The Libidinal is the Political: On Le1f and Macklemore

Last month, I did something I sedulously try to avoid and entered a serious discussion on Facebook. Another music-writer friend posted about Macklemore’s gay-equality single “Same Love and asked (to paraphrase), “why would anybody attack this song?”

I left a series of possibly-deranged-looking comments, trying to explain why I and others have such disdain for it: the spectacle of a straight white rapper sanctimoniously calling out “hip-hop culture,” i.e. black people, thereby overshadowing both queer MCs from that culture and his own lesbian collaborator; the adoring reaction from certain excitable websites, as if “Same Love” were a more rebloggable “Strange Fruit”; the well-meaning lyrics’ resemblance to a bad college-entrance essay. Then a bunch of strangers got mad. That almost surprised me, because all I did was echo existing “Same Love” critiques less eloquently. The NYC rapper Le1f tweeted one of the pithiest a few weeks ago, while noting that Macklemore’s #1 hit “Thrift Shop” is also strongly reminiscent of his earlier track “Wut.”

All this came to mind yesterday when I heard Le1f’s new mixtape Tree House, which presents images of queer love far removed from any formal wedding. The guy whose debut tape vamped “whiskey in my cup, posing like I’m in a manga” is still a nerd—at one point he conjures up the eroticism of a Mario Kart sleepover—but he sounds lustier than ever before, complementing the processed vocals and slow-jam production. I haven’t heard an album this thoroughly fuck-fixated since the last time I put on Dirty Mind. And the come-ons approach that milestone in horniness: “You see this love seat? It’s a spaceship / Bring your sexy ass over here and grace it.” Le1f’s squishy flow opens up the omnipresent sensuality, phrasing even 2 Chainz-like punchlines with giggly elan: “I’m in your bath like ducks.”

On “Jack,” Le1f reclaims the Chicago house sound appropriated all those times before, getting caught up in his own extended flirtation until he sounds a little charmingly embarrassed by it. Expressing solidarity with the marginalized doesn’t absolve the manner in which you do so from criticism. When we discussed “Same Love” some more away from the Facebook wall I inadvertently turned into a bullring, my friend told me that post was motivated by one of his friends—queer, older like him, who never expected to hear such sentiments on Top 40 radio. I still hate the song, but who am I to question or begrudge that reaction? It seems much more important to me than any nebulous utilitarian calculation of the track’s “impact”—a trans kid living in doorways may not care about Mack LeMore boosting gay-marriage referenda by 1.37 points.

In that anecdote, though, and Le1f’s laptop-fogging wordplay, oppressed people are trying to make their experiences understood, a necessity for sexual liberation or any other kind. And if Tree House bumps better in your bedroom than the streets, so what? The libidinal is the political.

Le1f Performs “Wut” at the Pitchfork Villain Showcase


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