Just last year, you may not have even known who he was. But in October 2012, the release and subsequent success of The Heist (his album with producer Ryan Lewis) turned Macklemore into a household name. What's even more astonishing is that he did it all as an independent artist. Macklemore, whose friends and family know him better as Ben Haggerty, went from viral videos to sold-out arenas in a year's time. With the singles "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us," he was catapulted from near underground oblivion to every television set in America. Macklemore's follow up single, "Same Love" has become mainstream pop culture's anthem for marriage equality and eradicating homophobia. Currently, he's on the road supporting a breakout year that no one could have predicted, sweeping awards shows and turning out festivals with his awe-inspiring live show.
Before his stop at the Verizon Theatre at Grand Prairie Saturday, where he'll perform in all his platform-jumping, confetti-spraying glory, Macklemore talks about what a trip it has been.
How has the tour been so far? Any milestone moments that stand out?
Tour's been awesome. We've had a great, great, great run with an amazing group of people and played amazing crowds. ... Boston Garden, 12,000 people, had my whole Haggerty family there in attendance. That was a very special night. I grew up spending summers in Boston. My grandparents lived there. I have a lot of family in that area, so to sell out Boston Garden ... in kind of remembrance of my grandfather who passed away, it was a big moment for me.
Does it all still seem kind of surreal, the whirlwind year that you've had?
Yeah, I think that it's a little bit easier to reflect later on in life. ... I'm not sure when that will be. But it's been a crazy year. We haven't stopped working. When you don't stop, it's tough to kind of get perspective and reflect on what you're doing.
Are you working on new material on the road, as well?
I've been writing. I don't write a ton on the road because when I write, I rap out loud, and I have to be cautious of my voice each night for the show. So I can't really wear my voice out rapping all day long. ... Ryan's making beats, he's got a studio bus, so he's started to make beats for the first time since The Heist over this last month. That's been going well, so I'm excited to wrap the tour and get back in the studio when that time comes.
What is your creative process like? Do you like to be in a certain location, or have a certain ritual to work?
Sometimes I write stuff on random scraps of paper, sometimes in my iPhone, type it up, write it on a pad, hotel rooms, my room, art museums, walking down the street, airplanes. It doesn't matter.
You've been sweeping awards shows lately. Did you ever expect "Same Love" to get this much shine?
No, not at all. I didn't expect to get acclaim for any of our music. But it's been cool to see how it's all worked and unraveled. Being that "Thrift Shop" was the lead song and it turned into a massive hit, the biggest song in the world, that then gave us a platform for "Can't Hold Us," and the most important one, "Same Love."... If it wasn't for "Thrift Shop" turning into the record that it did, I don't think that "Can't Hold Us" or more importantly "Same Love" would have gotten the attention it did. So it's cool to see it all unfold.
How do you feel about being referred to as a "conscious rapper" in the media since "Same Love" came out? How do you feel that benefits or hinders you as an artist? I think the term "conscious rapper" is very outdated and played out. It's a somewhat naive term. I think if you're a rapper, you're automatically somewhat conscious. ... I think that term kind of died a few years ago.
Artists, hopefully if they're genuine and authentic to themselves, then they write about their life. They write about what inspires them, they write about the challenges they go through, they write about personal things that are near and dear to them and their experience here on this earth. If you do that, it doesn't matter if you're rapping about drug dealing, if you're rapping about killing somebody. It doesn't matter if you're rapping about homophobia and marriage equality. Either way, you are conscious. There is no difference.
What was your experience at the YouTube Music Awards like? It looks like a really crazy thing to have been a part of.
[Laughing] That was a really weird night, man. It was their first time doing it. You could kinda tell it was their first time doing it. We were seated in an area with all fans, so it was a lot of pictures. The famous people that were there were all performing. A lot of times with these shows, there's a lot of famous people that are in the crowd or seated in a certain area or something. That was not the case with this awards show. It was all fans, and kind of like, extras to fill up these seats. And it was interesting because of that.
I thought the live music video component was really cool. YouTube had a lot of really cool ideas. It's the first year for it, so hopefully next year it evolves and gets a little tighter. ... Winning the award was a really cool moment. They brought over babies, crying babies. Jason Schwartzman and Reggie Watts were there. It was a weird, weird night, totally.
Did you get to keep the babies?
Ryan got to keep his.Tyler, the Creator recently made headlines when he called YouTube on how they curated the nominees. He said they could have made more interesting choices rather than rewarding huge pop stars who already get a lot of recognition. Do you think there could have been some riskier nominee choices made?
Yeah, I do. I think that for YouTube it's tough because you have certain people that are massive on YouTube, that I might not have ever heard of. They're not necessarily pop stars, they're YouTube stars. One of the girls, I don't remember her name, but she was from Korea I believe, and I had never heard of her. She won Best Video. I had never heard of it or seen it, but she's massive, so ... I think that's the interesting thing about YouTube is that you can exist on there and be a YouTube celebrity and not necessarily a celebrity in the real world. And you know, I think there's the politics that go into any awards show in terms of who's winning awards. Who shows up to the awards show can sometimes dictate who wins the award. I don't know if that's what happened that night, but I know it's something that can happen at award shows. ... The idea of a YouTube awards show is very interesting. I think they did a good job with keeping a good balance.
For an artist like you, YouTube was instrumental in building your fan base.
If it wasn't for YouTube, we wouldn't be here. "Thrift Shop" was a viral video before it was a hit song on the radio, far before. That was the predecessor of it getting played on the radio. So we owe so, so much to YouTube in terms of our career and where we're at right now.
Your reach and your popularity are at an all-time high. Do you still feel misunderstood in any way by the media or the public at large?
I don't know how everyone perceives me, everyone's different. Everyone has their own version of who I am or what my music is, or how much of it they've heard or what songs. ... All of that is completely subjective. I don't control that. I have an output of music and an output of content. But I can't control how the media views me. I don't feel misunderstood or put in a box. I feel like we were very blessed to have three records, four if you count "White Walls," that have done well and painted a fairly good-sized portrait of who I am, and the diversity of the music that Ryan and I make. ... I'm very, very blessed because of that.
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And you got to do it on your own terms, as an independent artist. Do you think in this day and age, should artists even bother trying to land a record deal?
I think each individual is different. I think that the notion that if I sign with a record label, I'm going to be famous ... hopefully people realize that's not true. The hard work and the foundation starts with you connecting with people in terms of writing good music or building an organic fan base or doing it yourself. I think that things are changing, and hopefully artists understand that their greatest creative resource is them.