Why racism haunts Macklemore’s Grammy victory over Kendrick Lamar


The moment it was announced that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis won the Grammy for Best Rap Album, it was like the rehashing of an old and cruel joke. It’s the old joke of white privilege prevailing over black talent that’s obviously more deserving. However, it’s really not a joke, we only laugh to keep from crying.

But before delving into how history was repeated, we should take a look at the specifics. The category for Best Rap Album included Macklemore & Ryan Lewis The Heist; Kendrick Lamar good kid, M.A.A.D City; Jay Z Magna Carta…Holy Grail; Kanye West Yeezus; and Drake NWTS.

While the heavyweights of hip-hop (Jay Z, Kanye West, and Drake) all released respectable projects, it was clear that the Grammy Award was a two-man race between Macklemore and Kendrick Lamar.

Musically, The Heist was tailored for the radio with pop hits such as “Thrift Shop,”  “Can’t Hold Us” and “Same Love.” Mackemore, who is an independent artist, also went after the major label system with the song “Jimmy Iovine” and touched on the sneaker culture with “Wings.”

When compared to Kendrick’s good kid, M.A.A.D City, The Heist doesn’t come close. Instead of leaning on radio singles, Kendrick created a cohesive album that told the coming of age story of a teen experiencing life in Compton, Calif. In an age where rap singles and mixtapes rule, Kendrick found a way to captivate listeners for an entire album. It was a classic debut that stands alongside similar great debut albums such as Nas’ Illmatic, Jay Z’s Reasonable Doubt and Ice Cube’s AmeriKKKa’s Most Wanted.

Beyond the album comparisons, Macklemore’s victory reminded us of how race has played a pivotal role in American music. It reminded us of how black music was whitewashed for mainstream radio audiences in the 1940s and ’50s. Elvis Presley garnered the title as the “King of Rock and Roll” by mimicking the sound of black southern blues artists.  MTV started as a network which only played videos by one black artist (Michael Jackson) and black artists were absent from the number one spot on the 2013 Billboard’s top 100 singles chart while several white artists achieved the top spot by using urban music.

Macklemore’s victory provoked the same emotions that fueled Kanye West’s infamous interruption and testimony when Taylor Swift defeated Beyonce at the VMA’s. It is the constant fight to overcome and be acknowledged for skill and achievement.

If white privilege continues to be a blatant issue in the entertainment industry, you can imagine that it is a much bigger issue for blacks seeking employment or hoping for advancement in corporate America.

Macklemore does not deserve blame. He is a decent artist who released a decent album. He even suggested that Kendrick should win the award for Best Album before the ceremony.

Although it’s highly likely that the Grammy voters are culturally disconnected from the true essence of hip-hop, some will always believe that the voters perpetuated a sad fact which still exists in America.

Chris Rock once joked, “When you’re white, the sky’s the limit. When you’re black, the limit is the sky.”

Macklemore’s defeat of Kendrick Lamar at the Grammy Awards was proof of that joke’s disgraceful truth.

By: Amir Shaw

A.R. Shaw
A.R. Shaw

A.R. Shaw is an author and journalist who documents culture, politics, and entertainment. He has covered The Obama White House, the summer Olympics in London, and currently serves as Lifestyle Editor for Rolling Out magazine. Follow his journey on Twitter @arshaw and Instagram @arshaw23.

  1. I bought and listened to both albums. I liked Mackelmore & Ryan Lewis better. I don’t agree that it’s a black/white thing, just like I didn’t think that when Eminem won his awards. Your opinion is valid, but I am Black and I don’t see it the same way.

    1. I’m glad that the hip hop community decided to do something about
      that… its not mac fault if he won a not deserving award but kendrick
      had by far the better album (objectively), and its sad that it took
      kendrick lamar losiong for the hip hop communiuty
      (artists/fans/producers) to realize that the grammys are racist…

  2. I don’t think that race is the only factor here. How many in the Hip Hop community were asked to participate in Grammy voting and did not? If the people who make the genre of music don’t participate, this is the outcome you get!

