Not Your Average Rapper

Seattle-based emcee Macklemore on ‘keeping it real’

Seattle-based emcee Macklemore isn’t your average rapper. He’s not bragging about his Bentley, spitting about his diamond earrings or flossin’ a gold chain. His lyrics are born out of his struggles with drug addiction and his decision to get clean delivered with a refreshing honesty not normally found in the commercial hip-hop world. Along with his partner in crime, producer Ryan Lewis, Macklemore has tapped into a new generation of kids itching for a fresh take on hip-hop. And look no further; the Mack is back. After releasing his first full-length in 2005, titled The Language Of My World, he kind of disappeared. It wasn’t until he emerged clean and sober in 2009 that he really started to gain steam. He teamed up with Lewis soon after to collaborate on The VS. EP and was quickly picked up by The Agency Group, an international booking firm representing artists such as A Tribe Called Quest and Flogging Molly. And these days, it seems as if playing live is his only drug. Currently on an extensive national tour with Blueprint (Rhymesayers Entertainment), Macklemore took a second to talk to The Reader about sobriety and the internet’s hand in exposing bad music to the masses. In an industry supersaturated with rappers, what makes you stand out? I try to be myself. By nature of being myself, that’s going to separate me apart from everybody else. If you add that level of honesty to your music, no one else can tell your story. I try to tell my story as openly as possible and hope people can connect with it. Making it in this business is obviously very difficult. Where do you find the motivation to keep going? I think that I will always make music so the validation is just kind of a bonus to it. It’s definitely great to see the music spreading and growing. To watch the fan base change and to go to certain venues where you played before and to watch more and more people start to find out about you is definitely motivating. It’s motivating to hear people talk about my music affecting them in a positive way is definitely a motivating factor to continue to make it. And on top of that, real life — there’s always a song in that. You cited a period of low production between the years of 2005 and 2009 because of substance abuse. What finally made you snap out of it? I had always wanted to get clean and sober, but didn’t really have the tools to do it. I had the desire to quit using drugs and alcohol, but I didn’t know how to get out of my environment. I didn’t know how to get out of my head and really focus on who I wanted to be. I didn’t have that resource. What kind of tools do you use? Initially getting sober, I went to a treatment facility and there I was able to get perspective on the broader scheme of life and realize that there’s something greater than myself. I had lost any contact with God or a power greater than myself during the time I was using drugs and alcohol. I don’t consider myself a religious person at all, but I do consider myself a person that believes that there is something greater than us out there. Getting back into a sober mind state, I got in touch with something I lost a long time ago. I was able to realize I had a certain amount of control but I don’t in the same sense. I have the ability to choose whether I’m using drugs and alcohol, yet all these things that are happening to me are false. I could choose them or I can just going against them. I used drugs and alcohol as a numbing device. The minute that I lost the desire to numb myself was the most essential tool of the tool belt. Do you feel its important to get a positive message out to your fans? I think it’s important to talk about it — to be honest about it. I had that choice coming out of treatment. What do I do: Do I tell the fans about this? Do I tell them I went to treatment? I made the conscious choice to talk about it on record because it’s real to my life. It’s what I went to. I’m not going to hold that back. There are two ways you can go. You can either expose your experience or hide it. I wanted to put it out there for the people because I thought that it was something a lot of people — particularly the younger generation — go through the disease of alcoholism or drug addiction. It’s important to represent all sides of myself. It’s the reason I am where I am. A lot of musicians credit substances as “creative fuel.“ Has your music changed since you cleaned up? I have never been that type of person. I always need to be sober in order to write. It’s kind of a veil immediately the minute I would do drugs and alcohol. I would be staring at the paper for 20 minutes. In the song “White Privilege” you explore the implications of your race in the hip-hop world. Can you explain where your head was when writing that song? Yeah, yeah, it was in 2004. The song just came from me going to a hip-hop show that night and looking around at the audience and realizing what was at one time a very diverse culture and type of audience coming out to the shows had changed. That was the first time I really acknowledged that “wow, there’s like 95 percent white people in this room.” It’s changed a lot. It’s gone through numerous changes that I wasn’t really around for or was aware of at the time. I was really young for the first wave of The Beastie Boys. I think that opened up the door to a whole new white audience. But for my generation, it wasn’t until Eminem came out that it really opened to door to a whole new side of America and I think that song was a repercussion state of that. It just kind of happened. You were starting to see the way hip-hop culture was changing at shows. Do you think the internet opened up the flood gates for really bad hip-hop to come out, especially with the internet making it so easy put out a song? To me, it’s kind of polluted the genre in a way. I agree. With the internet, I don’t think it has to do just with race, although there are a lot of really bad white rappers. But in terms of the internet, it did give anyone a voice that had access to a computer. That definitely oversaturated the market and it still does. But I think there’s an element of “we’ve been there, done that” with MySpace and what not. People aren’t really listening to MySpace anymore. People aren’t really paying attention to demos. It’s been so oversaturated that now I feel like the main outlet in terms of getting yourself exposed is just blogs — and blogs are going to be more picky about what they pick up and put out. Hopefully. I think it’s chipped away at the quality of music. Yes, I agree. What it also did was, you used to have to do a lot of shows to get exposure before MySpace and all that. You had to do a lot of shows to get exposure. People really had to own their craft on stage before they could get noticed. It was a rite of passage or a paid dues process. Now, people can bypass that step and get record contracts off a song off MySpace rather than rocking shows — what it really takes to get better at the craft. It took us years to get acknowledged by the elders of our community. It took even longer to get a fan base and that was because we put in that actual work. How did you and Ryan Lewis get together? Ryan resides and went to school in Seattle. I actually met him on MySpace, speaking of the devil (laughs). He had a beat up there and I hollered at him. We linked up and I realized he was a photographer, too. Over the next few years, it was just a friendship and he was my photographer. It wasn’t until we linked up later down the road, maybe 3 years ago, that I started using his beats. He’s a producer first and foremost, not just a DJ. We try to make the most interactive set with the crowd as possible. We’re going to start incorporating live instruments into the set as well. We’re able to cross genres and hopefully stick out a little bit. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis perform with Blueprint Thursday, March 31 at 9 p.m. at the Waiting Room, 6212 Maple St. Tickets are $10 in advance and $13 day-of show. For more information, visit

posted at 10:33 pm
on Tuesday, March 29th, 2011


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