Macklemore Neuters 'Wing$' Message for NBA, Defends Self Against 'Sell-Out' Squawk

His song is still helping to sell sneakers, though

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Chris Martins WRITTEN BY
Chris Martins

Up there is the original version of, and accompanying video for, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' "Wing$." The song fairly adeptly paints a picture of a kid desperate to fit in with his peers, so he begs his mom to buy him the basketball shoes that everyone wants. In his young mind, it's the kicks that make the man, and he deludes himself into thinking he's better at the game. But all of that comes crashing down when a friend's brother is murdered for a pair of Air Jordans.

What follows is an emotive, and rather Atmosphere-ic, teardown of the societal commercialism that created such a scenario. Okay, cool. But then comes the next video (watch it below) which finds that original song repurposed by the NBA as a promo for its just-passed All-Star Weekend 2013. As Slate points out, this would be an incredibly doomed marriage considering the sports organization's close ties to the sneaker industry and the anti-consumerist message of the song, but, well, it's no longer the same song. All negative aspects have been clipped and certain parts re-recorded to remove the initial bias.

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While one couplet in "Wing$" went, "I'm an individual, yea, but I'm part of a movement / My movement told me be a consumer and I consumed it," the second half of that rhyme gets the chop for the promo clip cut, leaving the first part echoing team-player pride. Understandably, a lot of people have lobbed cries of "Sell out!" at Macklemore since, and the rapper has now responded to the criticism with a lengthy post on the Macklemore & Ryan Lewis website. Rather surprisingly — considering the dunderheaded social stance of "Thrift Shop" — the guy puts up an eloquent, if self-serving, defense.

Essentially, his argument boils down to: Hey, I love the NBA and I always have. I didn't know they were gonna re-arrange the song at first but I agreed to it and no licensing deal will ever preserve the entire original work anyway. I wasn't stoked that final line now praises sneaker culture as the foundation for a good b-ball career, but this seemed like a great way to expose a new people my voice, which will hopefully drive them to seek out the o.g. song and also my career. Yeah, the NBA are capitalists, but so are you because you own clothes and a phone and probably a computer. Word.

But you can read the entire thing if you'd like, also:

Over the past couple days, I’ve read numerous tweets and a couple articles about the use of our song “Wings” as the intro for the 2013 NBA All Star Game. While most people were congratulatory over the television appearance, it seemed like there were a fair amount of people that were quick to throw out the good, old-fashioned “sellout” statement. The bigger our profile gets, the more I’m getting use to the phrase and the “purists” who toss it around so liberally. But I figured I should probably break it down from my perspective to let you know where I stand.

The song “Wings” is about the pursuit of identity through the means of consumerism. The attempt is to dissect our infatuation and attachment to logos, labels, brands and the fleeting happiness that is intrinsically linked to the almighty power of the purchase. The subject I use in the song is shoes, but its aim is to paint a broader picture of being a consumer and tracing the lineage back to my first memory of retail infused desire.

I love the NBA. Always have, ever since I was a little kid. When we got offered the TNT All Star game intro it was a no-brainer. I showed up that day to a middle school gym in LA and as I was reading the script I was informed that they re-arranged the structure of the song. I didn’t know prior to that day that my lyrics were going to be edited. But to be 100% honest with you, I didn’t really care once I learned that they were. The only thing that I was a little “ehhhh” about was the last bar. But I put it on the ethics scale, and the last bar alteration wasn’t outweighing the potential reach that I saw in doing the video.

In any licensing deal they are going to edit your music. A 4 minute song does not fit into a 30 second movie trailer. Lyrics have to get cut in order for the trailer/ad to make sense with what the company is promoting. And a song about consumerism doesn’t fit into an NBA All Star Game intro without some tailoring. There is a story telling aspect of Wings that chronicles loving basketball, being a kid and wanting to be like Jordan. That’s the side that the NBA wanted to use. Makes sense. Probably doesn’t make sense for them to use the part that’s breaking down our obsession with the shoes that 90% of the players in the NBA wear, right?

The All Star game intro was seen by millions of people on Sunday who had no idea who we were. My thinking was, if they liked the song they will go and listen to the full version. Those who hear the original song in its entirety will get the core of what gives the song depth. Some might even buy it and become real fans. And guess what version they get? Not the TNT chopped up edit, but the full one.

In my stripped down definition, selling out is compromising your artistic integrity for money/fame. In my heart I can tell you that my personal artistic integrity remained completely intact over the weekend. TNT used our song. They’re still my words. They picked the parts that fit their ad campaign, and visually matched it to us performing, threw in a highlight reel of crazy dunks and had a bunch of kids singing the hook in a gym. Word. I’m all for that. If you take away the consumerism cautionary core of Wings, a story still remains. And that story is one that I’m still proud of, and it’s dope to me that it’s relatable enough for TNT to want to use it.

I would understand the “Macklemore sold out” complaints more if we matched Wings to a shoe commercial. That would be blatant irony, it would completely contradict the song and would appear as a sell out move. But an NBA commercial? The NBA has very little to do with what Wings was really about. The songs subject is about shoes, but the guts of the record are about consumer culture. Is the NBA tied up in this culture and related in some way? Of course. All companies selling a product are. But this is the result of American culture. Does the NBA happen to fall under the capitalist umbrella? Absolutely. But it’s no different than the brands you’re currently wearing, the company that manufactured the couch that you’re sitting on or the computer/phone you’re staring into while reading this.

If there was any trace of irony by Wings being one of the official songs of the 2013 All Star Game, that’s great. That means that we won. The song about consumerism was embraced on a national level, and played to the entire country of sports fans that tuned in. More people download the song, got the truth (the actual/full song) and we converted strangers that didn’t know who we were into fans. If that’s selling out to you, word. But to me that’s nothing but an all around win.

-Macklemore

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