Macklemore doesn’t fit definitions. He doesn’t fit any description that you might concoct to lead into an interview and perhaps that’s what makes him that bit special as an artist. Sometimes you get the feeling, that if an artist really is unlike anyone who has gone before, or doesn’t fit any particular sub-genre or style, that maybe, just maybe, they are going places far beyond your typical artist. That is the feeling you get when you meet Macklemore, or see his videos, or witness him live. In a 5 minute interview that lasted almost an hour, Macklemore goes in depth about his Irish heritage, his struggles with addiction and the work he puts in outside the studio to stay creative. For a rapper who denies the “conscious” tag, this upstart from Seattle has his eyes open far wider than most artists I have ever met.
Words: Kev Storrs
Macklemore: It was rowdy man. Like people getting hurt. It was loud in there!
Kev Storrs: It must feel a bit special travelling across the Atlantic Ocean and selling out your debut Irish show?
Macklemore: Yeah man, that’s the most crazy part about it; to come out here so far away and people to be singing your lyrics out loud, it’s crazy.
Kev Storrs: I have to say, I was surprised the show sold out.
Macklemore: Yeah, I mean we have had a lot of sell out shows. On this tour London and Dublin have been our best numbers. We also did Bristol. So like if we can get 400 in a show out here it’s great. There are places in the states where we wouldn’t do that many. But we actually had to book this Dublin show ourselves. Ryan was out here in the spring and spoke to one of his guys and they hooked it up. And the guy’s like yeah sure, we might pull 40 or 50 people, and then it sold out! Like we have a European booking agent, but it’s also important to make an effort yourself too.
Kev Storrs: I’ll be honest, the first time I heard of you was maybe only 4-5 months ago, through people on the Rap Ireland forums mentioning you. But you have been doing this a long time. Maybe a good place to start would be to tell us a bit about your background and how you got to where you are today?
Macklemore: I’ve been rapping for a long time; I started rapping when I was like 14 or 15 years old. I put out a high school album when I was like 17; I had a high school group. I put out an album “Language of my World” in 2005. That got me some acclaim and got me touring across the West Coast of America. Kind of fell off a couple of years after that, got caught up in the lifestyle; drinking, drugs. I’m someone who could never really balance that lifestyle and still remain creative. So, in 2008 I went to treatment. Came out of treatment and put out an EP with Ryan. It took a while for that to catch on, but when it caught on in like the last year, year and a half, it’s just been crazy. We seem to now have a fanbase all across the world.
Kev Storrs: So would you say that it’s only in the last year that things have really taken off?
Macklemore: Yeah; I would say the last year/year and a half. But definitely in the last 12 months it has been growing at a different pace than it ever had before.
Macklemore: I mean now this is a full time job. All the time. We put in long, long hours. We work like 16/17 hour days. So many more shows. I mean, as the business grows there are just so many more things to handle. We’re very hands on with our business. We’re not on a record label. We do it all ourselves.
Kev Storrs: The only way to do it these days…
Macklemore: Yeah it is. It really is. To be in control, to be in creative control is really good. Like there are some things a label can offer.
Kev Storrs: Like distribution..
Macklemore: Yeah distribution is about all. So, it’s just a full time job and it’s exhausting. But it’s what I always wanted to do.
Kev Storrs: What would your typical day be then, as an independent artist?
Macklemore: Well my manager just recently moved to Seattle, where I’m from, from New York which has been nice. My girlfriend is our tour manager, she also handles all of our operations. Then Ryan and I share a studio that we bought ourselves. So when I get up, I go right to the studio. We pretty much work from there all day long. Whether it’s writing, whether it’s designing a flyer, or doing a video. It’s basically an office slash studio. You know though, I try to find time to do things outside the studio. I realised lately that the studio is probably not the most conducive environment for me to be creating in. I need to be experiencing more. So I’ve tried to be of service more, working with the youth more, getting into the highschools, going to AA meetings. Doing stuff that gets me outside my own life and my own career.
Macklemore: I’m trying to make it more a part of my life, it goes in and out depending on how busy I am. But I’m realising that if it’s not there that something is kind of lacking in my life. Because you can be successful and forget what life is really like.
Kev Storrs: Well those kids will certainly bring you back down to earth…
Macklemore: Yeah, exactly! It makes it real, you remember what’s really important. That like success and being able to buy things isn’t what it’s really all about. It’s that old cliche that money won’t buy you happiness. It’s about giving back to the community. When I first started working with youth I was probably 21 years old. I was in college at the time so I would get college credit for the work, so I would work with incarcerated youth. We would do writing workshops, bring in studio equipment to let them record. So that’s how I got into it. Since then it’s been on and off. I’ve worked in the King County jails, I work with high school kids as much as possible. It’s something I really want to maintain to give balance.
Kev Storrs: I think the kids re-ignite the passion for the music, because they still have that raw energy, they live and die for the music..
Macklemore: Exactly. Exactly! That’s exactly it.
Ryan Lewis: We actually met on the ancient form of communication known as Myspace. I think he had a beat that I liked and I wanted it. He was primarily my photographer for the first couple of years. Then when I got out of treatment I linked up with him. We had remained friends all through, but I was flaky, like on and off with communication.
