Whether Macklemore raps of copping flannel zebra jammies (“Thrift Shop”) or criticizing hip-hop’s apparent views on homosexuality (“Same Love”), he does so to ensure that his existence — that is, an independent rapper wary of luxury crowding the same charts that he tops — feels hard-won, if not like a damn miracle. He did this at this year’s MTV Video Music Awards, and he did this again with “White Walls” on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno.
But he doesn’t do this with his lyrics, which tend to misread the very genre that he champions. In “Thrift Shop,” Macklemore casually criticizes rap’s rampant spending on t-shirts, as if he’s completely ignored how hip hop tends to balance such spending with flashbacks of being horribly broke. Even the not-as-showy “White Walls” is about how it feels to purchase a new car after having saved for so long — and for a vintage Cadillac rather than a Bugatti, as if rap’s never championed Cadillacs before.
Instead, Macklemore tends to hit hardest at his hooks when he isn’t saying anything at all. With “White Walls,” Hollis joins a few relatively unknown but effective singers (Wanz in “Thrift Shop,” Ryan Dalton in “Can’t Hold Us,” Mary Lambert in “Same Love”) who help ensure that his stance is felt as humanly and deeply as possible. Her presence, plus those brass players and Ryan Lewis and ScHoolboy Q‘s enthusiasm, is how Macklemore pulls “White Walls” off. Watch the Tonight Show performance up top.