Truth told, I care not for the Macklemore. This is hardly a controversial position to take on the internet, as a rogue wave of music writers have made the Seattle rapper the whipping boy of the early 2013 pop season for his unexpected No. 1 single “Thrift Shop,” with SPIN’s Brandon Soderberg even calling it “the worst song in the country.” I wouldn’t go that far, but I’d go pretty far — the song is insufferable and grating and I don’t even like thrift shops that much (though hook singer Wanz is absolutely That Dude and I hope he gets a career out of it). Beyond that song, Macklemore is a little too preachy and humorless for my tastes, and both he and producer/collaborator Ryan Lewis have a nasty tendency towards cheap drama, no second-hand pun intended.
Still, I’ve tried to keep my criticism of Macklemore above the belt, since in theory, I respect the dude. He made it on his own, growing a cult audience without big label assistance, and while he’s perhaps a mite too willing to remind you of his proud independence at just about every turn, it is still a commendable thing. And even if his socially progressive jams lay it on a little thick, doesn’t a song like “Same Love” maybe do more good in the world than “Bandz a Make Her Dance”? Really, there are greater crimes to be committed in pop music than a dude breaking down t-shirt economics and making bad R. Kelly jokes over a skronky sax riff. I try not to lose sleep over it.
This, however, is where Macklemore becomes indefensible. If you’re wondering when and how (and possibly if) I’m gonna tie Macklemore into the NBA, it’s with this video, a recently released promotion for the upcoming All-Star Weekend:
Now, I broke this down in a little greater detail over at my music-writing day job — as a pop/hoops writer, this is the rare two-for-one news story for me — but basically, the sum up is this: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis appear in this promotion, lip-synching their song “Wings” in a church or something between your typical All-Star montage clips. All well and good, except that “Wings” is actually an anti-materialist (and more pressingly, anti-Nike) song that involves Macklemore referencing a time when his friend’s younger brother was murdered for his sneaks, and ends with him saying “These Nikes help me define me, but I’m trying to take mine, off.” None of these negative-leaning lyrics appear in the video, however, as the song is presented in a heavily-edited cut that focuses mostly on the blandly inspirational, out of
Hard to say who comes out better in this incident. Whether they realized it or not — and you have to imagine they did — the NBA chose a song that essentially denounces one of their biggest and most closely associated-with business partners to promote one of their marquee events, a song that’s kinda down (and brings you kinda down) on the entire Be Like Mike culture surrounding the superstar-driven Association. They come off as ignorant and irresponsible for their song choice, and also the song kinda sucks as pump-up music (and in general), but whatever.
But Macklemore, bastion of artistic integrity in this commercially compromised art world and last angry man in the good fight against the Big Machine of pop music, probably looks even worse for not only allowing, but actively promoting an NBA campaign that uses a censored version of his protest song for contradictory advertising. He just comes off as a straight-up sell-out.
It didn’t have to be like this. Yeah, Macklemore is the guy right now, and he had a song that was basketball-related, so it’s an easy, if socially reprehensible, choice. But there are songs out there that the NBA could’ve used that wouldn’t inspire such hardline moralizing from music and hoops fans such as myself. (I don’t think I’ve called anyone a “sell-out” and meant it and meant it as a bad thing since, like, middle school.) Why not try these jams on for montaging instead?
A$AP Rocky feat. Skrillex & Birdy Nam Nam, “Wild For the Night”
The much-hyped (feared?) dubstep excursion on A$AP Rocky’s polarizing Long.Live.A$AP major-label debut would also require a heavy degree of censoring, though that would be more for language (you can’t say “swallowed all my kids-es” on TNT, I don’t think) than for actual content. And in the meantime, you’ve got that insanely adrenalizing laser-synth hook following the thematically appropriate exhortation “I’M GOIN’ WILD FOR THE NIGHT / F— BEING POLITE”.
Imagine Dragons, “Radioactive”
Frankly, it’s a little incredible that the NBA haven’t already played this song to death. It’s basically the song that last year’s overplayed playoff anthem, Linkin Park’s “Burn It Down,” thought it was and probably would’ve been had LP come out a decade later. Even this largely crappy 2012 NBA YouTube supercut seems kinda epic with the song’s thunderous drops and huge choruses underneath. Wait till this year’s playoffs start, guaranteed you’ll despise this song by June.
B.o.B. feat. T.I. and Juicy J, “We Still in This Bitch”
It’s been a while since I advocated for the usage of B.o.B. in any circumstances, but worse rappers than Bobby Ray have been made tolerable on top of booming Mike Will Made It beats. T.I. and Juicy J make up for his presence anyway, and the Jock Jam potential of the rabble-rousing chorus (minor swears aside) is pretty hard to ignore. You could maybe make a case for Kendrick Lamar’s “Bitch Don’t Kill My Vibe” on similar-ish grounds, but the vibe in question might not be near riotous enough, and somehow censoring the “bitch” in that jam would be far more unforgivable.
The relationship-based lyrics aren’t exactly apropos, but the song’s impressively nervy energy is a nice fit. And if you ignore some of the verses, you get some decent potential athletes-as-gladiators-type rhetoric: “Lose the battle, win the war,” “There’s a time and place to die, but this ain’t it,” etc. Plus, for an All-Star Game so reliant on first-timers and other youngbloods, “If there’s a future, we want it now” is pretty damn on point.
Drake, “Started From the Bottom”
Doesn’t seem like a great song yet, but it’s decent and vaguely aspirational. Plus, NBA players love Drake and Drake loooooves Houston. It probably wouldn’t take a ton of prodding to get Drizzy to throw in a couple lyrics about Paul George and David Lee.
If you’ve got suggestions, leave them in the comments. Anything is better than Macklemore.