Is Macklemore a Sellout?

Brow Beat
Slate's Culture Blog
Feb. 15 2013 3:10 PM

Macklemore’s Strangely Self-Censored NBA Promo

Macklemore rose to fame in 2012 on the strength of his frugal anthem “Thrift Shop,” a catchy hip-hop tune with an anti-consumerist bent that managed to get serious radio play. After its release in August, it topped the Billboard Hot 100 in January, and still remains there today. Those who associate hip-hop with commercialism hailed the rapper as a radical new voice in the genre—while others pointed out that plenty of rap artists have challenged consumerism before, even if they didn’t have number-one singles.

Success is rarely simple, and Macklemore’s anti-consumerist fans may want to watch his three-minute promo for the NBA’s All-Star week, featuring “Wing$,” the second single from the rapper’s debut album, The Heist. In its original form, “Wing$” is a critique of Nike and the obsessive sneaker culture that triggered $200 shoe prices. “I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all,” Macklemore declares, “Will I stand for change or stay in my box?” In the song, Macklemore describes his realization that expensive footwear didn’t make him cooler, as he once thought as a kid.

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Given those lyrics, you may be confused why the NBA, a key player in the rise of the big-time sneaker industry, would choose the song to hail its product. But that’s because it’s not the same song anymore: In the promo, Macklemore drops all the lyrics that criticize Nike and consumerism. The compromised version finishes with Macklemore sitting on top of a hoop rapping, “They started out with what I wear to school/ That first day, like these are what make you cool/ And this pair, this would be my pair of shoes/ Gonna make me fly.” The last line was edited in from a different part of the song; in the original, the verse ends: “Consumption is in the veins/ And now I see it’s just another pair of shoes.” That sentiment presumably didn’t quite fit with the NBA’s marketing program.

Macklemore is clearly a fan of basketball and the NBA. But ultimately, All-Star weekend is a glossy infomercial for the league and its best employees. Reporters will interview players about their new sneakers; Q scores will rise; money will be made. Adapting a formerly anti-consumerist song in order to promote that endeavor is what some would call selling out. The song is still catchy, and if that’s what matters most to you, then the spot serves its purpose. But those who loved Macklemore for his smart, socially conscious lyrics may want to revise the tune they’re singing about what the rapper supposedly represents.

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