On the Verge: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis get thrifty
Posted January 5, 2013
Thrift Shop, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' paean to secondhand style, just reached a million downloads, according to Nielsen SoundScan. And Spotify says it was the streaming service's second-most-popular track at midnight on New Year's Eve, behind Psy's Gangnam Style. But there's a deeper side to the Seattle-based duo: Same Love, an earlier single, takes hip-hop and religious cultures to task over their treatment of same-sex attraction, and The Heist was one of 2012's smartest and least predictable hip-hop albums. Lyricist/frontman Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty) met Lewis, who handles the act's production and visual branding, via MySpace in 2006. They began their musical collaboration two years later. "We both have had an equal hand in all the aspects of our brand, even to the fonts and the specifics," says Lewis, 24. "It's rare to have a collaboration that's long-lasting like that."
Parallel rhymes: If Thrift Shop and Same Love have a common theme, it's that they both use an observational approach to push against strongly held cultural notions. "Thrift Shop pokes fun at society, and there's some humor in it, but it's very much my life and personality," says Haggerty, 29. "Same Love starts from a story of me describing what it was like growing up as a kid who thought he might be gay, leading into addressing homophobia in the church and the hip-hop community. It all comes from personal experience, and I try to do that in a way that has no filter."
The name game: Haggerty picked up the "Macklemore" moniker while attending a Brooklyn art program during his high-school years. "I would dress up in the most eclectic, weird, Prince/David Bowie-looking outfits I could possibly come up with," he says. "When I would do that, I would call myself 'Professor Macklemore.' Years later, I dropped the 'Professor,' but I couldn't think of a better rap name. 'Macklemore' stuck." Friends call Haggerty "Ben," but "Macklemore" is fine, he says. Just don't call him "Mackle." "I don't know who that is, and I don't want to know that person."
The grand Heist: After the duo's independently released The Heist sold 78,000 units in its first week, for a No. 2 debut on Billboard's album chart last October, they became much more appealing to major record labels – and much harder to get. "In dealing with labels and offers, it's all about leverage," Haggerty says. "Going into the album, we had a certain amount of leverage: Our YouTube plays were great, and our fan base was impressive. But once you sell 78,000 copies in your first week, the leverage tilts in your favor immensely." Had some recent propositions come before the release of The Heist, the duo might have been inclined to accept them, to their detriment. "If we had gotten some of these offers a year ago, we might have put out a different album," Haggerty says. Lewis doesn't rule out the possibility of partnering with a major in the future, but if that happens, "it'll probably be a very specific partnership that's not very conventional."
What was Haggerty's last great thrift-shop bargain? "It's a kind of a bootleg-Chanel warm-up jacket that's black, gold and white. I would definitely venture to say that it was owned by a large woman at some point. I've been wearing it to start off the sets." Don't expect him to hold on to it for long, though. He tends to cycle through his acquisitions, "due to pure square footage of my apartment. I'm all about giving back to the thrift shops once the clothes have been worn for a while."
Looking ahead: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will tour Australia and New Zealand in February, likely followed by a series of one-off shows and festival dates, plus an international tour in the fall. "We're trying as hard as we can to give ourselves time in the studio, to get back and start working toward an EP or an LP," Lewis says. Also on the docket: their annual pizza party, which got delayed by the late end of last year's world tour and Haggerty's subsequent bout with pneumonia. "Normally, it has been a fan-appreciation holiday party," he says. "We need to figure it out."
Latest in Entertainment