In 2013, for the first time in the 55-year-history of the Billboard Hot 100, not one black artist lodged a number-one single. (Of the eleven songs that held the spot for some portion of the year, four were hip-hop, and four featured black singers or rappers in guest roles.) There’s been round, sustained clamor over Macklemore’s Grammy haul, which was all the more glaring because it came at the expense of fellow nominee Kendrick Lamar, a (frankly) far more talented artist, who is black. (Macklemore handled the situation awkwardly, too, writing Kendrick a text message that said, “I wanted you to win. You should have. It’s weird and sucks that I robbed you.” And then posting a screenshot of that text to his Instagram account, so everyone could see how magnanimous he is.) Macklemore admits that white privilege is a factor in his success. “I benefit from that privilege,” he has said. “And I think that mainstream Pop culture has accepted me on a level that they might be reluctant to, in terms of a person of color.” But that doesn’t change the facts on the ground: A new white hip-hop superstar has been anointed, one who does not live up to most rap critics’ definition of excellence. (Eminem is widely considered to be an extremely skilled rapper.) Some have even gone so far as to anoint Macklemore some sort of savior of hip-hop, a Great White Hope who will help the genre evolve into a more enlightened form. A recent Dallas Morning News headline sums up this perspective: “Macklemore shows hip-hop doesn’t need to be homophobic, violent in Dallas concert.”
We need your help to get to 5,000 Longreads Members.