Who’s The Next Eminem: Macklemore Or MGK?

Macklemore rocks his Batman jammies

Okay, okay. That headline’s a little misleading. Just because there are two white, male rappers who are poised to become big stars, that doesn’t mean either one of them is “the next Eminem.” Everybody has their own identity, freedom for all, etc., etc.

Seriously, though. Will Macklemore or MGK be the next Eminem? After years of indie releases and grassroots fan-building, they both released their debut, full-length albums this week, so we’re getting an immediate opportunity to compare these dudes.

If you don’t know either guy, then here’s a summary: Macklemore is the older one who tends to rap about social issues. MGK is the younger one who seems to deal with his alienation by rapping about his anger and his desire to terrorize middle aged adults, while also creating press-friendly chaos that plays to his young, disenfranchised fan base.

Oops! Did I tip my hand there? Obviously, I’m much more interested in Macklemore. Last week, I wrote about his beautiful pro-gay marriage anthem “Same Love,” and since then, I’ve been listening to more and more of his music. Turns out, he really has something to say. His new album The Heist often chronicles his struggle with drug addiction, punctuated by thoughts on sexuality, materialism, and the unavoidable reality of white privilege. You may have heard his jokey song “Thrift Shop,” about how all his fashions come from Goodwill, and while that track has certainly got a place in my heart, it’s obviously the radio-bait on his record. (Still, though… this song is pretty amazing, even if it is an obvious ploy for a hit.)

For more of Macklemore’s substance, just listen to his song “A Wake,” especially the verse that starts at 1:24. In about two minutes, he struggles with people like me, who immediately praise him for being a “conscious rapper,” but he also presses against the people who argue that as a white rapper, he’s too privileged to be taking a political stand with his music. Add in the lush production by Ryan Lewis, and you get a song that demands a thoughtful response… and how many times can you say that in a week?

By contrast, MGK strikes me as a ball of unchecked id. I’m too old and too sanguine for his anger, and even when I was 16, I didn’t think it was cool to vandalize people’s homes or threaten people’s parents. (MGK proudly does both in his videos.) But you know what? I’m not his target audience. In this way, MGK has much more claim to be “the next Eminem,” because like Em in his early years, he’s speaking to young straight kids who are often fueled by their anger. Does he have Eminem’s wit? Not that I can see. But he does have a wicked flow, gruff and theatrical and passionate. (His name stands for “Machine Gun Kelly,” which is a reference to the gangster AND his super-fast rhyming.)

I’ll be very interested to see if either one of these guys can establish a serious career. I’m rooting for Macklemore, but it seems like either one of them has a shot.



Previously: Hooray! Pink released the video for “Try!”

Mark Blankenship wonders if anyone wants to be the next Snow. He tweets as @IAmBlankenship.