Macklemore Is The White Eminem – A Short Essay About Hip Hop Duplexity

Macklemore is the white Eminem.

I say this not necessarily in terms of skin color, but more in the sense of classical dualism, yin and yang. He has set himself up, intentionally or otherwise, as the dualistic companion piece of Eminem, a bizarro version that is still a perfect reflection, a mirror that flips things backwards. We’ll start superficially here, and then dig deeper.

The superficial differences are obvious, but their dualistic nature isn’t immediately apparent. Let’s lay it out:

Eminem’s style of rapping is aggressive, filled with yelling, and riffs that sound like he’d rather not be there. I think it’s a fair description to describe Em’s flow as “annoyed;” he seems frustrated, even openly angry, to be rapping. His boasts, what few there are, primarily focus on his actual proficiency at rapping; his frantic reprise of how he “doesn’t give a fuck,” versed defiantly in a million different ways across all of his songs, seems to hint at a greater, deeper vulnerability.
This is a man with a chip on his shoulder who yearns for stability, glory and acceptance. Every opinion he states is designed to polarize, and agitate. He is viciously not afraid of pissing the listener off, to the degree that he will threaten to murder, rape, or otherwise eviscerate literally anyone, often in a funny way, usually for no reason.

He’s the angry kid inside you, grown into a juggernaut of rap. He’s essentially a puerile version of the Hulk, a brooding id that fucking hates everyone. He’s a man who can’t find peace with himself, and therefore, can’t find peace with the world. He’s at war with the universe.

Now let’s turn the mirror.

Macklemore’s style of rapping is casual, friendly, occasionally slipping into asides as though he’s talking to friends at a low-key party. You can hear Mack’s smile in almost every line in every song; he’s happy to be there, and when the flow does speed up, it’s done for showmanship, a big grin with a side of “look what I can do.” Macklemore’s interests are extremely nuanced and specific; he often name drops simple items or people that excite and delight him, but, unlike his other mainstream rap contemporaries, they are very specific items, and he doesn’t feel the need that you be impressed with him. (Oh, you just bought a new “foreign car?” Mack has acquired a lime green 1991 pair of rollerblades)

In fact, despite never saying it out loud, Macklemore seems to actually not give a fuck. He seems self actualized to a large degree, and his breezy but utter and complete confidence shines out into every aspect of his music. This is a man who is rapping about things he likes because he wants to, and he wants you to engage with him personally. His opinions are versed carefully, and fully. He doesn’t want to piss you off. He just wants you to talk to him for a second.

He’s the voice at the back of your head when you’re blissed out; a guy who lives in a permanent state of glow, when you wish, “why couldn’t I always feel this way?” His songs have a thematic focus on freedom, and personal liberty: peace with the universe.

What’s fascinating is how completely they mirror each other, especially when pared against other white rappers. White rappers, by and large, since we first heard Eminem on Forgot About Dre, have near obsessively defined themselves through self conscious apologia, fanatically insisting on their own harmlessness. From MC Chris, who speaks in a modified timbre about such unoffensive subjects as video games and science fiction, to Lonely Island, who are a straight comedy act, to even the fresh on the scene, technically gifted Lil Dicky, whose biggest hit to date plays like an sorry note for even existing, white rappers have been for the most part limited to novelty acts.

They love to rap about “normal people” things and be “relatable,” to the degree that a white rapper talking about how he DOESN’T need ho’s, guns or cash has become a painfully repetitive trope. “I’m a normal guy rapping about NORMAL PEOPLE things!”

You’ll rarely, if ever, hear most caucasian hip hop artists comment on their own sexual prowess, or crimes they’ve committed, or even about how much money they make, whereas across the board in mainstream African American Hip-Hop nearly every song tends to run through a familiar checklist: I have a big dick, so many women want to give me head, I have a nice car, I do crimes or do not do crimes any more since I have all this money now, and boy, do I have a lot of money. It’s even stranger when there are numerous artists on a song; it ends up feeling like a low-key, unstated contest, possibly involving literal dick measuring.

Macklemore and Eminem are NOT normal guys rapping about normal people things. Both standouts for the same reason artists like Jay-Z, Drake, and Kanye West are stand outs; they’re formula-breakers in their genre. But when you look closer, now into the context these people found success, you see an even sharper divide, and yet another rabbit hole of mirroring and dualism.

In the late 1990s/early 2000s, during Em’s rise, rap was at its most glamorous; it was the end of the era of murder and the start of the era of party rap, where a lot of the “crime” element was being removed to instead do some Big Pimpin’ and list how many cars you own. Eminem’s vulgar, furious, 7th grade boy ranting about how many murders he was going to do was a wildly stark contrast; even on songs where he’d guest, Eminem would often stray from the main subject matter to go on a mentally unstable tangent. You’re rich? He’s poor. You’ve got a big dick? He chopped his off. You have a nice house? He just lit his on fire and doesn’t remember why. Hi, my name is.

In the 2010s, the era of Macklemore, mainstream top 40 rap, with a few notable exceptions some of whom I’ve already mentioned, is getting…What’s the word…Stupider. Not in a bad way, but the rise of artists like Young Thug, a man who raps like a homeless man yelling, Pitbull, a fun raconteur whose every song seems to be a rearranged grouping of a limited number of catchphrases, and Tyga, whose songs about excess and irresponsibility are so simplistically worded that they border on accidental self parody, the art form is folding in on itself. Standing amongst this wreckage on the pop charts is a seemingly perpetually calm man with an interesting haircut rapping quietly to you about gay marriage, how nice it is to hang out with your friends, and the perks of owning a moped; he’s wearing your grandpa’s clothes, and he looks incredible.

I think in a lot of ways that would take a lot more writing to unpack, what we’re seeing in this two men is representative of a cultural shift, but there’s something to be said for the primary thing they share, other than skin color and musical vocation: sincerity. Both Macklemore and Eminem come across as blindingly open and sincere to who they are; they’re not playing a part, even if their outlandish personalities sometimes feel that way. Eminem IS angry, he’s addicted, he’s impulsive and occasionally out of control. He loves his daughter, despises his ex wife, and rages against the world at large. Macklemore IS happy, he’s stylish, he’s upbeat and occasionally is going to fuck a fat girl. He loves his daughter, loves his menage a trois prone wife, and sends out vibes of hope and kindness to the world at large.

In every meaningful way, Macklemore is the white Eminem.