Seattle-based rap duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis revealed in a Billboard interview that they received a “college seminar on race” before producing their latest album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, which features songs about racism and the perils of white privilege.
The two said they spent months meeting weekly with Georgia Roberts, a professor at the University of Washington, dissecting W.E.B. Du Bois and James Baldwin books, among others. “Georgia really schooled us,” said Lewis.
The first single, “White Privilege II,” from their new album is a self-flagellating ten-minute song apologizing for the ever-present oppression of white privilege.
Macklemore, born Ben Taggerty, said he was first motivated to rap about race after a grand jury decided not to indict former Ferguson, Missouri, police officer Darren Wilson for the 2014 killing of Michael Brown. “The nonindictment was the biggest one in terms of realizing I had been silent [about racism] out of fear,” Macklemore said.
Criticism for the song was sharp and near-universal.
Ultimately, the rap duo’s attempt at whitesplaining missed the mark. Worse still, the entire effort reeked of self-loathing elitism: a rich, white, heterosexual man admits that his only place in today’s Black Lives Matter movement is to simply nod his head in agreement–but ends up rapping about it for almost ten minutes.
— billboard (@billboard) March 3, 2016
“I have a problem with any drug,” Macklemore admits in an interview meant to humanize and mollify what most believe about these misguided musicians. “Pills and lean and weed were probably the three that I used most. I smoke weed from the minute I wake up to the minute that I pass out, and [when I do] I don’t do anything productive. I’m usually lying to the people I love in order to do weed in the first place.”
By the end of the Billboard interview, Macklemore does concede that he, like Elvis, is little more than “a white person who raps … appropriating a black art form.”
Ironically, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, released on February 26, is the platform from which the rap group will make millions in album and ticket sales. They already have tour dates lined up in Europe and the United States this spring.