I’m not quite sure how I feel about self-help tracks. Most of the time, there’s such a significant disconnect between the advice-offeror and the listener on the other end, a gulf not only of time and space but of celebrity and wealth too, that whatever it is that is the message of the piece ends up inevitably diluted, a victim of context. Nas skirted around the issue on ‘I Can’ by telling the tale of a third party – that girl ‘sniffing up drugs all in her nose‘ – but the imperative to ‘Read more, learn more, change the globe’ never felt that genuine, a maxim dictated from up on high by a man who made it out of Queens and could look back with the luxury of retrospect. Such self-awareness is generally the domain of the rich and famous who have the means – and the time – to engage in the sort of prolonged introspection that results in crystallised nuggets of wordly knowledge and advice. Listening to rappers particularly deliver one-liners about staying in school or reaching for the stars or any number of other cliched pep-talk moments is ineluctably part of the game but can begin to grate, fast.
That I should put more stock in the words of Macklemore, a Seattle local who has been doing his thing since about 2000 and has carved out somewhat of a niche for himself in Washington State, seems an unlikely proposition. But as almost every class I’ve taken this semester has reaffirmed, the value of ‘weak ties’ – or relative strangers – can’t be underestimated when it comes to influencing opinion. As such, it might have something to do with the fact that I’d never heard of Macklemore before his track ‘The Money’ showed up randomly in my shuffle one day (origins still unknown). More likely is that now, having read up on Macklemore’s life story and the battle with prescription and illicit drugs that effectively killed his career and ostracised his fan base between debut ‘Language of My World’ (2005) and his ‘Unplanned Mixtape’ (2009), I can recognize that the man has legitimate life lessons to share. I resent the proposition that you have to have lived a battle of a life to be world wise but equally, having almost taken off, been grounded seemingly interminably and just now lifting off the ground again with new work and a tour across the UK, Ireland and the US on the cards, Macklemore is a beacon of perseverance and love for the game in a landscape populated by increasingly fickle characters.
I love that ‘Make The Money’ opens to a distorted scream, a symbol both of the anguish that has plagued Macklemore’s turbulent rise to this point as well as a siren call to heed the lyrics that follow. Long-time collaborator and producer Ryan Lewis constructs a contemplative beat around the sort of keys that usually sound forced in hip-hop, unnaturally suited to anything outside of balladry, and it’s bolstered by Macklemore’s opening verse, building in intensity and full of intriguing phrasing. Culminating in the slightly personally depressing line, “If I’d done it for the money, I’d have been a fucking lawyer”, Macklemore’s rap is complemented by production that never overwhelms but rather swells and ebbs just when it should. He effortlessly scales up his own struggles and the solutions he has discovered for them so that listeners are addressed with the same sense of candor that might typify the tone of a Macklemore internal monologue. It’s just enough personal to hook you, just enough public to keep you interested. Moreover, the slogan at the heart of the whole piece ‘Make the money, don’t let the money make you’, is so frank and earnestly delivered that it doesn’t matter that Xzibit might have said it before, Macklemore is its true messenger.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis – Make The Money