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White Rappers and Hip-Hop's Race Problem

    The first time I heard Macklemore was here in my hometown of Austin, Tx during SXSW 2010 at a Seattle Hip-Hop showcase. I remember it was freezing cold, rainy, and was the second to last day of music showcases in a week that had provided me with more excitement and memorable drunken nights then I actually do remember. As I waited in line to get into the show I heard a smooth yet unorthodox flow over an amazing sample of Red Hot Chili Peppers “Otherside.” Oddly enough it was a tall, pale skinned, blonde, white guy standing on the stage monitors ripping the mic with more passion than I had ever seen before.

    Of course immediately after his set, I greeted Mack and nabbed the last copy of him and Ryan Lewis’ ‘The Vs. Ep,’ then told him I was excited to hear more music from them. Little did I know that two years later they would catapult up the billboard charts as the hottest artists of 2012 & 2013, worldwide. I’m pleased to say I followed their careers the entire way, loving the message in Macklemore’s lyrics and the originality of Ryan Lewis’ production. They gave the industry something it had needed for far too long, and they were rewarded immensely for it.

    Fast forward five years later and so much has changed within the music and the industry. Honestly, its hard to imagine its even been that long. Yet from the looks and sounds of things it almost feels like a completely different generation is at the helm. As we enter another year of antics, confusion, and controversy I can’t help but continue to notice how the trends have shifted since Mack’s success. There’s been a slew of caucasian artists who have successfully broken the threshold, selling out shows and making constant appearances on Itunes Top 20 charts. Ironically, I’d bet most TRUE hip-hop enthusiasts have probably never heard of most of them.

    Now there’s been several artists of the Anglo-American decent who have shown promise over the years. I know all of them probably get tired and annoyed with Eminem or Asher Roth comparisons but hey, that’s what hip-hop is known for, competition and comparison. Chances are if you’re a fan of Mac Miller, MGK, or Logic, then you’re quite possibly aware of Action Bronson, G-Eazy, Jake Miller, Mike Stud, Hoodie Allen, Sammy Adams, T. Mills, or Cam Meekins. Truth be told, I’m not much a fan of many of these artists’ music as I am of their cult-like followings. It intrigues me how popular some of these artists have become in such a short time, and also sparks my curiosity of how that came to be.

    Some fans would probably label several of the artists I mentioned in the list above as ‘Pop Rappers’ or as they’re more commonly referred to as ‘Frat Rappers.’ That’s possibly because while most of them have seasoned and polished flows, their substance never strays out of familiar context and with exception of Logic, G-Eazy, Mac, and Action, much of their production sounds like something Ke$ha would use on an album/mixtape. But that doesn’t negate the fact they all have fans and make good money from touring… A lot more than I do I might add. And that to me continues to draw the question, is it mainly due to the obvious case that they’re white? I can’t help but point out that there can’t be much of another explanation. Because, as some of their music may be decent, lyrically I’ve met local artists with 180 twitter followers who could wipe the floor with any of them without breaking so much as a sweat.

    Truth be told, race has always played a factor in Hip-Hop music. Even if you’re extraordinarily talented lyrically, being a lighter shade is going to have an influence on how fans and artists alike will perceive you. Honestly, I wish it wasn’t this way, and if it wasn’t for the ongoing inequality within the music I wouldn’t care regardless. But when I see artists who have cultivated a unique and noteworthy sound continue to struggle to get noticed, while others who take a familiar, all-too-traveled route brandish 70,000 plays on Soundcloud in 24 hours, I can’t help but get slightly irritated. What is it about these artists that fans gravitate towards aside from the relativity in their background? The music may contain subject matter they also can also connect with from a personal point of view, but if that’s a factor than why do suburban white kids love Trap Rap so much? Because I can assure you, just because you and your girlfriend like to stop by your dealer’s house every weekend to get blazed and bump rails at college parties doesn’t mean you know anything about the ‘Trap lifestyle.’ It’s amusing to me however, because these trends never do cease to amaze me.

    While there seems to be no guaranteed formula to succeeding in the music business it doesn’t take a sociologist to notice a pattern in the popularity of the music and the fans. While an artist like Raz Simone can cultivate a sound that speaks to the heart and soul of any listener, his music will get overshadowed by a sub-par Action Bronson cut any day of the week. And I can’t help but ask myself, does it ever end? Will there ever be more balance? When will fans stop letting image dictate their listening habits and pay closer attention to the music itself? And while it seems these artists have no problem enjoying the fruits of labor that came from an art-form created by Black America, few of them tend to pay homage or tribute to the familial artists whom paved the way, that we’ve all have adored since adolescence.

    While I mean no disrespect to any artist mentioned or the fans whom hold their music up in high regard, I do intend on stimulating thoughts in the minds of every person who reads this article. Because, whether you’re familiar with artists mentioned above or not, we all can’t help but notice how the tides continue to turn in the case of commercial hip-hop. As much as I wish it didn’t look this way, it seems we’re undergoing some kind of musical gentrification. Personally, I’m just hoping to be inspired again, because popular hip-hop as of recent just doesn’t do it for me anymore. And its not that the talent is lacking, its just seems to be the same song recycled 500 different times and as long as you look the part that’s getting the recognition, you’ll be successful simply by playing it once more.


    Matt G