Sunday, April 1, 2012

Urban Pastoral in Macklemore's "The Town"

Pastorals are typically descriptions, often poetic, of areas of open land. The term is synonymous with shepherds and farm land. The idea of pastorals is not restricted to rural areas, however. For example, Macklemore provides a detailed account of his city, Seattle, in the lyric "The Town." Contrary to popular belief, pastoral themed literature is not restricted to talking about rural landscapes. An illustration of an urban center can also be considered pastoral literature given that beauty is shown in its most elemental form.

Pastoral Literature is about taking the complex and making it simple. In the past, authors take the complexities of nature (i.e. seasons, various terrains) and simplify them focusing on illustrating beauty from simply nature. This is what Macklemore does in "The Town." He may do so to differentiate himself from so many other rappers nowadays. It seems like today, rappers rarely are able let true beauty show. They nearly always overshadow natural beauty with over-the-top raps about tangible things. (i.e drinking, smoking, clubbing, cars, money, bitches)

Rather than implement a bunch of hyperbolae and braggadocio style lyrics, Macklemore presents Seattle as simply Seattle. More specifically, he focuses on what truly makes Seattle great, it's people:

"This is our city, town pride, heart, blood, sweat, tears, I-5, North, South side, vibe, live, ride down these city blocks. And never will be stopped"

Even the music video is focused more on presenting Seattle's own people than having Macklemore rocking gold chains in a Maybach down I-5. In my opinion, simplicity can illicit true beauty far more than embellishments. I encourage you to watch it and see what I mean. Notice that the people in the video are just regular people going about their lives.

The Town official Video

Do you think it's refreshing for listeners to every once in a while hear rap music that's centered on natural beauty rather than tangible things?


  1. I definitely appreciate hip hop that deviates in subject matter from what you referred to as "tangible things." I think it's different and I think it's valuable. But about the main idea of your post: I have quite a bit of trouble applying themes of the pastoral to urban environments for a number of reasons. You bring up some interesting questions that I think deserve discussion, but more on that in another post.
    As far as this song in particular is concerned (and it is a great song), I think it is less about nature and more about the people of Seattle and the city's music scene itself, not to mention the kind of positive vibe Macklemore associates with both. It isn't nature that makes his city special, but the people he has met along the way. The artists is quick to give shout-outs to fellow artists of the present ("I got love for Sport'n Life, Alpha P, Massline, and Onry") and past (Hieroglyphics and the Alkoholics). Macklemore is grateful for the support he has received from artists of Seattle’s hip hop scene and, perhaps more importantly, in other places—he even cites “Do the Math,” (apparently a city public school math program for kids of underprivileged backgrounds) as another example of how his city helped him to succeed later in life. It is this kind of supportive environment that he deeply appreciates and that he raps about in “The Town,” rather than his appreciation of the natural world. The song definitely shares some characteristics with pastoral poetry, but there are differences as well.

  2. I believe that this is actually a common theme in hip-hop, illustrating pastorals. Most rappers are very proud of where they come from, and often have songs in honor of their cities. For example, "Hometown" by Big Sean and "Empire State of Mind" by Jay-Z. Both of these songs focus primarily on the landscapes and components of the city rather than their personal lives or tangible belongings.

    This method of illustrating pastoral landscapes could also be related to conscious hip-hop--creating music that relates to a broader audience by focusing less on drugs, violence, etc., but rather on topics with more depth, such as a pastoral.


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