Last summer, on a flight between Chicago and Portland, I settled into my seat with book in hand, as was my common practice. Part way through the flight, the college-aged woman sitting next to me took notice of the book I was reading, and mentioned that her pastor knew the author of the book. I inquired about her church, family and life, and we exchanged thoughts on our favorite travels and music and film. She highly suggested several coffee shops, restaurants and venues in Portland, her hometown, as well as in Seattle, where she currently attended university. Because of my affinity for many things about the Pacific Northwest, I took notes of her suggestions in Portland and Seattle, as well as some of her film and music preferences. One artist she mentioned was of particular interest, a rapper — the young woman did not appear to be one who normally recommended urban music. As the plane landed and travelers departed for connection flights, the young woman and I wished well in each other’s endeavors.
A few months later, my friend Caleb posted a web link to a music video of this artist, reminding me of the conversation. I clicked the link, watched the video, wondered at the rare and literate genius portrayed through hip hop rhymes, and immediately sensed the great discovery I had made. As I consumed additional music videos and created a Spotify playlist from a smattering of this artist’s body of work, it became apparent that this man spoke volumes of truth, passion, and vision through his music.
I like to think that in all kinds of industries and history and cultures, and in our personal stories, there are shadows of truth which emerge, even if not exegeted by a Christian, even if not completely understood by the one or culture which bears it. It makes sense to think that if the earth is the Lord’s and every good thing in it, His truth and beauty will show up in all sorts of ways, all sorts of places. Those who walk in the way of Jesus must be bold in claiming all truth as God’s truth, and celebrate it wherever it is found. In this series of writings, I hope you’ll join me in exegeting (interpreting) a little bit of hip hop culture and lyrics, as shared by one artist I have grown to appreciate greatly, for both insight and music. Over several posts, I’ll focus on a few selections of his lyrics and convey a handful of my thoughts on what shimmering truths can be gleaned from this cultural mine shaft. [Disclaimer: We all know urban music frequently contains colorful, “adult” language, so I’ve visually bleeped some expletives down to broadcast-level appropriateness, while attempting to maintain the bulk of lyrical accuracy. To all the four-year-old readers, go ask mommy and daddy.]
The artist is Macklemore. And the song is “Wings.”
We want what we can’t have, commodity makes us want it
So expensive, damn, I just got to flaunt it
Got to show ‘em, so exclusive, this that new $@#*
A hundred dollars for a pair of shoes I would never hoop in
Look at me, look at me, I’m a cool kid
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, but I’m trying to take mine off
Shadows of Truth
- What a great social commentary on consumerism. The drive for people to gain more, succeed more, buy more, and control more is easily overdriven into unhealthy, self-destructive consuming of material goods rather than embracing contentment. The Apostle Paul writes of learning to be content in all situations, in little and in abundance. “We want what we can’t have, commodity makes us want it.”
- What a great social commentary on identity. Shoes, clothes, gadgets, houses, cars, possessions, jobs, social status can weasel their way into the forefront of our minds. “Wants” loom larger into “needs” because of maintaining perceptions that others have about us. “I’m lost if it pops. We are what we wear, we wear what we are.”
- People can go to great lengths to maintain their idol, whatever is in position of highest value or importance. We make sacrifices for our idol, giving up our time, money, relationships in the pursuit of the idol. We do crazy things for our idol. “Are you stupid, don’t crease ’em, just leave ’em in that box.”
- I love that Macklemore is aware of this materialistic, identity-consuming bent — and he’s trying to escape it. Idols must be confronted and destroyed.
- Bonus: In the video, it’s fantastic to see Mac holding a book in several cuts. He’s a master storyteller, and he knows it. But he just lets the stories speak for themselves, no self-promotion needed.