Macklemore knows what you think of him. He’s aware that he is viewed as a lightweight YouTube rapper, a privileged thief who unfairly profits from black culture. “White Privilege II” is his response, and it’s pure Macklemore: unabashedly sincere, clearly communicated and blatantly uncool.
What rubs many people the wrong way about Macklemore isn’t his whiteness as much as his complete lack of guile. Remember, this is the guy who didn’t get that it would be tone-deaf to publically apologize to Kendrick Lamar after beating him out for a Grammy. In its intention, “White Privilege II” is a similar move. He read what everyone was saying and concluded, misguidedly, that the best way to respond was to collide with it head-on.
Sonically, the song isn’t hooky or catchy, and it’s not supposed to be. In fact, in its self-questioning tone, ambition and arty anti-commercialism, “White Privilege II” is most clearly influenced by To Pimp A Butterfly. But what he doesn’t get about Kendrick is that an album like Butterfly depends on its failure to resolve. “White Privilege II,” on the other hand, tries to knock it out of the park with a big, majestic swing. In its focus on the message above all else, it sacrifices listenability and replay value.
Ben Haggerty’s personal politics should be commended, and the questions that he asks in this song are important. But does he have to be so goofily earnest when he asks them? In his heart, Macklemore is a huge cornball, and he can’t change that any more than the color of his skin. You are who you are.