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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

Documenting a culture one story at a time...

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