  3. Why do people still give a shyt what the Grammies do? They usually get it wrong and they will continue to get it wrong over the years, save for Esperanza Spalding’s win over Beiber a few years back.
    PE’s ‘Terminator X to the Edge of Panic’ said it best…who gives a fk abt a goddamn Grammy?’

    1. EXACTLY!

      All the MOST TALENTED Artists always get snubbed, Especially the Black artist.
      No one knew or gave a DAMN about Taylor Swift’s ass at all until Kayne did what he did to make his point.

      It’s all a bunch of BULL SHIZZLE!

  4. Though white privilege IS an issue that haunts blacks and whites in this country (and everyone in between) what HAS won is black music. Our style always wins. Our fashion style always wins (though the sagging thing is terrible), and we’ve influenced the entire world to wanting to emulate us, even if we do something crappy. We actually DO have a great power in this world, we just have to make sure that we are influencing the right things to the right people for the right reasons, and promote those people in our communities so that they are never forgotten.

    1. Cause blacks in entertainment haven’t bitten off EVERYTHING Italians have done down to the stage names they use. Even Pac talking about Makaveli, Biggie with Junior Mafia. The gangster suits, even calling a style of rap as “gangsta” knowing damn well you think Capone and not some black kid. How many times you hear things about Italian made clothing (versaci, fendi, gucci) or italuan sports cars (ferari, porsche, etc)
      Now the musical stuff isn’t so much taken as improved…like the steam powered car converted to some slick hemi horse power.

      1. I was following until the end…and I get your point, but you also have to understand that we didn’t come to this country being viewed as lower class citizens as many of the Italians were wrongfully treated, but we came being viewed as less than human…the lowest of caste. Our families and towns that made efforts to advance had all been met with violence, i.e. Black Wall Street and Rosewood. That usually came when the society at large realized that we were investing in each other (partially because we weren’t allowed to invest anywhere else). After integration, many of the young ones saw the opportunity to don the fashions of the big name designers, forgetting our own. We made the “name” of the labels more important than the companies made the names, themselves. And that trend continued for a very long time, all the way up to today.

        I wasn’t sure if you were giving an opposing argument or not, so I’m sorry if I’m coming off the same.

  5. Though there is some validity to what was said, I think that the article was pretty simplified and didn’t delve as deeply into the grammy system and how rap is viewed by the academy. Racism in that respect is much different than what is experienced every day. Given that, I don’t care for Macklemore, don’t respect or like their music, and expected them to win over Kendrick Lamar. Sometimes the Grammies misses the mark when it comes to rock, country, pop, etc. The whole grammy establishment is old and stuffy, and not really meant to evaluate popular music effectively. Like, a few years back they gave a reward to jazz pianist Herbie Hancock over Kanye West. Or what about the year they gave a reward to some obscure jazz singer over Chris Brown? How do you expect an old stuffy liberal establishment such as the grammies to really “get” hip hop, especially the type KL does?

    1. I think they both should break the stigma and just do music together. We make music that they need to market their brand and make us kill and materialize our culture. we need to really listen to Kanye west. He is exposing alot of this behavior in our culture. He is a walking brand to what ever name he wear. and now he wants to get paid for marketing and they like nigga please you work for ups…(in my biz markie voice) real talk tho we have to learn to market our own brands and spend money with our own people. in order for us to show the difference… but for now we are only consumer people… blacks buy things for the price if its high i guess it makes you feel like you made it or something… whites can spend what they like and invest in their needs…over all we need to use the little power we do have

  6. Edomites can NOT sing!!! They’re like zombies…NO feeling/NO Soul. When they play guitars, they bounce like a kid who has to pee! Give me old school any day! Examples: Marvin Gaye, The Temptations, Bobby Womack, James Brown, Earth, Wind & Fire, Rufus/Chaka Khan, Etta James, The Chilites. Those are only a FEW examples of what once was and never will be again!! Except for Prince and Stevie, ( plus a couple of others), still being around to give music a chance today, one can forget it!

