It’s hard to talk about Macklemore’s career without also talking about race—and how it fits in with phenomena like “Thrift Shop” and “Same Love” getting heavy rotation on stations that don’t normally touch rap songs and the Grammy he won for tackling the same social issues that black rappers have been rapping about for years. But unlike pop critics and rap fans, Macklemore himself has remained largely silent on the subject since his breakout. It’s a smart business move that’s only grown increasingly frustrating as pundits from all sides have ganged up on hip-hop artists for a perceived lack of sufficient response to the anti-police-brutality movement and a feud between two rappers has brought the too-often-ignored issue of cultural appropriation a moment of mainstream attention.
So it was a big surprise to see Macklemore show up on Hot 97, the world’s most important rap radio station, to talk with two of its most outspokenly skeptical orthodox hip-hop heads, essentially throwing himself into the lion’s den as far as authenticity goes. And it was even more of a surprise that the ensuing conversation went so well. During the hour-long interview with morning show hosts Ebro and Peter Rosenberg, Macklemore talked candidly about everything from his struggle to find the proper approach to engage with the protest movement to the clumsy way he handled his Grammy win over Kendrick Lamar. He addressed virtually everything the anti-Macklemore brigade has taken issue with, and he handled it with humility, empathy, and grace—qualities that aren’t all that frequently associated with pop stars. It’s worth a listen.