Hip-hop newcomer Macklemore has an edge when it comes to being a successful rap artist. The 29-year-old, born Ben Haggerty, stands out in the genre by resisting the status quo—he does not conform to an image in order to sell records.
One could argue that the deck was stacked against him when he started rhyming in high school. He was a scrawny white kid listening to Wu Tang Clang in Seattle, a city known more for grunge rock than an emerging hip hop scene. Yet, Macklemore developed a wicked quick flow and wrote personal lyrics about experiences in his neighborhood that eventually landed him regular performances at Seattle’s Capitol Hill Block Party.
Since then, he’s continued to live outside the norm, driving a Prius and making some seriously different music videos, available for viewing at his website, macklemore.com. He just released his much anticipated debut album The Heist. He and recording partner Ryan Lewis are now promoting the album on tour. They’ll hit Bend’s Midtown Music Hall Oct. 19.
The Heist is a blend of some very honest storytelling by Macklemore as well as the bouncy vintage inspired beats of Lewis. The duo has been performing together for a couple of years now, breaking out at the 2011s Sasquatch Music Festival.
Though several of the songs they’ve collaborated on have been around for a while, this will be the first time they’ve appeared on a studio release. The timing is particularly meaningful for perhaps Macklemore’s most personal song on the record, “Same Love.” The video for the song is being used in Washington State’s upcoming legislative battle for marriage equality. While marriage freedom is the center point of the song, it also highlights Macklemore’s own experience with a gay uncle.
“It came from growing up in Capitol Hill which is a very accepting community in terms of the gay population,” said Macklemore in a recent phone interview with the Source. “My uncle lived just a couple blocks from me so I had an example of a committed 20-plus-year relationship in front of me.”
In the beautiful piano-backed rap song, which features singer Mary Lambert in the chorus, Macklemore also indicts the hip hop genre for largely ignoring the gay community. The reason for that, though, is something the rapper can only speculate upon.
"People are afraid of what is different from who they are,” he said. “People fear what they don’t know. Unfortunately there is a lot of masculine bragging, ‘I’m better than you’ kind of rapping in the art form which is great, but leads to some people being closed minded.”
As serious as The Heist can be at times, there is still plenty of room for party songs. After all, Macklemore is someone who takes himself lightly when appropriate and likes to have a good time.
The album’s third track, “Thrift Shop,”about sweet secondhand store finds and the ridiculousness of retail clothing, is backed with Lewis’s ‘70s inspired hornsbeats. The beats perfectly allude to strutting around in awesome duds as guest artist Wanz raps “I’ll wear your granddad’s clothes. I look incredible. I’m in this big ass coat from that thrift shop down the road,” and Macklemore adds, “trying to get girls from a brand? Then you hella won’t.” The music video is priceless.
Whether getting intimate or using Lewis’ beats for party anthems, it all boils down to Macklemore striving to be himself on every song. For him it means acknowledging life rather than running from it.
“Music is an outlet to be as personal and open and honest and vulnerable as I can be,” he said. “Sure it is more marketable to write about escaping. The way pop culture processes music is they focus on escaping, whether that’s driving a certain car [or] getting high, and forgetting about what’s going on in life. For me music is a means of communicating my truth, which is the exact opposite of that.”
Photo taken by Greg Nissen.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
Friday, Oct. 19, 7 p.m.
Midtown Music Hall
51 NW Greenwood
Tickets $18 at www.macklemore.com