by Georgia Perry on Oct 16, 2012
Macklemore performs at the Catalyst Oct. 24.
Subjects not typically mentioned in rap songs: Malcom Gladwell books, support for gay marriage, Reaganomics, grandparents’ clothing and Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.
“Typical” notions of rap be damned, these topics are prevalent in the jams of Ben Haggerty, a.k.a. Macklemore—a Seattle-based rapper with peach skin and red hair who, along with his producer and music partner Ryan Lewis, came out with his first full-length album, The Heist, this month. His style is unabashedly sincere and sensitive, and he rejects the expected rapper persona of a swaggering, tough-talking gangster, choosing instead to just be himself. Haggerty and Lewis perform at the Catalyst on Wednesday, Oct. 24.
With sold-out shows, upwards of 6 million views for his music videos on YouTube and a debut album that reached number one on iTunes, Haggerty undoubtedly possesses the potential to go toe-to-toe with Seattle’s current title-holder for biggest hometown rap star: Sir Mix-A-Lot. But for now, Haggerty’s battling himself.
“Put the gloves on, sparring with my ego. Everyone’s greatest obstacle,” he raps on “Ten Thousand Hours,” The Heist’s opener.
“For me my battle with my ego isn’t like, ‘Oh my god I think I’m so amazing, I’m the shit.’ It’s, ‘Oh my god this isn’t going to do well enough’ or, ‘this song only got this many plays. I was hoping for more. Maybe I’m not that good.’ It really comes from insecurity,” he told me over the phone.
OK, well, for the record, he is that good.
Putting yourself out there can be scary, though. And Haggerty admits he’s thought about the potential negative repercussions of going against the hip-hop grain.
“As the profile increases and you have opportunities to collaborate it’s like, ‘Oh hell are they gonna look at ‘Same Love’ and still want to work on something?’” he says of his song voicing support for gay marriage. “To me, that’s even more reason to retweet the shit out of the video and promote it. This is what I believe in, and if I’m afraid I’m not going to have an opportunity because someone’s gonna judge me, then it’s not an opportunity that was meant to happen.”
His mostly teenage and college-aged fan base loves him for his honesty, which he says is less of a choice and more of a necessity.
“I’m personal, because that’s the only way I know how to write. I don’t know how to be general. I don’t know how to write anything but what’s going on in my life and what I’m working on,” he says.
Not yet a household name, but well on his way there, the question is whether Haggerty will continue to be relatable to his fans as he gets bigger. After all, a star’s problems are not an average person’s problems. With his continued success, soon Haggerty will no longer relate to his own lyric, “I only got $20 in my pocket,” the hook from his song “Thrift Shop,” which is his most popular music video to date and features Haggerty jumping around a Goodwill store wearing fake fur and footie pajamas.
Admittedly, things are already a little meta on The Heist. In the song “Starting Over,” he raps about drug relapse. Fair enough. But then he goes on to explore his feelings about how his relapse could affect his fans that have drawn strength from his 2010 song “Otherside” about overcoming drug addiction.
The song “Thin Line,” also on The Heist, is about the strain his growing success has put on his relationship with his girlfriend. “Jimmy Iovine” is based on his meetings with record executives, shedding light on his decision to pursue his career without representation from a label. (Instead Haggerty and Lewis have opted to create their own exposure by releasing high-quality music videos on YouTube.)
Then again, the Millennial generation may just be able to relate to the struggles of a famous person like Haggerty. You can’t throw a stone into a room of 20-somethings without hitting someone with a blog, Twitter account or YouTube presence. Numerous studies point to Millennials’ preference for creative expression over corporate stability. Haggerty fits the bill as the new voice of rap for a generation whose members all fancy themselves a little famous, or in Haggerty’s own words, "a generation of kids choosing love over a desk."
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis perform Wednesday, Oct. 24 at the Catalyst.