With "Hind's Hall" Macklemore finally delivers an allyship effort that isn't embarrassing

A decade ago would you have thought the widely dissed white rapper would earn Tom Morello's approval?

By Melanie McFarland

Senior Critic

Published May 8, 2024 1:30PM (EDT)

Macklemore performs on stage at Sentrum Scene on May 9, 2023 in Oslo, Norway. (Per Ole Hagen/Redferns/Getty Images)
Macklemore performs on stage at Sentrum Scene on May 9, 2023 in Oslo, Norway. (Per Ole Hagen/Redferns/Getty Images)

Macklemore is corny. People have been saying that for years. His corniness worked when “Thrift Shop,” his megahit with Ryan Lewis, put them on the global map in 2012. 

It was less acceptable when the duo strutted off with Grammys for best new artist, and best rap song, best rap performance for “Thrift Shop," along with beating Drake, Jay-Z, the artist formerly known as Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar to take home best rap album for “The Heist.”

Even Macklemore knew better, while also suspecting that letting the world know he agreed with most hip-hop fans that Lamar should have won might be worth something. He was right. It earned a headline-generating diss from Drake in Rolling Stone and made him the modern poster child for Black music appropriation. 

That image was not ameliorated in 2016 with the release of the nearly nine-minute “White Privilege II,” an unlistenable corn-cob stab in the auditory canal doubling as a rumination on the Movement for Black Lives.

The thing about corniness, though, is that it is in some respects unassailable, especially when at its core is an effort to be better and do better. Corny folks tend to be honest and earnest in their aims, and the best don't care what people think.

This is the general impression of the rapper whose government name is Ben Haggerty. He means well, regardless of the overall impression that his lyrical skills are mediocre and his backing tracks flaccid. Macklemore may be to hip-hop what fellow Seattleite Kenny G is to jazz, but it should not go unnoticed that he and the saxophonist share another key commonality: the ears and hearts of white folks who claim to love their versions of jazz and rap, and who may also think Charles Mingus is a medical condition and J. Cole manufactures sensible footwear. 

“Hind's Hall” won’t change that . . . much.

Sure, it’s generating a little heat due to the artist jamming a Drake swipe in there, along with announcing that he’s not voting for Joe Biden in November. 

Plus, the idea of Macklemore of all people being congratulated for spitting “white supremacy is finally on blast” when Black artists have been railing against it for decades to little notice among the dominant culture is its own exhibition of white supremacy at work. The same logic had white liberals swooning over Eminem freestyling an anti-Trump tirade during BET’s Hip Hop Awards telecast in 2017. 

The thing about corniness is that it is in some respects unassailable.

But the level of Macklemore’s artistry on the pro-Palestinian protest track dropped Monday hasn’t even entered the chat and probably doesn’t need to. It’s the fact that it exists at all and goes as hard as it does – again, by Macklemore standards – that is noteworthy.

Borrowing its title from the name Columbia protesters assigned to Hamilton Hall in remembrance of six-year-old Hind Rajab, whom Israeli military forces killed in February, “Hind’s Hall” is both an activist anthem and a classic Macklemore breakdown for his white fans who don’t understand why college students are making so much trouble. Lines like, “The problem isn't the protests, it’s what they're protesting/ It goes against what our country is funding,” are directed toward them.

Much of “Hind’s Hall” isn't for that constituency, though. Macklemore plugs into a ferocity reminiscent of ‘90s hip-hop anthems, to which he tips his hat by namedropping N.W.A.'s Ice Cube and Eazy-E. He expands his aim to decry the government and corporate power structures stifling dissent by, among other tactics, equating anti-Zionism to antisemitism (“I’ve seen Jewish brothers and sisters out there and ridin' in/ Solidarity and screamin' ‘Free Palestine’ with them”) and citing the U.S. government’s unequally applied standards when it comes to global military intervention (Who gets the right to defend and who gets the right of resistance/ Has always been about dollars and the color of your pigment”).

But the track’s harshest beatdown is reserved for a final verse indicting the music industry’s silence.

We need your help to stay independent

 “What happened to the artist? What d'you got to say?/ If I was on a label, you could drop me today,” he rhymes, before asking a few lines later, “What you willin' to risk? What you willin' to give?/ What if you were in Gaza? What if those were your kids?”

