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Living one’s life through Macklemore lyrics

At half-time of the NFC Championship Game last night, it certainly seemed like the 49ers were hanging in there and the second half was going to be a thriller (it was). It had even looked, at various points during the first half, that the 49ers would be the third team to win a game in Seattle since Christmas Eve 2011. Then Macklemore and Ryan Lewis — Seattle boys through and through — hit the stage for the half-time show, a portion of which you can see above. What happened? Marshawn Lynch comes out and blows people over for 40 yards, suddenly the game is 10-10, and we’re on our way to a thriller. The logical conclusion? Macklemore fired up the 12th Man, the place was rocking, and Seattle was (and now is) en route to their second Super Bowl ever. Too bad Bruno Mars is doing that halftime show. (I’m kidding about the logical conclusion part, in case you were at all offended.)

This morning at the gym — which was crowded as hell because (a) it’s still January and (b) most people are off work — I got about four or five Macklemore songs on Pandora as I went through my reps, and it occurred to me (and bear in mind, I do not know a lot about music and am admitting that upfront) that Macklemore is a fairly solid lyricist. Rap Genius has admitted as much, and this guy seems to convey my general idea on him too:

I thought it would be possible to write a post taking about 5-10 Macklemore lyrics and relating ’em back to living your life. So, I figured I’d try to do it. Let’s go with 7. I bet I can find 7. Here’s a full rundown of the lyrics to (most of) his songs.

10,000 Hours

I’m a big fan of this song, and not just because I have a hard-on for Malcom Gladwell (I think the 10K hours theory has flaws, for sure). From this song, there’s this jam:

See, I observed Escher
I love Basquiat
I watched Keith Haring
You see I study art
The greats weren’t great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot

I can’t really think of anything truer to living your life, especially professionally. You don’t get great at anything — be it cooking, a part of your job, working out, being a father, whatever — unless you practice. I’m not saying the 10,000 hours theory is 100 percent accurate. I am saying that whether it’s 4,500 hours or 3,872 hours or 15,481 hours — practice is important. You need to put in work.

Vipassana

This one has a line buried in the beginning that pretty much summarizes one of the biggest challenges of your 20s (well, at least for me and a couple of good friends of mine):

I don’t control life, but I can control how I react to it

This is where you don’t care about the drama and the bullshit that ultimately surrounds every existence to some extent. If you don’t get a promotion, or miss out on a night with your friends, or get dumped by someone, or whatever it is … you can’t control that. It’s, ideally, part of a bigger plan. But you can control how you react to it. Look at someone like a LeBron James. Dude made a lot of mistakes — “The Decision” and such — and lost two NBA Finals (2007 and 2011). Did he just roll over and say, “Well, this probably wasn’t meant to happen?” No. He reacted to it, got better, and got his ring (now two of em). A trite example? Yes. But you can see it at the micro-level in life every day.

The Town

This one is pretty much an homage to Seattle and the Pacific Northwest music scene. Here’s a key part:

They tryin’ to shut down the clubs that my city rocks
Now Mr. Mayor why would you enforce an ordinance?
Music it saves lives, these kids out here are supporting it
And through the art form we’ve learned the importance of community
Truth to the youth so they know what’s up
Yup, and as a public school student
I learned from my teachers, but became through my music

Huge deal in education right now: how to test, how to track, what to test, what to track (BIG DATA!) — and what often falls by the wayside? Art. It shouldn’t. It can build up communities. If you think a white guy rapping isn’t the best point of lesson for that argument, OK. Check out some actual science, then.

Contradiction

This is an old one — it’s off his first album — but it asks an essential question of any performer/potential “role model” type, whether that means you’re doing football half-time shows or not.

To all the stuggles of the blunted consumption I’m going through
Make music for the party, and the people support you
I burn Brother Ali and buy 50, what does that say to you?
Bring it back around
Am I building the empire up or using my fire to burn it down?

Do you build the empire up or use your fire to burn it down? That’s basically what most people deal with every day, regardless of where you’re at — do you do the right things and help your community, your family, etc? Or do you use some leverage to push some others out, into a less favorable position? What do you do with your time and your role?

Wings

It is pretty trite to argue that somehow the sneaker wars have destroyed parts of society — what the sneaker wars represent is actually the problem; it’s not technically the fact that some group of kids wants MJs or not. I’ve always liked this Macklemore song because I feel like he seems to understand that. The most powerful stuff in the track is actually at the end, but this part is kind of like the thesis:

We want what we can’t have, commodity makes us want it
So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it
Got to show ’em, so exclusive, this that new shit
A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in
Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid

I feel like, whether you grow up in the richest community ever or the poorest, this section resonates. You’ve got to have it (whatever it is) and you’ve got to show it (whatever it is) and once you’ve done those two things, everyone should look at you because now you’re cool. This is about 1/8th of the reason that Middle School absolutely sucks. Most of the other 7/8 is hormones.

Church

I have a complicated history with religion — stops and starts, commitment, etc. — and I think a lot of people I’m close to seem to as well (that could be a reason we’re close, although I’m not sure I’m ready to say that just yet either). It’s tough: there are contradictions, you don’t always know where you’re supposed to come down, and then there are times you just wonder how it all works — how do people close to you die, for example? How is there suffering in the world if there’s an overall religious order? It’s confusing to be part of the whole fabric of faith and religion often, and I feel this song does a good job of talking through some of that.

I often fought the explanation of where people go when their bodies let go of the soul
Does it just turn cold?
Or do we get judged and told where to go?
And if so, how the fuck would you know if nobody came back and said I’m telling you, bro?
I could never get past the shit that was spit out the pastor’s lips

It’s awkward because the next sequence is basically about fining God in your headphones — not sure I fully agree with that, per se — but the part above is super honest about questioning faith and existence and overall purpose and the end game, and everyone struggles with that multiple times throughout their life (even the deeply faithful, I think).

A Wake

I could have gone with a ton of other stuff for this final slot — Same Love jumps out, for example — but I went with this song mostly because of this sequence:

So much to escape, fuck a straight edge
Walk around looking through a fake lens
Apps this good, whose got time to make friends?

I feel like this is a central problem of the next 2-3 generations of humanity, honestly. Apps this good, whose got time to make friends. Yea. Conversation is slowly becoming a lost art form.

Look, there are elements of this posting that were probably pretty trite. I essentially took a millionaire white rapper and tried to equate his lyrics to the overall human experience, which, on surface, has a ton of flaws as an idea. But the concept of music is that the words and beats within resonate with people in different ways, and I do believe — even if it’s just for me — that Macklemore’s lyrics speak to a broader idea of how the world is constructed and the parts fit together.

Ted Bauer

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