So Macklemore walks into a thrift shop with $20 dollars in his pocket.
It’s not the beginning of a joke (or if it is, I haven’t heard it), but the genesis for the catchiest, funniest, most criminally irresistible song that could actually have you listening to something other than “Gangam Style” for once. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s new hit “Thrift Shop” might have the most swagger ever for a song by two white guys rapping about wearing your grandpa’s clothes. Apparently, at this unknown thrift shop “down the road,” the duo picked up not only a broken keyboard and a pair of Velcro safety shoes, but also the most awesomely invasive sax riff since “Calabria” and enough awkward old-school strut for an army of Vanilla Ice clones.
I hadn’t heard Macklemore when I first pulled up the “Thrift Shop” video on Youtube. The clip opens up with our hero riding a little kid’s scooter in front of what for another rapper might be a “posse,” but for Macklemore looks more like a crew of senile retirees mixed with the dregs of a Williamsburg house party. Not that this cramps his style. Two Slurpee-sipping ladies escort Macklemore, still on his scooter, to his waiting 1988 Dodge DeLorean. The gull wings open up, the sax line kicks in, and off we go, not back to the future, but to the thrift shop.
Let’s take a second on that sax. How often do you hear a saxophone in hip-hop? Not often, unfortunately, because this line just kills it. The sound is sharp and angled, stuttering through south-of-the-border funk. This is it: no synths, no backing vocals, no samples, just sax and percussion. But like tequila, the syncopated rhythm will have you dancing before long. I dare you to keep from tapping your foot, or even breaking all-out into the goofy whiteboy salsa that Macklemore displays up and down the aisles at his local Salvo, his cape billowing behind him like some hobo emperor.
The rapper opens fire with a line not suited for Parents’ Weekend: “Walk into the club like, ‘Whattup, I got a big cock’/ Nah, I’m just pumped up on some shit from a thrift shop.” It’s hilariously crude, a throwaway line like he’s wearing throwaway clothes: At this point, he’s strutting through the club in a hooded faux-fur coat. “But shit,” he cracks, “it was ninety-nine cents!”
Like everything else in the video, the rapping itself is infectiously lackadaisical. Macklemore spits like he doesn’t particularly care, stretching the beat but staying with it, chopping syllables and throwing in “hellas” wherever he can. He rhymes when he feels like it and sometimes simply talks. As he strolls past old dorm room furniture and grungy Levi’s jeans, he steps up his game, tearing through line after line with machine gun accuracy. He raps with chaotic force, turning his flow on its head in the middle of a phrase, but keeping a percussive accent that propels his rhymes over racks of stained Old Navy khakis and garish Hawaiian shirts. All of this comes across as spontaneous and unpolished, without the thuggish showmanship of other rappers. It feels like a secondhand song, in the best way.
Soon Macklemore is rapping in front of JFK portraits done on tasteful black velvet, asking us what we know about wearing a fur fox skin as the tassels on his cowboy vest flail around like head-banging metalheads. He’s amazed by modern clothing technology — “They built a onesie with the socks on that mothafucka!” — and unimpressed by Gucci, which he disses while his deranged posse backs him up with a chorus of “sheeeyit!” By this point the clothes are flying off the shelves at Goodwill, and everyone is bouncing up and down the aisles in your granddad’s clothes. We get to the chorus one last time, that unstoppable sax loop weaving in between bass drum thumps. Guest rapper Wanz, wearing a pink striped suit, announces what we knew all along: “This is fucking awesome!”
It is fucking awesome. Macklemore doesn’t care about “the game,” and “Thrift Shop” shows it rather than tells it. It’s anti hip-hop, with old Dodge sedans instead of inflated Cadillac SUVs, kiddie scooters instead of motorbikes, Granny shoes instead of Nike Hightops. It’s awesomely uncooked, totally tasteless, stupidly simple but clever as hell. What other rapper rashes on designers, or drives a gull-winged sedan? Who else gives few enough shits to open a song with a line about his dick? As Macklemore rhymes his way up and down the aisles of Goodwill, you know he doesn’t really care, and that’s what makes it so much fun.