Macklemore & Ryan Lewis Got 'Schooled' On Race And White Privilege

They wanted to gain perspective by studying the work of black icons like W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and bell hooks.

Since the song "Thrift Shop" hit the airwaves in 2012, Macklemore has become entwined in countless conversations about race, racism and white privilege, something he's well aware he's benefited from. 

"Thrift Shop" thrust Macklemore and his musical partner/producer Ryan Lewis into the spotlight; the song went to No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100, sat there for six weeks and went on to sell 7.9 million copies. The rapper even scored endorsement deals with the NBA and Dr. Pepper. 

As Billboard notes, "the duo found a mass pop audience through a black art form." Their success and privilege were especially apparent when they won the Grammy for Best Rap Album in 2014, beating out Kendrick Lamar's "good kid, m.A.A.d. City." To make matters even more awkward, Macklemore texted Lamar, saying, "You got robbed," and then proceeded to Instagram a screenshot of said text

Suffice it to say, the whole situation was terrible. But both Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are working to educate themselves on race and white privilege, with the hopes of gaining a little perspective. 

Speaking to Billboard, the duo revealed they took what was basically a six-month seminar about race to educate themselves. For half a year, the musical partners met with Georgia Roberts (Lewis' thesis advisor from the University of Washington Bothell) to talk about the work of prominent African-Americans in history like W.E.B. Du Bois, James Baldwin and bell hooks. 

"Georgia really schooled us," Lewis said.

"They were beginning to process the previous couple of years, and I got the impression they were looking for an honest, outside perspective on some of the push-back they’d received," Roberts added. "I appreciated that they weren’t dismissive of the criticism; they seemed genuinely interested in understanding it."

In January 2016, the duo released the self-aware "White Privilege II," a follow-up to their 2005 song "White Privilege," which prompted all sorts of reactions from people on social media. 

The song also earned Macklemore and Lewis the respect of Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson, who called it "powerful," and rapper Talib Kweli, who "loved it." 

It's clear that Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are trying to gain a better understanding of their chosen art form, but at the end of the day they're both white men "appropriating a black art form." It's an interesting dichotomy which begs the question: Can they ever win?

No matter what he says, Macklemore will likely be criticized one way or the other. But as he told Billboard, "It’s really not about me. At the end of the day, God willing, I’ll have another 40 or 50 years on this planet, and what I’m saying to myself is, ‘What do I want to leave here?'" 

To read the entire interview, head over to Billboard



7 Historic Moments From Black Stars At This Year's Grammys