Progressives can’t be faulted for wishing for a better allyship option. Macklemore’s drop was met with the reminder that in 2014 he appeared at a Seattle show in a getup resembling an antisemitic propaganda cartoon. He apologized, claiming the costume was his effort to create a disguise from a mishmash of second-hand Halloween gear. (It’s stunning that nobody warned him that his prosthetic nose and beard combo might be misinterpreted.)

Still, the positive response dominating the opening round of the “Hind’s Hall” discourse is assisted massively by a thumbs up from the likes of Rage Against the Machine’s frontman Tom Morello, who posted on X, “Honestly @macklemore’s “Hind’s Hall” is the most Rage Against The Machine song since Rage Against The Machine.” 

With “Hind’s Hall” Macklemore presently has the hip-hop summer protest anthem market cornered. 

There’s an atypical righteous fury burning through “Hind’s Hall,” augmented by the mindful signaling provided by the artist’s looping a sample from the song “Ana La Habibi” by the Lebanese singer Fairuz, a passionate advocate for the Palestinian people.

Joining Morello’s endorsement are endless admissions from folks that Macklemore’s drop isn’t one they would have seen coming a decade ago. Back then few blinked at the fact that nearly every major hip-hop star was signed to a label that is now under the umbrella of Universal Music Group, whose CEO Lucian Grainge is a supporter of Friends of the Israel Defense Forces. 

Right now more people are obsessed with Drake and Lamar's feud than questioning why neither has been more vocal about the Palestinians’ plight beyond signing an industry-generated letter calling for a ceasefire last fall. DJ Khaled’s social media silence on the matter is especially noticeable since he’s the son of Palestinian immigrants. All of them work for Universal-backed labels. Could that have something to do with it?

Macklemore has long released music as an independent, although pushing “Thrift Shop” into constant radio rotation more than a decade ago was achieved with hefty assistance from Warner Music Group. Regardless, with “Hind’s Hall” Macklemore presently has the hip-hop summer protest anthem market cornered. 

Want a daily wrap-up of all the news and commentary Salon has to offer? Subscribe to our morning newsletter, Crash Course.

The question is how many people will buy it and keep on bumping it. Where there may not have been much of an urgency to absorb his perfectly acceptable 2023 release “Ben” into our cells, proceeds from this track's sales will be donated to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees, the artist says. 

But this circles back to questions of structure and flow. The stickiest protest songs have hooks and refrains that concisely summarize the stakes. That includes everything from Public Enemy’s eternal banger “Fight the Power” to Johnniqua Charles' 2020 Internet meme “You About to Lose Your Job,” remixed into a dance hit built out of nothing but a looped refrain freestyled by an inebriated woman being detained by a security guard. "Hind's Hall" does not.

“White Privilege II” suffered the same problem magnified nine-fold, along with evoking the quality about Macklemore that is both his superpower and his Kryptonite: despite his best intentions and progressive messaging, he’ll always struggle with the notion that his music is less intended for the groups he’s supporting than white listeners who are more comfortable hearing about their struggles from him.

“It’s undeniably admirable for a famous pop music figure to use his/her work to foreground a social issue. But it’s not an artist’s job to be admirable,” wrote music critic Sean Nelson in The Stranger, Seattle’s alternative biweekly, in his 2016 analysis of that track. To him, “White Privilege II” was “a brazen effort to be approved of.”

Later Nelson unclenches his hypothetical other hand to wonder aloud, “[W]hat about that nine-year-old in Sheboygan whose parents talk about Sandra Bland like she must have done something to deserve whatever she got? . . . You can’t leave that kid out of the equation when thinking about this song, because that kid is almost certainly the target audience of this song, just as moderately homophobic swing voters were the target of ‘Same Love.’

It is, as Nelson points out, a famous white rapper using his privilege and platform to start conversations about injustices baked into our society. Those went nowhere because the song was a stinker. 

“Hind’s Hall” at least clears that hurdle in a shorter runtime while channeling our collective outrage into rhymes and direct monetary action. It may not turn Macklemore’s image around completely for some, but you have to hand it to him for grilling up a legitimately spicy cut, and for the first time in a long while.



By Melanie McFarland

Melanie McFarland is Salon's award-winning senior culture critic. Follow her on Twitter: @McTelevision

MORE FROM Melanie McFarland

Related Topics ------------------------------------------

Commentary Hind's Hall Macklemore Music Protest Songs Songs