Image: Jason Koenig
From left: Ryan Lewis and Macklemore

We thought 2011 was going to be the year of Macklemore, when Capitol Hill native Ben Haggerty became Seattle’s greatest export. His socially conscious raps railed against commercialism, appealed across genders, and sold out venues around the country—including three nights in a row at Showbox at the Market, a feat most local artists can only journal about. His boyish freckled face graced the cover of The Seattle Times, beneath the headline Seattle rapper’s star rises as he gets down to business.” Mack even became an unofficial mascot for the Seattle Mariners, penning an anthem in tribute to late broadcaster Dave Niehaus, “My Oh My,” that brought Niehaus’s wife to tears. He was the kind of rapper you’d want to grab a beer with, could leave your baby with—if he wasn’t too busy.

But that was just the prologue. Macklemore’s Future: Act One begins this year when he releases his first full-length album with DJ-producer Ryan Lewis, a collaboration that’s been three years in the making. The Heist, set to drop October 9, has humble origins in a 500-square-foot studio that borders a sheet metal factory and a painting company—a step up from working in their parents’ basements, they say. In their video trailer for the album, they talk of logging about “eight- to nine-hundred days inside that room,” a workingman’s journey that didn’t leave time to flirt with OxyContin, which Mack has admitted doing in the past.

The result of their labor, based on the few singles they’ve leaked, is a diverse collection of storytelling tracks laid over piano, trumpets, and dance-club beats. He’s Macklemore on the mount, delivering a sermon on the dangers of brand hype (the Nike Swoosh is the villain on “Wings”) and the need for marriage equality. With the proceeds from his 99-cent track “Same Love” supporting gay marriage in Washington state, he’s now Macklemore, civil rights leader. And as of today, he's cracking wise in a pimp coat. (Watch the brand-new video for "Thrift Shop." Note: There's some profanity.)

Seattle hip-hop is already a crowded scene with plenty of artful pioneers, from Blue Scholars to Shabazz Palaces, eking out a following with sociopolitical mantras and fuzzy experimental beats. So what is it about Macklemore, an Opie-looking white boy? Just listen to “Same Love.” It’s both personal, a tribute to his gay uncles, and a psalm (“love is patient, love is kind”). There’s beauty and vulnerability to his music that doesn’t always come through in the macho world of rap. It has heart. How refreshing. 

Macklemore and Ryan Lewis: The Heist World Tour
Oct 12, WaMu Theater, wamutheater.com

This article appeared in the September 2012 issue of Seattle Met magazine.