Anti-Materialist Rap

Macklemore is the next Eminem. I say that with no reservations, apprehensions, or disclaimers. This Seattle rapper is just that good, and Ryan Lewis is one of the better beat producers in the world, much less the best Seattle’s ever heard.

In fact, if they keep up this pace and remain consistent, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis could even top Eminem and his collaborators.

One of their lesser-known tracks is called “Wings”, in which Macklemore raps about both the wide-eyed naïve wonders of his youth and its destruction by materialist obsessions with Nike and other ‘evil’ corporations.

The song opens with the innocent depiction of a nostalgic moment:

I was seven years old, when I got my first pair
And I stepped outside
And I was like, Momma, this air bubble right here, it’s gonna make me fly
I hit that court, and when I jumped, I jumped, I swear I got so high
I touched the net, Mom I touched the net, this is the best day of my life

Macklemore’s skill is evident here even early on; “I got so high” is an impressive double entendre, meaning not only that he jumped high in the air, but also that he felt such euphoria doing so, like being high. Macklemore’s repetition of ‘I touched the net’, coupled with the addition of ‘Mom’ the second time around emphasizes how proud he was, how happy, and how nostalgic the moment rung for him.

On the court I wasn’t the best, but my kicks were like the pros
Yo, I stick out my tongue so everyone could see that logo
Nike Air Flight, but bad was so dope
And then my friend Carlos’ brother got murdered for his fours, whoa

Macklemore shows how having the logo and the brand of his shoes made him feel so proud, making him so happy, when Lewis’ beat turns solemn and Macklemore slows down to indicate how there is a dark undercurrent lying beneath the shallow happiness the materialist ideals presented initially.

See he just wanted a jump shot, but they wanted to start a cult though
Didn’t wanna get caught, from Genesee Park to Othello
You could clown for those Probings, with the velcro
Those were not tight
I was trying to fly without leaving the ground, cuz I wanted to be like Mike, right
Wanted to be him
I wanted to be that guy, I wanted to touch the rim
I wanted to be cool, and I wanted to fit in
I wanted what he had, America, it begins

The beat then becomes more percussive and aggressive, and Macklemore’s vocal style follows suit, as he becomes increasingly critical of the ‘cult’ of materialism. Macklemore’s desperate want to ‘fit in’ echoes/echoed the sentiment of ‘America’ in general, and shows how the consumerist drive can hook one into a need for material goods that lead to great evils, such as the murder of Carlos’s brother.

The chorus is haunting and powerful. Sung by a chorus of young children, it exemplifies the corruption of youth by the consumerist/materialist drive:

I want to fly
Can you take me far away
Give me a star to reach for
Tell me what it takes
And I’ll go so high
I’ll go so high
My feet won’t touch the ground
Stitch my wings
And pull the strings
I bought these dreams
That all fall down

‘Tell me what it takes’ refers to advertising methods by corporations such as Nike (which manufactured Air Max), who frequently ‘tell’ the consumer what will make him/her cool and eligible to fit in socially. ‘I bought these dreams that all fall down’ references how the ‘dreams’ sold to us by the corporations are in reality lies designed to make one buy their product, and thus all the damage they cause is cruel and wrong. 

Macklemore becomes more straightforward in the second verse, straight up advocating against Nike and for change in the American culture away from a materialist drive:

I’m an individual, yea, but I’m part of a movement
My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it
They told me to just do it, I listened to what that swoosh said
Look at what that swoosh did
See it consumed my thoughts
Are you stupid, don’t crease ‘em, just leave ‘em in that box
Strangled by these laces, laces I can barely talk
That’s my air bubble and I’m lost, if it pops
We are what we wear, we wear what we are
But see I look inside the mirror and think Phil Knight tricked us all
Will I stand for change, or stay in my box
These Nikes help me define me, and I’m trying to take mine, off

A long instrumental break after the second chorus gives the listener time to think and process what he/she has just listened to, a wry move on Lewis’ part. Macklemore then ends with a concluding statement, much like a good English paper, that wraps everything up and gives the listener something to think about when he/she is done listening.

And with that, I leave you with these concluding lyrics, so that you might think and process what you’ll be listening to:

They started out, with what I wear to school
That first day, like these are what make you cool
And this pair, this would be my parachute
So much more than just a pair of shoes
Nah, this is what I am
What I wore, this is the source of my youth
This dream that they sold to you
For a hundred dollars and some change
Consumption is in the veins
And now I see it’s just another pair of shoes

Right click:

Macklemore And Ryan Lewis – Wings

(Macklemore & Ryan Lewis on iTunes)

About Dylan Visvikis

Dylan Visvikis is a working screenwriter and director in Los Angeles. View all posts by Dylan Visvikis

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