Macklemore: From "Air Jordans" to "Wings," the Evolution of a Song

In January 2009, Macklemore performed a few a cappella verses that he read from a white sheet of paper and called it "Air Jordans." It was for an event put together by area photographer Chase Jarvis and event coordinator Michael Hebb called "Songs for Eating and Drinking." It was before he sold out the Showbox all those times, before NPR pasted him all over their blog, and before XXL Magazine.

The performance was simple: spoken-word in a dimly lit room with a handful of other artists, drunk and eager to hear something new and thought-provoking from one of their friends, and it was beautiful. In this first reading, he still shows all the nervous excitement and apprehension that comes with the delivery of an untested poem, and, while I can't say that I've ever seen a bad performance by the man, this was something special.

More evolving after the jump . . .

Next came "Nikes," seen here at a City Arts event called "The Song Show," where I interviewed him onstage at the Triple Door between songs. He is confident, having just received rave reviews for his VS. EP with Ryan Lewis, and "The Town"'s music video. His buzz was growing.

The arrangement for the song was still sparse: Andrew Joslyn on violin, Owour Arunga on trumpet, Zach Fleury holding down the bass drum. Now, in addition to the affecting lyrics, we had an understated instrumental that twisted between the words like fingers of smoke, evaporating entirely here and there to let the words sink in. With this sound, I imagined a black-and-white music video, where Mack is walking down the street--maybe the accents on his Jordans are red--and he spits his verses without a whole lot of frill.

This was the best arrangement, both sonically and visually, because Macklemore didn't tease it up any more than it needed to be. He gave it room to breathe.

The music video for "Wings" came out today. it was world-premiered on the website of iconic national rap rag, XXL Magazine.

It's gaudy (hardly a surprise, considering the $18,269 they raised for it on, as is the new production, which is a mountainous build-up that nearly levels the lyrics. They've added piano, cello, and a children's choir. He comes off preachy, which is not the fault of the lyrics themselves, but of everything that surrounds them: the overpronounced production, the huge book prop that he "reads" to the kids in the video, the theatrical nature of his delivery. For $18k, a more true representation of the negative effects of materialism might have also included footage of the working conditions in the factory where the shoes were made.

Gone are the solitary violin and heartbeat bass drum, the muted trumpet and less-is-more spoken-word magic of the verses. He's added an extra verse at the end that unnecessarily drives the point home even further ("For a hundred dollars and some change/Consumption is in the veins/And now I see it's just another pair of shoes"). Unfortunately, where Macklemore and Ryan Lewis tried to add to the touching nature of an already well-done song, they have stumbled like they forgot to tie the laces.

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