Macklemore + Ryan Lewis Cover Billboard, Recall the Glory Days of Drugs, Myspace + More
Two white dudes from Seattle became a chart-topping success last year. But it certainly wasn’t an overnight success, as revealed by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ new Billboard cover feature. In fact, it was nearly a decade in the making.
Macklemore, born Ben Haggerty, revealed that he was inspired by the comedic tone of Digital Underground’s early ’90s smash ‘The Humpty Dance.’ He was 7. He absorbed as much hip-hop as he could, since this was pre-digital revolution. “This was pre-Internet as a way to get your music out,” he revealed. “So I had to do shows, but I was too young. Freestyling on the street or in the park was where I honed the craft.”
In high school, he rebelled. “I wasn’t going to class and I was doing a bunch of drugs and drinking,” Mack said. “So my parents put me in a predominantly white school in the North End and then I did a program called Running Start, which was like a community college. I never got a chance to climb any kind of social ladder anywhere. I was more into making music and doing hallucinogenic mushroom voyages.”
With inspiration culled from alt rappers — yes, that’s a thing — Mack would hit Seattle forests, trip out on acid and try and figure out his place on the planet and the meaning of life. “I’m always in a process of trying to find out who I am and why I’m here,” he says. “And that hasn’t changed. That’s what ‘The Heist’ is about.”
He had a stint at the School of Visual Arts in New York when he was 17, where he further developed his style – this time, his image. “I would go to thrift shops and buy really crazy outfits, and put them on and drink malt liquor and call myself ‘Professor Macklemore,’” Mack recalled. “I wore a lot of plaid, bell bottoms, older golfer, grandfather-type outfits. I didn’t want to look like anyone else.”
But Macklemore isn’t just dressing outrageously in gramps’ chic and spitting rhymes are popping tags with little to no consequence. As if. “What I tend to write about falls into four categories — spiritual, social, personal and fun,” he said. While ’Thrift Shop’ is fun to sing and dance to, it addresses consumerism whereas new hit ‘Can’t Hold Us’ is about conquering fears.
While he’s been clean since 2008 — he eventually went to rehab and had a minor cough syrup slip in 2011 — it’s a daily struggle, and his fiancé/road manager Tricia Davis keeps him walking the straight and narrow. “Tricia tries to make sure I get to where I need to,” Macklemore says. “Because it’s tough, this lifestyle.”
Mack’s personality is also one of excess – he doesn’t know how to pace himself, and while it’s served him well, it has had its drawbacks. “I tend to be an overindulger in general,” the rapper, who doesn’t even drink coffee, said. “Like I’ve just eaten two bags of chips and I had a shitload of candy from a gas station last night. I don’t have moderation in my life. I really have to work on it. So with drugs and alcohol, I had no moderation. Smoking weed and drinking hindered my creative process. They were the veils over my eyes. It never really worked for me, in terms of being prolific.”
The article also reveals that in 2004, Macklemore sent a song he wrote about meeting girls on MySpace and about obsessively checking the site for messages (anyone remember those days!?) to MySpace’s Tom Anderson – yes, that Tom, who was everyone’s friend, as a founder of the site. Anderson shared it, opening the floodgates.
So that’s the proof that Mack and Lewis were no overnight success. They used MySpace, which is sooooooo 2005, as a way to get the word out.