Breaking down the song ‘White Privilege II’ by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis

 I think one of the critical questions for white people in this society is, ‘What are you willing to risk? What are you willing to sacrifice to create a more just society?’

White Privilege II, Macklemore. Source: Musixmatch.

I know how it looks and sounds, a white straight man rapping about what white privilege is. As the saying goes, it sounds about white. But possibly, this is what some white people need in order to start listening. Macklemore is a renowned American rapper, who has released songs such as ‘Thrift Shop‘, ‘Downtown‘ and ‘Can’t Hold Us‘. However, being a white rapper comes with some controversy – the movement of rap and hip hop culture came to fruition in the Bronx, New York City. A culture created by African Americans, Caribbean Americans and Latino Americans during the mid 1970s. This art revolution gave space for African American communities to find a voice and to make a statement in the political climate. As hip hop culture grew into the 2000s, white communities often stereotyped it with ‘thugs’ and drugs. Yet rappers like Eminem and Macklemore have been able to slide these stereotypes.

“You’re the only hip-hop that I let my kids listen to, cause you get it, all that negative stuff it isn’t cool. Yeah? Yeah, like, all the guns and the drugs, the bitches and the hoes and the gangs and the thugs.”

White Privilege II, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Source: Musixmatch.

‘White Privilege II’ was written by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis and is an 8-minute 42-second song that tackles Macklemore’s influence in the industry. The song is unsurprisingly a sequel from his song ‘White Privilege’ and both songs discuss the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as his own place in the world as a white, straight man. Putting the two together, Macklemore is not necessarily apologising for where he stands in hip hop culture but is instead explaining why he has been given the platform he has.

If you are in a system that will propel you to the top off of the backs of black artists who might be better than you are, no one black is going to be interested in your guilt.

After doing some research into how this song was initially perceived in 2016, I came across a YouTube channel called Dead End Hip Hop. It is a channel where a group of music enthusiasts have “pure unfiltered hip hop conversations and album reviews.” In the video below they have a conversation about the politics behind the song ‘White Privilege II’, as well as Macklemore’s intentions with the song.

YouTube: Dead End Hip Hop

In the discussion someone states that the song is “reaching people who wouldn’t necessarily entertain this conversation.” In a sense, this is true. Macklemore’s fanbase is predominantly white – which is why he has been able to to come so far in his career.

“My skin matches the hero, likeness, the image
America feels safe with my music in their systems
And it’s suited me perfect, the role, I’ve fulfilled it
And if I’m the hero, you know who gets cast as the villain
White supremacy isn’t just a white dude in Idaho
White supremacy protects the privilege I hold
White supremacy is the soil, the foundation, the cement and the flag that flies outside of my home.”

White Privilege II, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Source: Musixmatch.

This song is uncomfortable to listen to, when I first listened to it back in 2016, I even thought Macklemore was being unfair. I didn’t fully understand what he was truly getting at. So I did my research and I listened to the song again and again. I learned that this song wasn’t directed at people of colour – they already knew what he was saying because they had experienced it first hand. This was directed at white people, telling them that they need to start listening and acting on what they have learned.

“More white people to listen to black people and maybe explain the perspective to other white people” – Dead End Hip Hop

Throughout the song, analogies are given, extracts of news segments, commentaries which make white privilege seem so blatant. It suddenly all starts to make sense, which is why Macklemore seems so angry. Because it is right in front of our eyes. Yet white people are only learning about their privilege through a white rapper who has used his own privilege to take hip hop culture and has made it his own. Do you see the irony?

“Some people need their own kind to speak to them and put it in their own terms and say ‘look this is what this means” – Dead End Hip Hop

“The culture was never yours to make better.

You’re Miley, you’re Elvis, you’re Iggy Azalea.”

White Privilege II, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Source: Musixmatch.

Macklemore calls out three artists, Miley Cyrus, Elvis Presley and Iggy Azalea. Three artists who have profited off the music which was never theirs, to begin with. Dead End Hip Hop notes that it is interesting that he had called out another white rapper because Iggy is in the same position Macklemore is in. However, “Iggy Azalea fought against it.” – DEHH By writing and performing this song, Macklemore is owning up to his exploitation and is using his elevated platform to spread awareness. For example, another song Macklemore and Ryan Lewis has written is called ‘Same Love’ which discusses the issue of same-sex marriage and LGBTQ+ rights. (Watch the music video below)

At the end of ‘White Privilege II’, Jamila Woods, an American singer, sings 10 lines, repeating two phrases. This is how the song is rounded off, leaving listeners truly contemplating on what has been said in the last 8 minutes and 42 seconds.

“Your silence is a luxury, hip-hop is not a luxury
What I got for me, it is for me
What we made, we made to set us free”

White Privilege II, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Source: Musixmatch.

With the repetition of the two phrases, Jamila is echoing what the Black Lives Matter movement has been and is still fighting for. Hip hop began as a way to express the struggles of being Black in a White supremacist society, and originated from other styles of music that reflected Black culture. Jamila stating that white people’s ‘silence is a luxury’ reflects on the fact that white people have been able to find comfort in their passiveness. And that is all it is, white privilege is a luxury.

No one is saying that you have to be sorry for being white but what they are saying is that you have to understand that you being white gives you certain privileges that other people don’t have” – Dead End Hip Hop

At the end of the day, Macklemore is still benefitting off his career, even off this song and that is because nothing has really changed. White people might have listened to his song back in 2016, but songs grow old and apparently so does the talk of racism. Which is why I chose to discuss this song, to keep the flame burning and to keep the conversation going. White people should no longer feel comfortable in their privilege, but instead, want to do something to change this system of oppression. If you are a white person, search up the song and give it a listen and then think about how you have participated in helping to end racial discrimination. If you haven’t started, start now. “The best thing white people can do is talk to each other, having those very difficult, very painful conversations with your parents, with your family members.” – White Privilege II, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.

Black Lives Matter, to use an analogy, is like if… if there was a subdivision and a house was on fire. The fire department wouldn’t show up and start putting water on all the houses because all houses matter. They would show up and they would turn their water on the house that was burning because that’s the house that needs the help the most.

What if I actually read a article, actually had a dialogue

Actually looked at myself, actually got involved?

If I’m aware of my privilege and do nothing at all, I don’t know.

White Privilege II, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. Source: Musixmatch.

In all honesty, Macklemore’s music only scratches the surface of what hip hop culture is, an album I can recommend to listen to which really explores the sociopolitical issues and racism in the US is ‘To Pimp A Butterfly’ by Kendrick Lamar. Definitely give it a listen if you haven’t already. It’s incredibly powerful.

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