Kev Storrs: So you needed to wait until you were back on point..
Macklemore: Yeah so at that stage I was back on point. He had got better at making beats. So we were like let’s do an E.P, and that E.P has turned into the last 3 years of our lives.
Kev Storrs: I’ve seen in so many descriptions you have been described as a “conscious” rapper. What’s strange is that I haven’t even heard that term since the early days of Common and Mos Def. Would you even label yourself a “conscious rapper”?
Macklemore: No. I think that every rapper, if they’re a living, breathing creature, they’re conscious. I don’t think I’m any more conscious than any other person. I feel you, I think it’s a term that kind of died for a while, but people have started using again..
Macklemore: Yeah, I think that’s exactly what it’s about. I think it’s a little bit ignorant. And it’s usually people that pride themselves on being smarter than someone else, or who care about what “real” rap or “real” Hip-Hop is. But yeah I don’t think I’m more conscious than anyone else, I just put my life onto the page. That’s what I do; that’s my job. And that’s what’s every rapper does, they put their life, or what they want to project, onto the page. For some it might be different from what they actually live, but I try to keep mine as truthful as possible. It’s cool if people want to label me conscious but that’s not me!
Kev Storrs: Better make sure we don’t include that in the intro then..
Macklemore: Haha yeah, “CONSCIOUS RAPPER MACKLEMORE”
Kev Storrs: So what’s the Irish connection? How does that influence your music?
Macklemore: Well yeah, my heritage is Irish. Primarily Irish. I’ve always wanted to come out here. Like the Irish celebration song we made resonated with a bunch of folks. And last night the energy in the room was insane. It was the rowdiest a crowd has ever been in my entire career. Last night. So it was important to get out here and connect with the crowd. I mean, I was like in a different mood last night. When I got on stage I just felt connected with the audience. Like in the states I’ve become popular, and like it’s cool for certain people. Like there are hardcore fans, but then there’s people there because it’s cool in their high school. But they’re not passionate. Last night it was PASSIONATE. It was like a big ass family and it was just like hardcore fans last night.
Macklemore: Well that’s one thing I can say about our fanbase, that they’re really passionate and connected to the music. Especially in Seattle. I’m very big in Seattle compared to the rest of the country. In the rest of the country I’m an up and coming artist; in Seattle I’ve reached a certain point where it has become trendy to follow me. For the majority of the shows around the country it’s passionate fans, but last night was just another level.
Kev Storrs: To put together a song like Irish Celebration you need to know a bit about Irish history. Is that something you grew up with?
Macklemore: Yeah I think that obviously I’m coming from the perspective of someone who was born and raised in America, but with a lineage or heritage derived from here. So when I wrote it I wanted to be careful, and more than anything I wanted to show it from my family’s perspective. Like, I don’t know what it’s like to grow up here so that’s not my place.
Kev Storrs: Often Irish Americans tend to think of Ireland as the place their grandparents left, whereas it’s moved on. I think you managed to avoid some of those cliches..
Macklemore: Yeah. I mean the reaction has been pretty good. Obviously there were people who were like “Fuck this Yank”, but really the song is about celebrating life. It celebrates my ancestry and culture.. and the response it got last night makes it worthwhile. All the negative shit that came out of that song has been surpassed by the positive. Any time you have a song that has any sort of political background there’s always going to be two sides. There’s a couple of bars like “Fuck the London guard”, the anti-British stuff.
Kev Storrs: Funny thing is, most people love that line!
Macklemore: Haha I know right! So like that’s the political side but you know overall I think it’s about celebration and life.
Kev Storrs: You mentioned Seattle.. How is the scene there?
Macklemore: It’s nuts. We did a show in an arena there with 10k people. Crazy. Just like the people here go crazy about Irish Celebration, I make the same type of songs about Seattle. There’s numerous generations that can identify with that element. It’s cross-generational. I try to be a voice for my city. I have a platform now to expose the beauty of my city to the world. I’m extremely grateful for that core fan base. We have a super scene there, some super talented MCs. We’ve always had a great B-Boy scene.
Kev Storrs: Have you heard any Irish rappers?
Macklemore: No. Not really. I’ve heard a few Irish American rappers but none from here.
Kev Storrs: We’ll have to send you on some music..
Macklemore: Yeah! I would love that. How is the scene here?
Kev Storrs: Really blossoming… the battle scene is really strong right now..
Macklemore: Is it acappella battles?
Kev Storrs: Yeah accappella..
Kev Storrs: Would you ever work with an Irish artist on a track?
Macklemore: I think anyone who’s smart, is always open to working with other artists and exposing each other to the different fanbases. Obviously the love for the art needs to be there and it has to be the right artist, but I’d be totally open to working with Irish artists, whether Irish American from Boston or Irish from here.
Kev Storrs: We’ll have to set it up then!
Rap Ireland would like to thank Macklemore for taking the time to speak with Rap Ireland. We would also like to thank Tricia Katherine Davis and Zach Quillen of The Agency Group for their work in the background to make this happen.