well, whatever these are about, with a group called Solillauqists of Sound:
So now that we know that Macklemore is not some previously unheard of hip hop phenomenon, and we know that there’s some really quirky underground hip hop that’s worth listening to even if the pop version isn’t your thing, and “Best Day” is on its way to being out of my head, I think I can move on and forget about Macklemore altogether. “I’m gonna pop some tags, only got $20 in my pocket…” AAAAAAAAAAAAAH! OK, maybe forgetting about him is asking too much.