Macklemore, Le1f, and the Ally Dilemma
Out of all the madness to emerge from the VMAs this year, one of the more touching moments came when Macklemore’s pro-gay rights song “Same Love” featuring Ryan Lewis and Mary Lambert won the award for “Best Video with a Social Message”. In it, he condemns anti-gay speech and behavior in hip hop and society. Not everyone jumped to their seats in a round of applause, however. Among those left untouched by the award was Khalif Diouf aka Le1f, a Black openly gay rapper who responded to the news with this tweet:
Are. You. Serious?
The rapper who got an award for his song championing gay rights ripped the beat off from a song by an openly gay rapper? You can’t write irony this delicious.
While the instrumentals aren’t as clean a rip as the infamous Vanilla Ice “they’re not the same” debacle, it’s hard to ignore the strikingly similar arrangement style. Even in a world where artists
steal from influence one another constantly, that sounds a bit too close for comfort.
You be the judge:
The ripped off song in question:
But let’s put this aside for a moment. Let’s get to Macklemore’s latest achievement.
Many consider Macklemore’s message for gay rights is a call in the right direction. Indeed, the world of hip hop has a well-documented history of exclusionary and heterosexist culture. And while the LGBTQ community at large isn’t clamoring (queer folks aren’t a monolith! Gasp! *faints*), a message of positivity concerning LGBTQ people in hip hop is a breath of fresh air. It should also be noted that the song serves more as a message to straight people encouraging tolerance than as a song “for” the queer community.
So what if one of his previous singles may have been jacked from an actual gay artist? He’s battling homophobia! -_-
However, this issue is much deeper than a rapper stealing another rapper’s beat. Le1f continues:
There’s nothing wrong with allyhood. Members of marginalized groups need allies to fight alongside them, as their voices sometimes carry more weight. The problem arises when an ally becomes the frontline offensive, stealing the show from the true protagonist. Allies on any front should never act as the main voice of an oppressed people .
And regardless of his intentions, that’s exactly what Macklemore has done here. One could make the argument that the popularity of his song is a testament of the improving attitudes toward the LGBTQ community, and this argument isn’t without merit. But I can’t help but ask myself: shouldn’t we be promoting the voices of actual LGBTQ people over those of their straight allies?
As to be expected, this revelation was met by the usual wave of fanboys and privilege-induced assholery.
“But he’s fighting for your cause! Are you saying you don’t want straight allies?!”
1. The entire fuck?!
2. LGBTQ people have every right to determine when a straight person isn’t getting their ally on properly. Ripping off a gay artist, then making a song about gay rights sounds all types of allyhood gone wrong to me.
The fact of the matter is that Le1f is a threat. His abilities on the mic are matched only by his unique and unapologetic flair. He’s a gale-force wind and we don’t even have enough time to batten down the hatches. His very presence in the hip hop world is a huge statement. Macklemore, on the other hand, is just the latest example of privileged people who get famous through the medium of the oppressed. As much as the work of genuine allies is appreciated, the last thing we need right now is more white straight faces speaking for queer people of color. At best, he’s a lamp unto the plight of LGBTQ people who just happen to get a bit too bright, and at worst a thief who’s profiting off of the hard work of the community he claims to fight for. Either way, I hope Le1f’s tweets of dissent don’t fall upon deaf eyes.
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