Rapper MACKLEMORE is still undecided on the title of his upcoming album, but he knows that it’s going to be made out of pure honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity. With striking verses and some Irish pride by his side, he’s undoubtedly one of those rappers who can live up to, or even surpass, any given hype.
“You keep people in your life that remind you what’s important. You do things in life that remind you of who you are. The fame, the success, and the money is all great, and I get caught up in it like everyone else. At the end of the day, I know what’s important and what’s going to bring me happiness and that’s being somebody who’s a service to other people, who has a full life in all capacity and not just the music, it’s a well-rounded person.”
Hey, what’s up? Where are you right now and what are you doing?
I am actually driving and talking on the phone in Seattle, Washington at the same time. I’ll actually pull over.
Just wanted to say congratulations on the XXL cover. How did you find out you were in it?
Ryan [Lewis] and I were in the studio working, and my manager came in, woke us up, and showed me a photoshopped picture of my head on Lil B’s body. It took me a minute to understand what he was doing, but it was pretty funny. I was shocked. I knew I was close to making the top ten but didn’t know if I was going to make it. I was just really excited; I really wanted to be in that cover. It was a huge honor.
How was it like being in the room with a lot of personalities? Were you able to make new friends?
It was funny. It was a fun day. For one, you don’t really know who was going to be there. You find out that you’re going to make it, but you don’t know who the other 9 are. So, everyone, you know, kinda starting the day, kinda sizing everyone up. Everyone was a surprise, for the most part. You kinda had a feeling who was going to be there. Other people have surprises and you kinda get to know people throughout the day. We were there for a long time—9am-6pm. So, you were there for a full day. And by the end of the day, you’ve clicked with people, some people you didn’t really talked to as much, but everyone was super cool and it was a good time. Everyone was saving numbers by the end of the day. Definitely made some friends, for sure.
Where did your rap name Macklemore come from?
The name was actually made up by myself. I was in a graphic art class, and we had a superhero in a plastic—a wrapped up super hero—but he had no name and he had no logo. And our job was to create a logo and a name for him. And I came up with Professor Macklemore. That summer, I went to New York City; I was 17, and whenever I would go out thrift-shopping, I would buy crazy customs and crazy outfits and go out of town in New York and kick it. I would be Professor Macklemore. That was my name when I go out and kick it. And eventually, I would drop the professor, and this one, Macklemore is my rapping game.
It’s actually a good name, but do you feel like it’s too long?
When I’m signing for hours and hours after the show, I think that all the time. But yeah. It’s definitely a long name, and people have trouble pronouncing it.
You rep your city Seattle very well. What was it like growing up there?
Seattle was a great city to grow up in. I’m obviously here because I love Seattle. I grew up in Capitol Hill, Central Seattle—right in the middle of everything. I had a great life. I went to school about a mile away from where I grew up, and I walked to school. You know, it’s home. It’s a huge part of my heart and I’m very proud of my city.
How early on did you know you wanted to be a rapper? Did you have other plans?
When I was 14, right about when I turned 15, that’s when I knew I wanted to be a rap. I was good at other things. It just so happens that music was my number one interest. I’ve done graphic arts in highschool like I said, I was a visual artist before that… By the time that I was making music, I knew that I wanted it as a career.
What day jobs did you have to take to survive as a struggling rapper?
Throughout high school, I had different jobs. I worked at the zoo, I worked at Pizza Hut and Burger King in the Zoo. I worked at Subway after that. When I was in college, I worked with kids a lot. I worked as a Montessori School teacher during my late teen years and early 20s. In college, I worked as a security guard in a juvenile jail.
You are a very proud Irish man. Do you follow any strict traditions?
I need to always be wearing green—something that’s really important. No, I’m just kidding. [Laughs] No, I don’t have any strict traditions that I follow on a daily basis. I’m sure there is, but I personally don’t subscribe to it.
You’re pretty close to your Grandma.
Yeah. Me and grandma hang out. She’s 81. She’s really been a big part of my life and we’ve always been close. And the last 5-6 years, she’s had dementia, and she’s got it pretty bad now. And I still go over there with my mom—just hang out with her and keep her company. I try to take the time and really appreciate her life, ‘coz I know she won’t be around for much longer. So, I put the time in.
Tell us how you make your music.
You know, it depends. It changes every time. Sometimes I will write random stuff to no beat, and that turns into a song. A lot of times, Ryan will make a beat, and I will ride to the beat, and we kinda expand on the format of that idea. Sometimes I don’t write raps at all and just let the writing continue out of the page. It really varies, and it changes all the time. There isn’t really a strict formula that I follow.
What are you inspired by?
My music is inspired by everything that I come in contact with, first and foremost. It’s more about inanimate objects, it’s about life. Certain person…all the rappers—past or present, anybody. You are inspired by everyone. But more than that, I’m inspired by life and the life that I live.
How’s your relationship with Ryan Lewis like? Is it bromance or do you guys hate each other sometimes?
I mean, Ryan is definitely one of my best friends in the world. He is somebody that I pretty much see every single day. There are definitely times that we get on each other’s nerves, and we probably take each other for granted, but I think overall, there’s real respect, admiration, love between us. That’s just what you get when you work with someone all the time and you put everything in your craft. He is a big part of my life, and you know, he supports me and I support him. We are constantly making music and constantly trying to better our craft. And that can be a difficult task sometimes, when you want to get/be in your profession and you aren’t there. We try to act as each other’s support system more than we get on each other’s nerves. I’m grateful to be working with him for sure.
Let us take about the album, The Heist. What’s the concept?
