Ever since he debuted on the scene with “Thrift Shop” back in 2012, Seattle-based rapper Macklemore has straddled the line between pop and hip-hop. His latest hit “Downtown,” produced by longtime partner Ryan Lewis, blurred that line even further by featuring hip-hop legends Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee, whose inclusion has sharply divided the music community on its quality and authenticity. Fellow OG Big Daddy Kane praised Macklemore’s decision in a since-deleted Instagram post at the beginning of the month, and now even Melle Mel himself has thrown his hat in the ring during an interview with XXL:
“I know for a fact that J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar or Rick Ross or Jay Z or any of these cats, they would not have done it. Ever. They would not have done it. It took him to do it. And all those other so-called “real cats,” they should hang their heads. Because somebody should have done it by now. They could have reached back to any of us. If you’re making records and you say you’re Hip-Hop, you’re supposed to have a connection to what Hip-Hop really is. And nobody made that connection until Macklemore made the connection. And I’ve had this conversation quite a few times since everything happened and had that little controversy of, yeah, the White boy, using the OGs, or blah blah blah. And like I said, none of those other guys would have ever done it. And it’s a shame that that’s the reality of what the game is right now.”
Let’s get this out of the way first; Macklemore is an anomaly among contemporary white celebrities in that he actually *acknowledges* his privilege and attempts to be self-aware in his position as a hip-hop artist, and him shouting out three legends by including them on a song is a nice sentiment; but for a legend like Melle Mel to imply that the rest of hip-hop isn’t *trying* when it comes to repping the old school is at the very least disingenuous. Name-checking Kendrick Lamar in particular strikes me as odd, especially since artists in Macklemore’s age bracket have been paying tribute to the greats in their own respective ways. Kendrick went one step further on To Pimp A Butterfly and recruited P-Funk’s own George Clinton, who helped lay the groundwork for hip-hop as a genre; Cole wrote an entire song apologizing to Nas; A$AP Rocky recently featured Yasiin Bey (kA Mos Def) on his recent album At.Long.Last.A$AP; while Bey himself featured another OG, Slick Rick, on “Auditorium” from 2009’s The Ecstatic – and he actually spit a *verse*, as opposed to being relegated to background gang vocals like the trio on Macklemore’s song was. Even though the flow they’re on is a stylistic ode to the old school, they’re indistinguishable from one another; no pre-teen listening to “Downtown” is gonna be able to tell them apart, and even scarier than that, they probably don’t even care to in the first place.
While Caz, Moe Dee, and Mel are most definitely on the song and are flaunted in the accompanying video and VMAs performance, their presence is about as basic as can be and will not be firing up Google searches from Macklemore’s target audience anytime soon. The fact that they’re being featured on a song in 2015 at all is commendable, but for Mel and others to insinuate that Macklemore’s the only person in the hip-hop community who’s looking back is unfair – especially since we’ve been paying attention to y’all for a minute.
We have some work to do in making sure that foundation legends like Caz, Moe Dee, Mel, Afrika Bambaataa, Doug E. Fresh, Big Daddy Kane, Run DMC, and countless others get their due credit, but don’t turn up your nose and act like the community *you* helped create is doing nothing about it.