New York — Macklemore explores racism and hip-hop in a new song called "White Privilege II" — rapping about a white person's position in society with black people fighting injustice — and even namechecks Miley Cyrus, Iggy Azalea and Elvis Presley for appropriating black culture, along with himself.
The track, released Friday, is close to nine minutes long and starts with the Grammy-winning rapper at a march in support of the "Black Lives Matter" movement.
"I wanna take a stance because we are not free, and I thought about it, we are not we," he raps on the song, released with his musical partner Ryan Lewis. "Am I in the outside looking in? Or am I in the inside looking out?"
"I appreciate his honesty and all the ways he's looking at racism and his part in it," Cori Murray, the entertainment director for Essence magazine, said in an interview. "I don't think there's an easy answer and I think that he really did just say very plainly, ...'I know I'm appropriating black culture but I'm trying to do it in the most authentic way.'"
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis released the song the same week Spike Lee, Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and others said they were boycotting the Academy Awards because of two straight years of all-white acting nominees. The Seattle-based duo was not available for an interview for this story, but their website says the song "is the outcome of an ongoing dialogue with musicians, activists, and teachers within our community in Seattle and beyond."
What has gotten major attention on social media from the song was Macklemore namedropping famous singers who are regularly accused of appropriating black culture.
"You've exploited and stolen the music, the moment, the magic, the passion, the fashion you toyed with, the culture was never yours to make better, your Miley, your Elvis, your Iggy Azalea," Macklemore raps. At another point he says, "We wanna dress like, talk like, walk like, dance like, but we just stand by, we take all we want from black culture, but do we show up for black lives?"
Azalea, known for the hits "Fancy" and "Black Widow," responded on Twitter after a fan pointed the song out to her.
"He shouldnt have spent the last 3 yrs having friendly convos and taking pictures together at events etc if those were his feelings," Azalea wrote.
Hot 97 radio personality Peter Rosenberg said the diss was just Macklemore being honest.
"You can take it as an all-out insult, as Iggy did ... but that's appropriate, it's done factually. I like Elvis' music, I think a lot of people appreciate the icon Elvis is, but that's very much what it is," said Rosenberg, who co-hosts "Ebro in the Morning" and played "White Privilege II" early Friday during the radio show.
"Miley became one that really got irritating to a lot of people and I like that (Macklemore) did it. ...It's not like he's just doing that blindly and not introspectively about himself also. You can be offended by it, but it's not like he doesn't include himself sort of in the conversation, because that's what the whole song is about," he continued.
Murray echoed Rosenberg's statement: "I loved his honesty. I loved that he was factual, and I hope he was saying it also for himself, in a way."
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis became a white-hot success when they independently released their 2013 debut "The Heist," which featured the multi-platinum No. 1 hits "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us." The success also brought them drama: after submitting their songs and album to the rap categories at the Grammys, they were kicked out of the category by the rap committee, though the decision was later overruled. They went on to win three Grammy awards in 2014, including best new artist, rap performance and rap album, besting critical darling Kendrick Lamar. After it, Macklemore said that Lamar should have won best rap album.
The duo returned to music last year with the platinum single "Downtown" — which features Kool Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz and Eric Nally — and will release their sophomore album, "This Unruly Mess I've Made," on Feb. 26.
Rosenberg said "White Privilege II" is not a surprise from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, who are advocates for gay rights and had success with the same-sex anthem, "Same Love." The group are supporters of organizations such as Black Lives Matter, People's Institute for Survival and Beyond, Youth Undoing Institutional Racism & Freedom School and Black Youth Project 100.
"That's who he's always been. Him having an introspective song about wanting to support certain causes ... that's who he is," he said.