You’d be forgiven, understood even, if you tuned out after hearing someone say the word “Macklemore.” It’s not even a word, actually, but a goofy-sounding name, of a Seattle-based rapper who, according to Billboard, for two weeks in the row has had the most popular song in the country. We’re talking “GANGNAM STYLE” big people.
And he’s making history, too.
No, you didn’t hit your head and wake up in 1994 — an independent artist has topped the Billboard Hot 100 for the first time in nearly 20 years, and for only the second time in history. Thanks to their brassy, bargain-hunting hit “Thrift Shop,” Seattle hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis join ’90s folk-pop singer Lisa Loeb in the elusive club of artists who reached number one without a label. (Via)
OK, but who the hell is he, with a name like a bird call? Well: born Ben Haggerty in Seattle, Washington in 1983, Macklemore was your typical white kid who loved Wu-Tang Clan and Nas, and in 2000, he recorded his first EP, Open Your Eyes, under the moniker Professor Macklemore. You can listen to the whole thing here, but be warned, it’s pretty unspectacular; his flow isn’t bad, but the lyrics, often reactionary about rap culture focusing on the wrong things, are at times cringeworthy. That’s fairly expected for a 17-year-old, though, and with his next two releases, 2005’s The Language of My World and 2009’s The Unplanned Mixtape, he steadily improved.
But no-longer-Professor Macklemore’s career really took off in 2010, when he teamed up with producer Ryan Lewis, and the duo worked on VS. Redux EP, featuring the hit(ish) song, “Otherside” (yes, like the Chili Peppers), about drug abuse in the hip-hop community, especially as it related to the death of rapper/producer Pimp C.
By 2011, Macklemore and Lewis were performing at Seattle Mariners games (they wrote a song, “My Oh My,” about the ballclub’s then-recently deceased broadcaster, Dave Niehaus), and a year later, in October 2012, they released the album that led them to a #1 song: The Heist. Here’s what All Music had to say about it:
These two talented young bucks can’t be contained, and hearing them offer one memorable, meaty number after another makes for an exciting listen, but this is unfiltered freshness released on Macklemore’s own label, so the concepts of restraint and focus take a slight hit, leaving the is-he-Eminem, is-he-Childish Gambino, or is-he-Grieves question with no clear winner. Here, he’s a mix of all of the above with some distinctive qualities, and with Lewis putting that kaleidoscope style underneath, The Heist winds up a rich combination of fresh and familiar. (Via)
“Thrift Shop” is the album’s huge single, the one you’ve probably heard without realizing what it was.
The video’s racked up 80 million views on YouTube — and the song, just as many think pieces. Spin wrote a scathing review that criticizes “Thrift Shop” for coming from the point of view of a “white guy celebrating common sense and sustainability — spending money at the local Goodwill or Salvation Army instead of at the mall or some streetwear boutique — that misses the mark and ends up as a party track for privileged dweebs,” an opinion that many find hard to refute (unlike the looping saxophone production, which everyone agrees is great). A verse:
I’ma take your grandpa’s style, I’ma take your grandpa’s style
No for real, ask your grandpa, can I have his hand-me-downs?
Velour jumpsuit and some house slippers
Dookie Brown leather jacket that I found digging
Macklemore, at least in the satirical “Thrift Shop,” is a guy who could afford the finer things in life, but instead chooses to go to the local Sal-Val because it’s cool to dress below your means — he’s making fun of people who try to impress their friends by wearing what the commoners do (there’s a bit of a Pulp’s “Common People” vibe there). Others were quick to come to Macklemore’s defense (rightly so), pointing out that the song is attempting to reduce our dependence on brands. This point becomes easier to accept when you look at the rest of Macklemore’s discography, including the pro-gay marriage anthem “Same Love.”
So, who the hell is Macklemore? He’s an independent rapper who, despite your feelings for “Thrift Shop,” bucks unfortunately accepted trends (like not talking about same-sex marriages) and ought to be admired for the way he broke through and found mainstream success in a business that rarely offers it to someone who isn’t backed by a major label. He might not be the rapper we want, but he’s the one we need — assuming he gets a new hairstyle.