Macklemore (right) and Ryan Lewis. Photo supplied.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have struck a chord with their
brand of socially conscious and fun hip-hop. Scott Kara talks
to Macklemore ahead of their New Zealand tour.
Few music acts - in recent memory at least - have had a rise
in popularity quite like Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. In under
a year, the duo of rapper Macklemore (real name Ben Haggerty)
and his producer mate Lewis, have gone from an aspiring
little-known act from Seattle, to one of the biggest names in
In New Zealand, off the back of two No 1 singles - the cheeky
and fruity Thrift Shop and current chart-topping gay rights
anthem Same Love, off debut album The Heist - they have
become a phenomenon.
When their Auckland show was announced late last year they
were scheduled to play the 1200-capacity Powerstation, that
was later upgraded to the Logan Campbell Centre, and now
Vector Arena. That's on top of playing sold-out shows in
Wellington and Christchurch, and at Dunedin's Forsyth Barr
Stadium on Thursday.
And this success is not just confined to New Zealand.
Macklemore has hit the top of the charts and sold out shows
everywhere from Britain and France to their homeland, even
with a brand of socially conscious and fun hip-hop that is
not typical of what you would expect from the US.
This new-found fame is something Macklemore, who is on the
phone from San Francisco, on the way to Australia and New
Zealand, sounds like he's still getting to grips with
''This year has been, you know, in a lot of ways, you work
for your entire life to get to a place like this,'' he says,
sounding a little bemused but chuffed at the same time.
''And it's been a long time in the making, but at the same
time, it's happened very fast.''
By this, the 29-year-old means he has been in the music game
for years, starting out in the early 2000s, releasing a
handful of EPs and mixtapes, and a reasonably well-received
independent album, The Language of my World, in 2005.
However, around this time his musical output was blighted by
alcohol and substance abuse problems - something he talks
about in 2010 track Otherside where he ponders, ''We live on
the cusp of death thinking that it won't be us''.
It was after getting sober in late 2008 - he has relapsed
once apparently, which, being the open book that he is, he
documents in The Heist's Starting Over - that he met Lewis
and the pair have been busily making music ever since.
''We connected first and foremost on an artistic level,'' he
''Ryan's always been someone who really values the process,
and working until it's done. Working until the record is
finished, until the concert flier is finished, and working
hard on his craft of being a creative person. And I like to
think of myself in the same way, so, it started with
something that was creative and grew into a friendship and
now he's like my brother.''
Following the release of two EPs the pair hunkered down to
record The Heist, an album that is poignant and sensitive in
songs such as Same Love and the almost new romantic-sounding
Thin Line, but then uppity and cheeky in Thrift Shop, and
tough and fiery in Make the Money. It's not what you expect
from an American hip-hop act in both sound and sentiment, and
that, reckons Macklemore, is why they have become so big.
''I think people wanted something different and when Ryan and
I were making The Heist, and when we were wrapping it up, it
kind of hit me that this is so different that it's either
going to work or it's going to be too left field and people
aren't going to understand it,'' he laughs.
''But I think that people just wanted to hear something
different, some new music, and The Heist was that.
''But we never anticipated it would do as well as it has, and
we definitely never thought we would have a No 1 record in
New Zealand, Australia, and France ... so it's exciting and
it's also different, trying to keep up with life and it's
moving pretty fast right now.''
It also helped that Thrift Shop and its madcap video, with
Macklemore and Lewis wearing their freaky fur coats and
surrounded by a vast cast of freaks, was so incessantly
catchy and entertaining.
''Not a lot of hip-hop music sounds like that right now. The
beat is infectious, the hook is very catchy, and it's fun and
playful and also, it's a record that people connect with.
These days, while most hip-hop music celebrates how much
money you can spend and what type of material possessions you
can buy, that song goes against all of that and that in
itself goes against anything else you might hear out there
Just in case you're wondering, given the subject matter of
their next biggest hit, Same Love, Macklemore is straight.
There are many photos of him and his fiancee on the band's
But he's big on gay rights, although, he admits with a laugh,
Same Love was a song that took a long time to write because
he had to figure out how to do it properly.
''You know, coming from the perspective of being a straight
male, how do I approach this subject knowing that I will be
speaking about and for the gay community, but not being a
part of that community? Holding myself accountable, holding
the hip-hop community accountable. I wanted to bring up
something that I feel like isn't addressed particularly well,
not only in American culture but around the world.''
He has a chuckle when told about Prime Minister John Key's
''gay'' red jumper quip, but then, more seriously, he points
out how in the US you still can't be gay and be a boy scout.
''That's amazing to me. But we are evolving. We're evolving
slowly. And last year there was a lot of forward progress
made in terms of equality and the fight for civil rights.''
He's a socially conscious chap, and someone who genuinely
would like to make a difference with his music - and he
manages to do it without being an earnest do-gooder.
''Music has been a tool for me to find out who I am, and to
figure out some sort of inherent truth within myself and in
the world I live in. Really, that's what my music is for,
breaking down culture, breaking down society, and breaking
''I like to put my personality in my music and a lot of
people only showcase one side of who they are, but I have a
serious side, and I have a sense of humour and I don't take
myself too seriously. It's about showing people who you
See them, hear
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis play at Forsyth Barr Stadium,
Dunedin, on February 21.