Each week I have the privilege of working with a group of teenagers in drug and alcohol recovery. Majority of these kids listen to rap and hip hop, and unfortunately many of their favorite artists glorify drug use in their lyrics. It can be tricky to find hip hop music that fits within their preference, yet is suitable for therapy, but over the years I have made a great list. One of my favorite artists to use in sessions is Macklemore. Macklemore himself has been through rehab and has even written a song about his relapse, Otherside. This is a fantastic song for lyric analysis and my groups always get involved in deep discussions when they hear it (most are hearing it for the first time since it is not a radio hit). The fact that Macklemore has been in their shoes and understands what they are going through is extremely helpful to the therapeutic process.
Though Otherside is fantastic and I could write more about it, the song I want to focus on in this post is one they do recognize…Can’t Hold Us. With lyrics in the verses such as “If I fall, they got me… Learn from that failure and gain humility…Labels out here, now they can’t tell me nothing…I got a world to see…”, there is a theme shining through of not giving up which is so important for these at-risk kids.
But what about the chorus lyrics?
“Can we go back, this is the moment, tonight is the night. We’ll fight til its over, so we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us”
This is where the conversation gets interesting. The theme of not giving up is still shining through these lyrics, but there is something more hidden in the words. Many think that the reference to the ceiling has no meaning, and some state that it doesn’t make any sense. But lets consider a few things….
-Macklemore is an independent artist, meaning he has no major record label backing him up.
-the “ceiling” he refers to in the chorus is representative of the “glass ceiling” the music industry has for these independent artists. This “glass ceiling” separates and traps these artists from progressing in the industry.
-the imagery of “put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us” is Macklemore’s way of breaking through the “ceiling” and rising above it on his own.
– Macklemore has 3 hits that all charted in the top 20, 2 of which were #1 hits, which is VERY UNCOMMON without the support of a label.
So now we begin to see a different theme emerge. The idea of taking charge of your own life, actions and destiny. Though there may be obstacles that stand in the way, if one is persistent, self-sufficient and driven, they can achieve what may seem impossible. This is a very important concept for these kids to understand, as many believe that they have no option for the future and that they need other people to make good things happen in their lives. Though support is very important, we cannot rely on others to make us successful…especially in recovery.
So thank you Macklemore and Ryan Lewis for being an amazing example to these kids and providing such great messages for them to learn from. I am looking forward to hearing more songs in the future and excited to see what subject matter he decides to write about next!