Macklemore’s tale of consumerism and addiction was unparalleled in 2011, but before frequent collaborator Ryan Lewis added the piano riff and children’s choir the song had several other incarnations.
It began life at a spoken word show under the name Air Jordan’s, with a different hook to the one which eventually made it onto the single version.
Macklemore then added the performance to his live show, backed by a simple drum, sax, and violin arrangement. At this point the song took on the name Nikes, with the minimalistic backing track strong enough to provide atmosphere, but not so overwhelming that the message went unnoticed.
One criticism that some have had of the song in its single form is that Lewis’ grand production has done just that – taken away from the serious message that Macklemore wanted to convey. But I’d argue the opposite. The way the beat is reduced to just a piano as he delivers the lyric “and then my friend Carlos’ brother got murdered for his fours” gives extra poignancy to the line, just as the improved hook reminds us of the innocence of youth.