I don’t think there’s a major overlying concept for the album… I’m really excited about the whole thing, but there’s definitely some songs that I’m attached to right now and can’t wait for people to hear.
How does social media (Instagram, Twitter, Facebook) help you reach out to the fans across the world?
You know, 2012, it’s a huge tool in terms of personalizing yourself. People can really see who are. You are aware that my grandma is a big part of my life just by the fact that I take a picture of her on Instagram. It brings some personality and personal connection to a fan when they follow on social media outlets. It’s a great way to connect with people and keep them updated with what’s going on. We’ve been in the studio for four months straight, and when you’re in the studio and you are not doing as many shows, it’s easy for people to forget about you. We live in a society that moves very quickly. To be able to update the fans with pictures and content on a web sites is just important—to stay relevant that way.
You were able to meet your fans when you toured. How was that like?
Everytime we go on tour, it’s just amazing how much people have connected with the music that we make. That’s just a rewarding time period—to be able to go out and connect to the people who made you who you are, and the people who believe in your words, in music and what you’re doing. So, that’s always an incredible time.
How was that like? Selling out shows and touring all over the world?
I’ve always wanted to make music and be on tour and support myself out of it. So, the fact that I’ve gone to places I’ve never been and the fanbase is incredible, and the places I’ve never traveled to has always been a dream of mine. It’s just incredible. I try not to take anything for granted and be grateful all the time.
What do you guys do right before you perform?
45 minutes or half an hour before I go on, I start stretching—stretching is a big part of me preparing going onstage. I start warming up my voice, and I drink tea. I try to sit on myself as much a possible. Before we go in, we usually bring in—say some sort of—I don’t know if you call it a prayer, but just something to bring in the energy. Get in the circle and hit the stage.
Do you still get nervous?
Oh yeah, definitely. I view that as a blessing. The day that I’m not nervous makes me more skeptical of what I’m putting into the show. I always want to be nervous. I always want to be excited. It’s really what nerves are—excitement and the unknown and you never want it to be a routine. You never want it to feel like you’re going through the motions when you’re onstage. I hope to get nervous every show.
Let’s talk about Hype Vs. Cred
You have people that come out, and they’ve done three shows in their life, and they put out a couple of records, a couple songs, and they blow up on the internet. I don’t think there’s a right or wrong way of doing it. I don’t think less of those artists, and I don’t think more of myself. I just think it’s just different. And sometimes it’s easy for me and be like, “Why don’t we have a hundred million YouTube plays on this video in a couple months?” It’s just different. I think in a bigger picture, I care more about having music that lasts for a longer length of time than having an immediate explosion and blowing up and being famous immediately. Certain people that blow out, hopefully they can continue that and ride it out for the rest of their careers. But there are examples of people that have blown up and are having a difficult time keeping that momentum. So, that’s just different ways in having a career.
Let’s talk about some of your verses:
MAKE THE MONEY. “Make the money don’t let money. Change the game don’t let the game change you.” How do you plan on filtering the fame that comes with the success?
I just want to make music that reaches as many people as I can without compromising who I am. The bigger that you get, there’s definitely more temptation, and there’s more things running around in my mind than there were three years ago when I was making THE VS. EP. You keep people in your life that remind you what’s important. You do things in life that remind you of who you are. The fame, the success, and the money is all great, and I get caught up in it like everyone else. At the end of the day, I know what’s important and what’s going to bring me happiness and that’s being somebody who’s a service to other people, who has a full life in all capacity and not just the music, it’s a well-rounded person. So, those are the things that I try to focus on. Automatically, for who I am and the career that I’m in, I’m going to gonna be thinking about myself and my career and getting bigger, and bigger, and bigger all the time. It’s taking myself out of that mind frame as much possible and doing things that truly remind me of what’s important.
WINGS. 5 favorite pairs of all time.
1. Cements 4′s
2. Jordan 6′s
3. Classic low cut Vans
4. Abington boots
5. Jordan 3′s True Blue
I love shoes. I have a big collection. I have a couple that I don’t wear, and I need to sell them. I mean, I bought them, but I’m like, “I don’t need these.” Trade them or sell them. But for the most part, I wear all my shoes.
How important is style to an artist? What is your style like?
I think it’s very important throughout the course of history in terms of the entertainers we gravitate towards. For me, I’ve always been into fashion ever since I was a kid. I got crazy photos of myself dressing up as a kid. For me, outside the customes that I wear and my everyday stuff, I like to be original. I like to mix thrift and high end stuff. I like gold. I like my hair looking fresh. It matters a lot to me. It’s a form of expression, dressing up every single day. It gives people an idea of who you are, but I like the juxtaposition. I like to stand out. I like to do/wear things that people normally wouldn’t wear or feel comfortable in. Just before we got to talking, I bought a robe from the Goodwill—a thrift shop—which I would probably wear with expensive shoes and denim and gold.
Any designers you are into right now?
I don’t really get too much designer stuff. Lately, I’ve been buying Diesel denim, you know. In terms of designers, I just bought a Marc Jacobs shirt. I find more joy in spending $7 on a shirt in Goodwill than I do like spending $300 shirt in a designer store—that’s just me. I obviously spend a lot of money in Jordans/Nike. But outside of that, in terms of nice denim, I’m not out there just buying things because of the designer’s name.
5 artists your loving right now.
1. Kendrick Lamar is the homie.
2. Schoolboy Q
3. Basquiat — Inspired my work and continues to inspire me. I watched his movie a lot.
4. Lil Wayne is something that I still look up to.
5. Kanye West
Interview by Loris Peña
Photographed by Jason Koenig
For the full story, grab a copy of STATUS August 2012 issue