Macklemore’s journey continues. The northwest hip hop version of Luke Skywalker is preparing to release his debut album, The Heist, with producer Ryan Lewis, on October 9, and head back onto the road.
“Macklemore is a fine hero,” wrote Charles Mudede of the Stranger, after watching Macklemore perform in front of a sold out Key Arena during Bumbershoot 2011. “I will be honest and say it like I saw it: Macklemore’s performance tonight in the Key Arena was electrifying. I have been covering local hip hop for a decade and have never seen anything like tonight: a massive and charged reservoir of love for a local hip hop artist… At one point, Shawn Kemp walked onto the stage—the old myth meets the new myth.”
Hero and myth are great words to describe him. Even fans and artists who may not enjoy his empathetic style of music applaud and support his success. He is the only rapper from the Northwest selling out shows in cities all over the world. His fall 2011 tour sold out 27 cities throughout the States.
“It was always the goal to make art, and to make a living off that art. Once I started buying recording equipment, I think I really decided that this was what I wanted to do for a living,” Macklemore told me over the phone.
The key component of his success, outside of his good looks, talent, and work ethic, has been his ability to deliver an engaging story in both his music and his marketing. Through interviews and YouTube videos, he keeps his fans connected with every step of his creative process. He has blogged his thrift shop exploits, run contests for his fans, and has thrown a pizza party for the winners. In front of a sold out Roseland theater last year in Portland, I watched a crowd of teenagers sing along with every word of his song, “Otherside”, in which he describes the consequences of his own addictions.
“Syrup, percocet, and an eighth a day, will leave you broke, depressed, and emotionally vacant.”
Macklemore is just as much a conversation as he is an artist. If a friend were to ask, “Who is Macklemore?”, there is a conversation about him being from Seattle and his battle with drug addiction waiting as an answer.
After The Language of My World dropped in 2005, his first official full length album, he faced his challenges and temptations, becoming distracted by drugs, alcohol and women. Drugs have an interesting way of keeping people trapped in the moment, and instead of planning ahead for his career, he was planning on how to come up on a few bucks to get weed for the week. After almost losing his longtime girlfriend, he, in a moment of enlightenment, admitted himself into rehab.
“My dad came to me and was like, ‘What are you doing? This isn’t getting better,’” he said.
Getting out of rehab, Macklemore’s buzz had passed, and, humbled, he was forced to move back in with his parents and start over.
His father was always supportive, but he tried to convince Macklemore to get a day job.
“Odds of making it as a rapper aren’t great. It’s like trying to make it to the NBA,” Macklemore explained. “It came to a certain point that my career wasn’t going anywhere, mostly due to the drugs, and he started telling me I should look for a more regular job. I didn’t ever want to try anything else. I knew that if I could get sober I could make a good run at this…I was resistant to getting a real job.”
He got a job at a hat store, but fate was kind to Macklemore, as it is to all heroes, and his employment was cut short due to the gaining momentum of the VS. EP.
“I was freshly sober going into VS. I was very humbled by my living situation. I was trying to re-piece my life. I knew that with VS. if things didn’t pan out, I was going to have to get a real job. The music is the same as on my other projects. It was just a different chapter of my life,” he continued. “I worked (at the hat store) for about two weeks. I think I worked a total of about four shifts…There was more drama of people coming in to take pictures with me than there was me actually getting any work done.”
And so his journey continued – with The VS. EP as proof of his transformation. The EP, released in 2009, was his first collaborative project with Ryan Lewis. The strength of the single, “The Otherside”, helped give Macklemore and Ryan national attention without major media assistance.
With Seattle, his family, and his friends providing motivation and mentorship, he returned home, to the studio, and linked back up with Ryan Lewis. Macklemore discusses the studio they created in the promo video for The Heist, “It was a much needed Craigslist discovery in 2009, after spending months working in our parents’ basements on the VS. EP. We wouldn’t have expected to stay here two and a half years, or the rollercoaster that was about to happen.”
The rollercoaster ride included a sold out tour, meetings with every major record company in the country and being selected as one of XXL Magazine’s Freshman of the Year, all building up to the independent release of The Heist on October 9 and the ensuing world tour.
After which, he said he would take a few months away from Seattle to spend time with his girlfriend and get started on the next project.