    1. And only a couple you listed play an instrument while some of the greatest guitarists in history are white while the greatest singers are black. When did you see Clapton jump around or Slash or Sixx or are you being a judgemental douche who pines for a decade that was over 40 years ago? Ol disco listenin ass nigga…oh wait, you were being racist from the start. Anybody who isnt black you wouldnt like. I’ll wait for your black version of a white guy saying he has one black friend by listing the white people you like

  7. Amir Shaw, your article is as shallow as a kiddy pool. Let
    me ask you this, is there any circumstance in your mine where a white artist is
    worthy of the “Best Rap Album” Grammy? I like Kendrick Lamar but clearly
    Macklemore had the better album. The Heist was far superior Musically, in concept
    and in lyrical message. Did you even listen the the album? The Heist harkons
    back to the days when rap albums were message music. You know a thing called
    Hip Hop! Macklemore addresses Racism, the commercialism of Jordans, Same Sex
    Marriage and how record companies rip off artist just to name a few. Macklemore
    is truly ground breaking from his promoting his work independently to the
    artful way his videos are produced. Now I love Kendrick’s music, but how ground
    break is a kid from Compton rapping about how hard it is growing up in the
    hood. What type of message is delivered by “B!tch don’t kill my vibe”? May you
    are right maybe Kendrick did have the better “RAP” Album because Macklemore “The
    Heist” is where Hip Hop should strive to be.

    1. The fact that you have to ask “What type of message is delivered by “B!tch don’t kill my vibe”? ” clearly lets me know that you didn’t listen to GKMC. Macklemore is not ground breaking, he is not the first rapper to address gay rights…he’s just the one who made a song about right when states started lifting the bans. I guess the Eminem and Elton performance is no longer remembered. There have also been underground artists who have mentioned it. Rap has been addressing racism, the industry, etc since the 80’s. What Macklemore is doing is only getting big because he is more comfortable for “America” to accept..period. But like Kendrick says in Bitch don’t kill my vibe…”I’m trying to keep it alive and not compromise the feelin we love, You’re trying to keep it deprived and only co-sign what radio does. If rap music should strive to be what “The Heist” was, than I am sorry but I want no parts of it….and I’ve been listening to Rap since the 80’s.

      1. You are not addressing the issue at all. Why is it Racist that Macklemore won the Grammy? Also give me a break on your Eminem and Gay rights, that whole colabo with Elton John came about because “Slim Shady” had to clean up his public image after making Anti-gay comments. The Heist is a Great Album. Kendrick is a Great Artist, but if you compare track by track for message and music Macklemore wins Hands Down! It should be about good music. I do not hear hear Macklemore on the Radio stations “I” listen to but I hear @ Chains and Future in heavy rotation. And that is the problem with Hip Hop. Oh I mean rap music. Hip Hop is dead.

        1. My point wasn’t to address the article it was to address your comment. My point in bringing up Eminem was to point out the fact that what Macklemore is doing isn’t new to hip hop, but for some reason people think it is. Personally I disagree with your opinion about the Heist being a better album than GKMC. And I hope you aren’t putting Kendrick in the same lane as 2Chainz. Now if you want to address the lack of diversity on the radio that is a different story. I don’t listen to urban radio because they play a lot of stuff that I don’t like. You may not have heard it but on the pop station here in the DC area Macklemore got ALL the spins. There is nothing wrong with that but if you look at the audience that pop stations appeal to then it makes sense that he won the grammy. The hip hop community as a whole agrees that GKMC was a stellar project, and may one day be considered a classic like Illmatic. However I understand that everyone has their own taste. I think Kendrick deserved to win, not Macklemore. As far as the article goes I agree with the author, the way they categorize rap and r&b albums in it of itself shows how out of touch these award shows are, with “urban” music. Hip hop isn’t at all dead, with people like Kendrick, the rest of TDE, Big Krit, Big Boi, Killer Mike, El-P, Brother Ali, Action Bronson..(I could go on and on) it is very much alive unfortunately they don’t get their just due. I’ll leave you with this..Outkast came out in 1994 with a classic they continued to put out music with messages of all kinds. I’m sure that no one can argue their popularity. However they didn’t even get nominated until 1999 for Rosa Parks, and didn’t win until 2002 for Stankoina..which just so happened to contain the popular (on urban and pop radio) B.O.B, and Ms. Jackson. People at the award show didn’t even know who they were. Andre 3000 even said something along the lines of “we’ve been here” in their acceptance speech. That is crazy! It is not until white America is comfortable with an artist that they become “relevant”, as far as awards go.

