Today, an unsigned hip-hop artist by the name of Macklemore made it to #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 Chart with his song Thrift Shop. I’m hearing that it has been more than 20 years since an artist without a record label has achieved this. Now, to me, Thrift Shop sounds like comedy rap. It’s about a guy going to a club and making people jealous with his bargain bin fashion. But far be it from me to suggest that there would be a joke at #1 on the Billboard charts. That’s not why I’m writing this post.

Whenever something unusual happens in mainstream music, it gets a lot of exposure (Gangnam Style). This means that people who usually have nothing to say are suddenly posting their music opinions online, such as here. Since I enjoy reading these so much, and it’s been such a long time since I’ve talked about judging quality in music objectively, today we shall have an impromptu roast of individuals who unknowingly swam outside their depth in the ocean of music appreciation.

I’d hardly call him awful…… then again, Bob Dylan is an “awful” singer compared to Clay Aiken, but his lyrics make for great songs that speak to the listener at a deeper level. Does he have the speed of Eminem, or the flow of Lil’ Wayne? No, but he doesn’t have to.

Steve Vai is a fantastic guitarist, but his music BLOWS. I would way rather listen to someone who isn’t quite as talented in delivery but creates, on the whole, superior music.

Ironically, Macklemore is lacking in neither speed nor flow. Of course, if Eminem and Lil’ Wayne are your representative figures for those two traits, you’re new to the genre. What really characterized Eminem (at least in his early work) was the genuine passion and fury he brought to his song-writing. By contrast, when Macklemore writes about something he cares deeply about, we get this patronizing song, lesbian vocalist and all.

It’s always amusing when someone tries to justify their taste in music by saying “he isn’t quite as talented,” which is hardly a good start, but then criticizes the wrong attribute (“delivery”) as a concession. It seems to me that Macklemore’s biggest problem is that he isn’t very compelling. He’s hardly making “superior” music — unless we’re comparing to Lil’ Wayne still.

[referring to a lyrical comparison of Nas and Macklemore]

I find the Macklemore song more enjoyable precisely for the reasons that make him a bad rapper stylistically. Looking at the lines from each you’ve quoted, other than the 3rd line from Macklemore I immediately get exactly what he’s communicating in the song. Nas’s song is much more like a poem, I understand the metaphors and get the general gist of the song after reading your lyrics, but on a quick listen I wouldn’t have much of an idea of what the song is even about.

Maybe it’s just a storytelling vs. poem artistic difference. Or maybe Macklemore is just more approachable for casual listeners who aren’t really that connected to hip hop.

Again, someone prefaces their defense of Macklemore by calling him “a bad rapper.” With friends like these, right Macklemore? Of course, in this case the poster openly admits that complex lyrics confuse him. I’m sure Nas appreciates the notion that a song talking about how great he is is an “artistic poem.” That’s why he’s the best, I guess.

I’ve got bad news for you, buddy. Thrift Shop is “approachable for casual listeners” because you have no idea what you’re doing when it comes to listening to music, and it has a “fun” aesthetic. And really, if you find yourself doing the “yes he’s terrible, but…” thing while talking about music, maybe it’s not as subjective as you think.

“Awful rappers” don’t make it to the top of the charts, especially unsigned ones. I think it’s safe to say your opinion on his abilities to rap are in the minority.

The proverbial “appeal to the majority” never gets old. There are plenty of artists doing exactly the same as Macklemore who will never be #1 on Billboard, there are plenty of artists who are better who will never be #1 on Billboard, and there have ALREADY been plenty of artists much worse at #1.

[responding to same Nas-Macklemore comparison from earlier]

I think that’s just being unreasonably pedantic — I enjoy the Macklemore song, and couldn’t give a darn about the Nas song.

Some people still believe that enjoying music makes it good. In reality, it just means they have bad taste. Just like a fat person enjoying McDonald’s.

That about sums it up for this group of philistines. There were a few people in there, thankfully, who stated the truth of the matter. Macklemore is average at best, he has some issues with credibility and likability. Someone suggested that he was “just a typical hipster rapper,” and that may very well be true. I try not to have enough exposure to hipster hip-hop that I’d recognize such a thing.

Nonetheless, he did make it to #1 on the chart without a record label helping him, and this could be an iconic moment in modern music. It’s very easy now for people to produce their own stuff, film their own music videos, publish material online for free or to buy, and Macklemore won’t be the last mediocre artist to be crowd-sourced to glory.


One thought on “Check your taste at the door

  1. Pingback: Some oldschool hip-hop | Listen To Better Music

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