Background music with meaning—that’s one way to sum up duo Macklemore x Ryan Lewis. Having just recently discovered them, I can already tell that the two—Macklemore is an emcee, while Lewis is his producer—know how to draw in an audience, not only with their chill yet catchy beats but also with a narrative that describes a heart-wrenching story of loss and realization. This is especially evident from “Wings,” their most recent song, to be featured on their debut album, which is slated to be released later this year.
Natives of Seattle, Macklemore x Ryan Lewis have been around the music scene since 2000. Their past works have concentrated on the theme of inner city life and its problems, including “Otherside,” a song about addiction and overdose, as well as “And We Danced,” a vulgar yet upbeat song about having the night of your life.
This latest work, “Wings,” is an important social commentary on American culture directed at the turmoil of present day consumerism. To accomplish this, Macklemore narrates the story of a child to explore how peer pressure is a manifestation of this, as it even tries to force children to keep up with the latest styles, emphasizing the extent to which materialism has become an overwhelming part of American life.
In the song, kids want to “be that guy” and “want what [others] have.” The song begins slowly, but listeners can feel the anticipation and excitement that builds from a child who has just received a new pair of shoes. Though young, this child knows “the box, the smell, the stuffin, [and] the trend in school [is] so cool.” Yet, status aside, Macklemore knows the kid will wear them just for looks—they’re “a hundred dollar […] pair of shoes [that he] would never hoop in.”
It’s a statement that we know is true—we’ve all been through high school and felt the need to fit in. Macklemore characterizes this ideology perfectly. I know I can relate when he says that “[the child is] an individual, yea, but [he’s] part of a movement,” one that “[tells him to] be a consumer and [he] consum[es] it.” The majority of the youth of today have experienced trends from Converse to Silly Bandz, and, though we try to avoid being just one of the masses, many people crave that feeling of inclusion. There’s a fear of judgment that hangs about when people feel that they stand out in the crowd and lack confidence in themselves.
The instruments used in creating this song—a symphony of trumpets, violins, piano and even a chorus of children—contribute to the song’s overall tone encompassed by the beat of Macklemore’s rapping. The chorus of children’s voices deterred my roommate, but I, on the other hand, found it to be a great vehicle to exemplify the innocence of children and the hope that the future may hold; this is reinforced by the lyrics, as the chorus sings of flying “so high” that their “feet won’t touch the ground.”
Additionally, the beat proves easy to follow and Macklemore’s words are understandable—a frequent flaw in many raps which usually frustrates me.
All things considered, Macklemore strives to convey the danger of falling into the trap of consumerism and losing your identity. As the song comes to an end and the child has seen the horrors consumerism can bring about—in one extreme case, his friend’s brother is murdered “for his fours”—listeners realize that the child is learning to question what he truly values. Macklemore wonders if he “will stand for change or stay in [his] box” since “[the] Nikes help define [him] and [he’s] trying to take [his] off.” The child is learning to let go and “fly […] far away” with a “star to reach.”
He finally realizes that his expensive shoes were only a “dream that [society] sold to [him].” His shoes only served as a “parachute” that he thought would “make [him] cool” on the first day of school. In the end, with “consumption in [his] veins,” the child grows up and “sees [his Nikes are] just another pair of shoes.” Overall, “Wings” serves as a reality check that forces listeners to question their own values.
Once it’s over, “Wings” certainly makes an impression. I know that, should I ever feel lost, “Wings” will give me to the motivation to fly in my own direction. On top of that, Macklemore leaves me wanting more as I highly anticipate his new album.