          1. I agree that Kendrick Lamarr had an excellent Album as did Macklemore. Can we agree on that? If that is the case than if you pit the to Best Albums of the year together why is it a surprise that one won over the other. If you can not judge it
            purely by the music than it is you who are racist. The same folks who complain about the Grammys will probably be crying about Robin Thicke and Justin Timberlake on the BET for the image awards. We can not ask for equality then deny others the same damn thing. It is equality when anyone can compete for that award and not have it judge by skin color.

          2. We can agree that when it comes to music we have different tastes, which is fine. LOL in a perfect world having equality would be nice, however as an African American woman, I see and experience things (some personal, others not) that show me that the color of my skin is a factor in many things. What has happened recently and in the past at the Grammy’s is just an example of how race plays a factor in things. Eminem was accepted not because he was white, but because he was GREAT. No on complains about Justin or Robin Thicke ever, because they too are awesome. Why do you think the BET Awards were started in the first place (in 2001)? Because “we” were consistently being excluded. That comment made no sense. But I would expect that from a person who clearly has not experienced the unfairness of this world, and that is not a dig…just an observation.

          3. It is a shame that as a “African American” Woman you want to perpetuate the same unfairness and ignorance you claim to have faced. Is there any circumstance that a white artist can win a Rap Grammy and it not be racist? Like I said if you remove race and make it about the music then I will hear you. But you have yet to give me one single reason why Kendrick should won over Macklemore.

          4. Kendrick should have won simply because he is a better rapper. In terms of skill, flow, lyrics, versatility etc. Macklemore is a sub par rapper at best. GKMC will def go down in hip hop history..the Heist not so much. Of course white artist can win…if they deserve it, and in my opinion Macklemore didn’t.
            You are missing the point of the article and the issue that people have so maybe this will help….im tired of trying to explain something to someone who doesn’t and wont get it. Have a good day.


    2. I’m glad that the hip hop community decided to do something about
      that… its not mac fault if he won a not deserving award but kendrick
      had by far the better album (objectively), and its sad that it took
      kendrick lamar losiong for the hip hop communiuty
      (artists/fans/producers) to realize that the grammys are racist…

  8. the vote was strictly about music not race. maybe bootlegging had something to do with actual album sales. since the “hip hop” community wouldn’t be in a rush to buy a bootleg cd of macklemore. but would a kendrick cd. i suspect people had to actually purchase macks from a store which is also one of the deciding factors.

  9. The mistake the author makes is not his mention of race but bringing hip hop into the question. Hip hop is the art of storytelling, poetry over beats. The grammys do not pretend to acknowledge hip hop. Oh they’ll get LL Cool J to host and allow hip hop artists to perform in a pseudo embrace of the art form, all while not even mentioning hip hop. We witnessed a similar example of this last year when Drake won in the same category beating Nas and his classic hip hop album “Life Is Good”. If anything the grammys might be anti-hip hop (Jazzy Jeff and The Fresh Price won the first rap grammy in 1989 for “Parents Just Don’t Understand”, frustrating the hip hop community who saw it as a snub of more deserving artists. However, no one saw Will and Jeff win because the grammys chose not to televise their rap awards, but I digress). The grammys have 4 categories for rap, which is far less defined than hip hop. Rap is not even a genre of music. It is simply a vocal delivery method and has been used in all kinds of music from country to rock. 35 years ago Blondie rapped in “Rapture” and Teena Marie rapped in “Square Biz”. Anyone can rap and evidently anyone can win a grammy for it too.

  10. I’m glad that the hip hop community decided to do something about that… its not mac fault if he won a not deserving award but kendrick had by far the better album (objectively), and its sad that it took kendrick lamar losing for the hip hop communiuty (artists/fans/producers) to realize that the grammys are racist…

  11. Its racist because its a white guy who won it. If it was an all black metal band and people got pissed you’d say it was racist….but since Macklemore is white it must be ‘,privilage’ cause white people need to feel bad for being white and having ancestors that accomplished shit or if they did thrmselves

  12. It really isn’t about Macklemore’s race – although that plays a part.
    It is about the actual music that was created and also about the
    differentiation between music that the fans and the industry credits as
    rap music and the stuff that the radio and the music execs decide is
    worthy of being played and pushed. They tend to be two very different models of music.

