And yet, this song is my new anthem, baby. I listen while I’m cruising down Main Street or heading to the StopNShop to get more cheese sticks. The video is fine, but let the music wash over you and your imagination won’t need any help painting its own colorful canvas. The song’s a swirling collage of old school hip hop and, I’d even say, the 1960’s pixie-styled, Petula Clark.
“What the hell is this?” you might find yourself asking.
Macklemore and Lewis, a duo out of Seattle, bring in Grandmaster Melle Mel, Grandmaster Caz and Kool Moe Dee, the three “architects” of hip hop circa 1978-1984, according to a recent story in Rolling Stone magazine. Kool Moe Dee, Christopher R. Weingarten writes in that Rolling Stone article, “stretched the boundaries of lyricism into tricky double-time flows and became the most formidable battle rapper in the land.”
I had no idea.
But something about the song did target the 1988-me, the one who heard a beat blasting from the convertible of my brother’s high school friend, Greg, who would drop him off at our house after baseball practice announced by the RUN DMC cover of “Walk this Way”. (Which, so I’ve learned, was already a new -school version of old-school rap and a cover of a song by Aerosmith.)
Is there anything cooler than a high school boy in a convertible when you’re in junior high? How about one wearing a gold chain and playing a song that you’re not sure you understand but having a feeling you’re not supposed to know about.
And then, Downtown, the title of the song. It’s part of a soaring melodic departure from the rap and funk sections. It’s jarring. Those who didn’t spend the 80’s listening to the cast album of Les Miz and Cats on repeat, can liken this part to heavy metal. I hear Petula Clark. She sang a song called Downtown, too, and I heard it played on my parent’s piano whenever they had parties. Bellbottoms, shaggy hair, and get-togethers that involved a piano, but, as far as I remember, no baby sitter to get me back in bed and not fall asleep listening from the steps.
So, maybe that’s why listening to Downtown by MACKLEMORE & RYAN LEWIS makes me ask something that has nothing to do with defining the song—is it hip hop, rap, heavy metal, or a bizarre and sometimes explicit narrative about buying mopeds that should not be on my playlist?
It jogs some musical memories and cues to the layers of my own life, moments of being young and confused, and intrigued by the beat and lyrics of something I had never heard before.
So instead of listening and asking, “What the hell is this?" I listen and wonder, “Who then hell am I?” The kid, the pre-teen, the mom: a collage of experience—swirling around in something that makes me feel, frankly, that I'm not done growing-up.
Sarah Vander Schaaff is a writer and lives in NJ. When not listening to Downtown, is can be found listening to NPR.