I hadn’t heard Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” until last week but I knew in my heart of hearts I would hate it. I hated its existence already but I couldn’t pinpoint why. It was an irrational feeling radiating out from some primal, instinctive part of my brain. It was my id talking, saying, “Yo, fuck this dude.”
This isn’t fair. I talk a lot of shit but for the most part, I uncynically want everyone to find something they are truly passionate about and make a billion dollars off of it. I respect the hustle of a lot of truly trife, ridiculous people. By all accounts, Macklemore is a legitimate, self-made indie success story and I should be glad he’s sitting on the top of the charts with his boy Ryan Lewis (aka Generic Name Shawty).
The problem with “Thrift Shop” is it doesn’t feel like the first strike by an artist who will be around for the foreseeable future. Rappers don’t break through to the mainstream with chart-topping singles; if they even have one, it usually the result of months or even years of buzz, local singles and popular tapes. It can be kind of hard to tell when a rapper really gets to the “next level”; after Curren$y got dropped from Ca$h Money, he began a prolific run of generally good, extremely smoked-out mixtapes. He never had a club hit but he did pick up a legion of followers (and arguably birthed a generation of rappers with his style). No idea when exactly he got so huge.
“Thrift Shop” feels like Wedding Rap. Bar Mitzvah Rap. It’s some shit your youngest uncle or oldest cousin probably likes. It’s a gimmicky song by an unthreatening face. It feels like rap for people that don’t actually like rap. Other such jams include “I Wish,” “Baby Got Back” and “Ice Ice Baby.” With no disrespect to The Diabolical Biz Markie, “Just A Friend” probably deserves inclusion as well. I wouldn’t include perma-bangers like “Big Poppa” or “Gin N Juice” because those are just Extremely Popular Rap Songs By Extremely Popular Artists. Those are the tip of the iceberg for some of the most successful emcees of all time, so pervasive that they even reached people who “don't like rap.”
The first time I ever heard of Macklemore was on last year’s XXL Freshmen cover, then through the buzz around his gay-marriage song “Same Love” and now “Thrift Shop.” I understand there’s some questionable logic behind the whole “If he’s so popular why haven’t I heard of him?” argument. But please understand that the way artists get marketed is a choice, and a calculated one at that. There were meetings about who would most likely be into Macklemore and it was discussed at length. It is not a random coincidence that dude was not on my radar. He wasn’t aimed at people who like rap, he was aimed at people who don’t, who would giggle nervously at an opening line saying, “Whatup I got a big cock.” People whose uninformed ideas about rap materialism would find a song about shopping at a thrift store as rebellious (as Brandon Soderberg of SPIN explained better than me). Also: people who still think a white guy in rap is some kind of anomaly in 2013 are just wrong.
When I think about Wedding Rap, I think of songs that people know even though they might not know anything about who made them (including their name). Sir Mix-A-Lot was a very successful and influential rapper, producer and entrepreneur in the late 80’s and early 90’s. He went platinum before “Baby Got Back.” But to most people, Sir Mix-A-Lot exists as a punchline of a one-hit-wonder because his biggest song is a Wedding Rap staple. It’s depressing! He is not having fun yet.
Maybe Macklemore is just another run-of-the-mill flash in the pan and it’s kind of cool that a rapper who clearly listened to a lot of Slug at some point can get that kind of shine. But it also means I get to spend the next twelve months at gigs telling increasingly aggressive drunk people that I’m not going to play goddamn fucking “Thrift Shop,” just like I did with “Gangam Style” last year and “Somebody That I Used To Know” the year before.
Regardless, I feel a little better having worked this out.
Skinny Friedman is working out his issues with pop-rap over on Twitter - @skinny412