Hip-hop lovers across the country are now raving about rising rap duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, both Seattle natives. The immense fan devotion that began with the youth of Seattle has now swept the nation. The two played at Dawg Daze in 2011 and recently sold out more than half of the shows on their American tour. The Daily had a chance to sit down and talk with Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty, about his love for Seattle, his future as an unsigned artist, and drug abuse on college campuses.
The Daily: How did you and Ryan Lewis meet and begin collaborating, and what makes your partnership work?
Macklemore: Ryan and I met about five years ago — six years ago — and we met on MySpace, actually — that old, ancient form of communication social networking … and he had a beat that I wanted and I hit him up about it and he ended up giving me a couple beats, and we became friends. And he was a photographer — still is a photographer. And he started taking pictures of me, and … being my unofficial-official photographer for a couple years. And we maintained a friendship and he continued to make beats, and it really progressed. That kind of turned into us talking about doing an EP, and that’s what turned into the VS. EP … I think Ryan and I both have a really high aesthetic for art in general and we have a very similar eye, graphically. We have a very similar taste in music and … we both share a common bond of unnecessary perfectionism within our craft, and I think that that is what kind of makes it all work. And we’re both very involved in the process, whether it’s like him with … critiquing my raps and working on that with me, or me sitting there with him while he makes beats or giving feedback, we’re both very much a big part of each other’s process. I think that’s what makes it work overall.
The Daily: What are the ingredients to a great song? What goes into making good music?
Macklemore: I think the foundation is always melody. That is what draws people in. A good melody is what people really resonate with just on a human, instinctual level. Drums is the next part — the rhythm of it. Having great drum textures and great drum patterns is a huge part of it. And then whatever elements in terms of the production are involved. … And then I would say the songwriting is another element that is very imperative in the process. You know, having lyrics and content that mean something — that have elements in it that really connect with human beings. I think [songwriting] is a very important element in a song being successful, so writing from the heart and using humility and just being genuine with yourself. I think if you can transfer that onto a piece of paper and record that, and you have a great melody and great drums, the rest is going to take care of itself.
The Daily: In “Can’t Hold Us,” you seem proud that you are not signed to a label. Why do you remain unsigned, and do you think you will ever join up with a record label?
Macklemore: I am open to it. I think that in 2012 it makes the most sense to remain independent for where we’re at. You know, we definitely have had a lot of major label interest, and we’ve taken a bunch of meetings, and we have, you know, heard the pitches, and there’s just nothing that’s been put out on the table that makes sense to me, where I would want to sacrifice my creative control. Because really what a major label is, at this point, is a big loan and, you know, an affiliation with another brand that’s outside of ourselves. And, you know, you could potentially get played on the radio. And you know, you have a budget, which is great. Like, money is awesome, money is like how people hear your music … but I think that with social networking and just like being savvy in 2012 and really connecting with the fan base — which we’ve been able to do — I think that that’s just as powerful, if not more powerful. Because essentially, that’s [why] you’re signing up for a label — to use their resources. But if we can do it ourselves, as long as we can with our own resources and still remain in creative control, I think that that’s just the best viable option in terms of putting out music these days.
The Daily: Drug use is a big problem on college campuses. What do you have to say to college kids who are abusing drugs like Adderall or Oxycontin?
Macklemore: I can’t tell anybody to, you know, to be a certain way or to do a certain thing. … I can speak more about drugs in my life, and the overall theme is that it was a temporary thing that was fun for a while. And, you know, I thought that it worked and that it was helping my life in some capacity, whether that was just to like to have fun or whether that was just like to be creative or to open up my mind to different realities. … But it only lasted for so long, and I was the type of person that didn’t have moderation. I don’t have moderation when using drugs and alcohol. So it got to the point where it was hurting my life; it was hurting my potential. And I really wasn’t being the person or the artist that I wanted to be. And so it was really one or the other. It was either continuing to use drugs and alcohol and go that route or get sober and clean up and pursue my music full time with one hundred percent of my creative energy behind it, and that’s what I chose. … My dad approached me when I was 25 years old, and, you know, just talked to me about where my life was at. And he was the one who suggested that I go to rehab. And that was a big moment. I thought that up until that point I could do it on my own and get sober by myself and I had tried over and over and over, countless times, to get sober throughout my life. And it wasn’t until then, where he kind of confronted the issue head on, that I took it seriously and ended up going to treatment about a month later.
The Daily: What song are you the most proud of?
Macklemore: Otherside. It’s a song that really connected with people. I’ve heard countless times in the last couple years since we put it out of it actually really helping people. To write a song that has that sort of impact on people — to speak to others through your own story — I think is any artist’s greatest hope.
Reach reporter Lily Katz at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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