    Kendrick’s album resonated as “real” rap. It was raw, gritty, symbolic, metaphorical and had a level of lyrical mastery that we simply do not see a lot of. Macklemore’s album just was not that. If it were Eminem versus Kendrick and Em won, nobody would really beef. Em is hip hop. Em is masterful. I’m sorry but Macklemore is not.
    He is radio friendly. He is a decent artist. But his fusion of rap and pop leans more towards pop and less towards rap.

    At the end of the day though, Macklemore did win. For whatever reasons that the
    Grammy committee had for voting for him. And we all will have to be cool
    with that. Everyone else seems far more upset about this than Kendrick
    Lamar. Something tells me that he is also pretty clear about the
    industry that he’s in and what it takes to win. He did an amazing thing
    in the past year. Not winning the grammy should not tarnish all that he
    did accomplish. I expect great things from this young man. He has shown a lot of strength, courage and promise this year.

  13. Wait. The Kane West, Taylor Swift, beyonce thing was about race? I just thought it was about kanye West being an ass hole.
    And this is also not about race. Get over it, the white guy had a better album, doesn’t mean anything! As a white woman, I find this offensively because it is always going to be over out heads the we don’t deserve the best, we only received it because we are white?

    1. No, Macklemore did NOT have the better album. Flow, subject matter, production, relevance — not the better album. If Macklemore had not released ‘Same Love’, the conversations held this week would not have happened. ‘Same Love’ is the coattail, and the proof is in the schlocky group wedding ceremony held during the grammys.

      But The Heist had no business being in the same category as Good Kid M.A.A.D City, Yeezus *or* Nothing Was The Same. (Jay Z’s album sucked in comparison as well).

  14. Frankly –I don’t like the grammies : because of todays crappy music mainstream,stuff. I like the alternative 90’s &retro 80’s. Yes racial stupidity persists & alternative rock was pushed at the end
    As usual !xxxxxpopular music & white rules

  15. Award shows are all about money. The people voting have a vested interest in promoting the actor, or singer for monetary profit. Black rappers have hundreds of topics to rap about…the imprisonment of whales, low wages for minorities, etc. What do they rap about? “Whores,” and “bitches,” and how to have sex in fifty different ways. The black rappers were once handed Grammy’s for glorifying how to kill women…those days are over. More strength to any rapper (no matter what race) who knows as with anything in life there are boundaries.

  16. Chris Rock hit it on the head. Gotta love my “official member of the white race” card gives hefty discount on well just about everything! I’ll tell ya what, this white privilege sure comes in handy! Why, just the other day I was in line at the supermarket and all I had to do was flash my white man card and poof! All those black people ahead of me in the checkout line disappeared! On top of that, my white card qualified me for free groceries for life! It “pays to discover” my ass! It pays to be white! I hope this offends the author of this article the same way that the assertion of “white privilege” offends me. Kiss my white ass, you racist.

  17. Oh, Jesus Jumped Up Christ, shut the fuck up with all the bullshit that the grammy people are racist.. Just shut it the fuck down for a moment and just stop jumping to that same old bone the dogs chew on. How is it racist that Macklemore won over Kendrick? Seriously. Stop crying “Rape” because you feel you need to make a scene whenever theres a a supposed “race” issue that doesn’t go the way you think it should go..

  18. Macklemore’s album was simply more well-known and popular than Kendrick Lamar’s (especially international).

    I had the same feeling with Taylor Swift, she was slightly more popular and talked about at that time (though being a Beyonce fan I was dissapointed).

    These days it’s more about who’s the biggest name at the moment than it is about who’s the best. Personally I don’t give a shit about skin color or ethnicity when I listen to music.

  19. Macklemore is a good rapper but Kendrick Lamar was way better, m.a.a.d city was my shit. Kendrick should’ve won Macklemore will just be the thrift shop guy

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