Rhetoric of Hip-Hop Blog Friday, February 21, 2014

This week, talk about a hip-hop text that you find interesting. Text here is loosely defined as any coherent presentation of ideas (image, video, song, advertisement, etc.), although since we’ve been working with traditional writing so far, I’d very much encourage you to use another medium. Make the text available on your blog if you can (and acknowledge the source!), and then discuss what you find interesting about it. The text you choose should have to have some sort of connection to the controversy you plan on discussing this semester.

At this point, I hope to discuss Macklemore and the social construction of hip-hop in my final paper. In relation to that topic, I’d like to discuss Macklemore’s song “Otherside” (listen above).

Macklemore’s found himself surrounding by various controversies, over topics such as white privilege and marriage equality. In The Dallas Morning News this past Sunday, I discussed Macklemore and his battle with addiction, and mentioned “Otherside.”

Rather than examining Macklemore’s issues with addiction more generally, in this blog, I’d like to specifically look into the song, “Otherside,” which first appeared in 2009 on the duo’s VS. EP. Seattle rapper Macklemore, along with Seattle producer Ryan Lewis, took the song title and sample from “Otherside” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, a song that also discusses drug addiction.

The song opens with sound bites discussing the death of rapper Pimp C, which was caused by a “combination of codeine and promethazine found in the rapper’s system, coupled with the sleep disorder apnea,” according to The Houston Chronicle.

In the song’s first verse, Macklemore discusses how he got into ‘lean’ (aka ‘syrup’), lured by the realization that lean is “the same stuff Weezy’s [rapper Lil’ Wayne] sippin, huh? / And tons of other rappers that be spittin’ hard?” With wordplay, he described how he “finally got to see what all the hype was on.” At first, Macklemore “loved that feeling” and felt on top of the world, “thinking he was pimping as he listened to the system.”

But despite the highs, “it comes with a cost / Wake up, cold sweat, scratching, itching / Trying to escape the skin that barely fit him / Gone, get another bottle just to get a couple swallows / Headed towards the bottom couldn’t get off it.” Yet, as is often common with addiction, Macklemore  “didn’t even think he had a problem,” even as his life spiraled out of control.

Macklemore begins the second verse by going back to the influence of rappers. He explains that “he just wanted to act like them / He just wanted to rap like him” before lamenting, “Us rappers underestimate the power and the effects that we have on these kids.” He continues:

The fact of it is most people that rap like this
Talking about some shit they haven’t lived

Surprise, you know the drill
Trapped in a box, declining record sales
Follow the formula: violence, drugs, and sex sells
So we try to sound like someone else

Later in the verse, Macklemore continues denouncing rap’s glorification of substance abuse, even specifically discussing Lil’ Wayne again:

Despite how Lil Wayne lives
It’s not conducive to being creative
And I know cause he’s my favorite
And I know cause I was off that same mix

Rationalize the shit that I’d try after I listen to Dedication
But he’s an alien
I’d sip that shit
Pass out or play PlayStation

Months later I’m in the same place
No music made, feeling like a failure
And trust me it’s not dope to be twenty-five
And move back to your parent’s basement

Closer to the end of the song, Macklemore continues to tell his story, an ominous warning to others:

That rush, that drug, that dope
Those pills, that crumb, that roach
Thinking I would never do that, not that drug
And growing up nobody ever does
Until you’re stuck
Looking in the mirror like I can’t believe what I’ve become
Swore I was going to be someone
And growing up everyone always does
We sell our dreams and our potential
To escape through that buzz

The song concludes with a sound bite of Bun B discussing the death of his friend and UGK partner Pimp C, and how it affects the music.

Hip-Hop has long been criticized for its promotion and glorification of drug and alcohol abuse, but critics are usually outside of the genre. In “Otherside,” Macklemore critiques the culture from within the culture, as someone who knows both sides, as someone who’s both a rapper and an addict.