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Meaning of ‘HEROES’ by ‘Macklemore’ feat. DJ Premier

Released: 2023

“HEROES” by Macklemore is a grit-laden throwback to his formative years, a candid confessional about his past and the influences that shaped his perspective on life. It serves as a reflection on his transition from idolizing street culture and its figures to becoming a force in the hip-hop industry himself.

The song begins with Macklemore reminiscing about his childhood, where he admired the allure of street life, as evident in the lines, “When I grew up, criminals were my heroes”. This paints a vivid picture of his early influence, where crime figures were glorified in his neighborhood. The lyric, “From jump it was always fuck cops and the bureau”, reveals an inherent anti-establishment sentiment he had from a young age.

Further, Macklemore references several pop culture figures, such as the character Beanie from the movie ‘New Jersey Drive’ and O’Dawg from ‘Menace II Society’, to showcase the influence of media representation on his young psyche. When he says “Now I’m with my kids and we’re watching Olaf”, it’s a stark contrast between the violent, rebellious characters he once looked up to and the benign, kid-friendly media he now consumes as an adult.

The impact of hip-hop on Macklemore’s life trajectory is clearly illuminated in the lines, “It was Hip Hop’s fault / That I wanted to grow up / Sell drugs, smoke blunts, drink Mad Dog and fuck”. It’s here Macklemore asserts how the glorification of criminal behavior in hip-hop music influenced his youthful aspirations to the point of wanting a perm like DJ Quik, one of the prominent figures in West Coast hip-hop.

His verse about spending time around the fountain on “Third and James” where hustlers and homeless individuals hang out, portrays a place he frequented to feel closer to the ‘realness’ of street life. His refrain of “Those were my heroes” cements the impact of these individuals on his character and aspirations.

The chorus “Pick up the mic / Put your money where your mouth is” serves as an emblematic challenge to the posturing that’s often inherent in hip-hop. This line metaphorically calls to authenticity within the genre, challenging artists to back up their machismo with real action.

And in the latter verses, Macklemore presents a more brutal image of his heroes – individuals caught in the cycle of drug abuse, incarceration, and an unending battle with personal demons – an unsettling truth about the culture he once desperately wanted to emulate.

Ultimately, “HEROES” is a nuanced portrayal of Macklemore’s journey, from a rebellious youth idolizing ‘street culture’ to becoming a mature, self-aware artist conscious of the realities of the lifestyle he once craved. It is a grim, yet profound reflection on the complex interplay between art and life, culture, and personal evolution in the realm of hip-hop.

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