Last Sunday evening, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis accepted the award for Best Hip-Hop/Rap artist, one of six they were nominated for at the 2013 American Music Awards.
But instead of a traditional speech, Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty) took the opportunity to speak up against racial profiling via video feed from their tour stop in Miami.
With what seemed like a mixture of nerves, excitement and gratitude, Macklemore said:
I was talking to my friend before the show, and he reminded me of a great Martin Luther King [Jr.] quote -- "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere." And due to the fact that we are in Florida tonight accepting this award, I want to acknowledge Trayvon Martin and the hundreds and hundreds of kids that are dying due to racial profiling and the violence that follows it.
This is really happening. These are our friends, our neighbors, our peers and our fans, and it's time that we look out for the youth and fight against racism and the laws that protect it.
As I watched the feed live, I couldn't help but smile and even applaud him from my couch.
Because fan votes determine the winners at the AMAs, artists like Justin Timberlake and Taylor Swift repeatedly took to the stage to thank their crews, labels, and fans. And while it's a given that most artists wouldn't be where they are without the help of said people, most acceptance speeches rarely stray from the formula.
But aside from their time spent on the Billboard charts, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have little in common with majority of the audience at Sunday's awards ceremony.
In fact, the duo remain unsigned to a major label (they release music on their own label, Macklemore LLC) and only found notoriety from the help of their fans and social media, where their self-released music videos went viral.
So yeah, it would have been easy for the two to simply say they had "the best fans ever;" instead, they took a risk, and it made their message all the more powerful.
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Of course Macklemore is no pioneer when it comes to making politically charged acceptance speeches, nor is he the first to use his music to voice frustrations with injustice in the world. But while other artists try to make a statement, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis simply do the damn thing. No strings attached.
But despite the success following the release their debut studio album, The Heist, not everyone is a fan of the duo's political agenda.
Their harshest critics have been known to say anything from "he's nothing more than a straight, white guy getting famous off of a genre that he has no business in," to others claiming his politically-minded tracks are "nothing more than an insincere political agenda to gain fame and fortune."
But there's more to Macklemore than meets the eye.
In fact, when it comes to the duo's crew and band, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis' infamous "Sharkface Gang" is actually one of the most diverse acts in music right now, utilizing men and women of varied ethnicity, sexual orientation and age.
So why is it that a guy like Macklemore gets so much flack for voicing his opinion, when he's publically admitted he recognizes his "privilege" to Rolling Stone, and still does everything in his power to use that privilege to make a difference? And if awards shows are "neither the place nor time" for political debate, what is?
The truth is that politics and music have always found a way to commingle, and as long as there's injustice in the world, musicians will continue to write songs that voice their opinions. What better time to do that than when millions of people are tuned in, and won't likely turn the television off?
The way I see it, Macklemore's speech can easily be compared to one made by Beastie Boys' Adam Horovitz at MTV's 1999 Video Music Awards, when he spoke out about "sexual assaults and rapes of women" at concerts and events following the numerous rapes reported at Woodstock '99.
But the comparison doesn't end there.
Story continues on the next page.
Because Macklemore and the Beastie Boys both gained notoriety from hits where they came off as goofballs ("(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party!)" vs. "Thrift Shop") it seems that people aren't willing to take them seriously, but still pause to listen simply due to the fact that they've taken a moment to slow down and speak from the heart. It's an odd place to be, but somehow, it works.
Sadly, things like Woodstock '99 and the Trayvon Martin case will continue on, but the world seems like a less scary place when celebrity musicians take a moment to stop, listen, reflect and act.
In 2012, Macklemore, Ryan Lewis and openly gay musician and spoken-word artist, Mary Lambert, co-wrote and recorded "Same Love." Not only did it help raise awareness about Referendum 74 (a marriage equality law) in Macklemore's home state of Washington, but the track has climbed the charts worldwide, spreading a universal message of love and acceptance.
The next summer, the trio won "Best Cinematography" and "Best Video With a Social Message" at the 2013 MTV VMAs for "Same Love," where they made an equally moving speech, stating that watching the song spread was "a testament to what is happening right now on the forefront of equality."
Perhaps that's why Macklemore and Ryan Lewis were both named "Equality Champions" for the United Nations' Free and Equal Campaign on Tuesday. According to the press release, the Free and Equal Campaign "aims to raise awareness of homophobic and transphobic violence and discrimination." Pretty cool stuff.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis perform tonight at Reliant Arena, 8400 Kirby, with Talib Kweli and Big K.R.I.T. Doors open at 6 p.m.
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