I’m going to start with an admission - Thrift Shop was the first Macklemore & Ryan Lewis song I ever heard. There, now that’s out in the open we can talk about why Ben Haggerty AKA Macklemore has become one of my favorite people in music right now.
Macklemore comes from an area that I normally wouldn’t associate with hip hop - Seattle, but that’s probably more my ignorance than the actual truth. He’s seriously enthusiastic about his music and that comes across in every video - you can’t help but be infected by that enthusiasm, especially when the music is this good. Lyrically, I’m not sure there’s any artist out there that comes even close to him.
He’s proof that you should “write what you know”. There’s a depth to even the most popular of his songs, a depth that’s rare to popular music, because by definition it has to appeal to the common denominator. He’s believes what he’s rapping about - and it shows. He’s lived what he raps about.
“Otherside” is about his struggle with alcohol and drug addiction. “Neon Cathedral” is about this clash between his alcoholism and religion. He even mentions it in his song “Irish Celebration” - He said he.. “put down the drink / can’t drink like a gentleman / that doesn’t mean I can’t make a drinking song for the rest of them…”. “Starting Over” again comes back to this subject but after an emotionally painful relapse - “If I can be an example of getting sober / I can be an example of starting over”. Powerful stuff from a very unexpected source. But I shouldn’t have been surprised, music often throws up these amazing surprises.
Macklemore’s lyrics are twinned with the gorgeous beats of Ryan Lewis. The best description that I’ve ever heard of Lewis is from the Seattle Times Mark Matson - Ryan Lewis is more “musical director” than “DJ”. These beats and lyrics are more than often complimented by other artists - Ray Dalton on “Can’t Hold us”, Mary Lambert on “Same Love”, Evan Roman on “A Wake”, to name but a few.
Of all of their songs - “Same Love” and “My oh My” are the two that I can listen to on repeat for hours. On some late nights with friends that is exactly what we have ended up doing. Many nights have been spent after a late night back in a friend’s apartment blaring out these tunes.
“My oh My” is Macklemore’s tribute to Dave Niehaus, the voice of the Seattle Mariners baseball team. The song details how Macklemore grew up listening to Niehaus calling the games on the radio. I love baseball so this song definitely ticks all my emotional boxes. Even more so for some Americans as when it was first played by a radio DJ, he apparently received calls afterwards from Mariners fans who had pulled over on the highway in tears from the lyrical work and memory of Niehaus. Macklemore performed the song for Opening Day 2011 at Safeco Field during the teams Tribute to the late broadcaster. That video can be found here. I can easily imagine that many Mariners fans will have similar memories of growing up listening to him.
“Same Love” is another instant classic from The Heist. Gary Nunn from the Guardian called it “A riposte to homophobia from the poppy end of hip-hop may be the most profound song either genre has produced”. Again it’s another song straight from what he believes in - “No freedom til we’re equal / Damn right I support it”.
His most recent album has literally no filler. Almost all of his songs could easily be released as singles - they may not have the commercial success of Thrift Shop or Can’t Hold Us, but I’m not so sure Macklemore would be that upset about that. White Walls, A Wake, Starting Over, Castle; any of these songs could be released. Personally I would love to see Wing$ released - It’s a powerful song, an anthem to how easily we fall into the commercial/advertising trap of letting our things define us. Well worth a listen.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are playing in Ireland this September but as a group we don’t go to many concerts so, as usual, we heard this news far too late and missed the tickets for the now two sold out nights in the o2. Long shot ahead: So if you know anyone selling 6 tickets, get in touch!
P.S. Macklemore(Mack - le - more) pronunciation argument over:
RT @thenewconfusion: Having a FAN CRISIS: For 3 years i've pronounced the name MackELMore... But is it actually Mack-le-more???? < correct— Macklemore (@macklemore) October 19, 2012
P.P.S. The Mark Twain quote above is often misunderstood - It’s not about only writing exactly what you know - this piece explains it better.