10 Years That Changed A City

2013: Macklemore, and Seattle Hip-Hop, Go Mainstream

There’s a palpable civic pride—and renewed engagement—in the very idea of local music because our guy made it big.

By Seth Sommerfeld March 4, 2016 Published in the March 2016 issue of Seattle Met

Courtesy sanfranciscofoghorn amanda rhoades pwad3e

Image: San Francisco Foghorn

The Seattle music scene constantly evolves, but for two decades the legacy of grunge served as the city’s sole cultural identity. Who knew it’d just take a novelty song about used clothes to change that?

Armed with humorous lines about thrifty style and a tag-popping chorus that instantly stuck in listeners’ heads, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’s “Thrift Shop” music video, released in August 2012, captured the duo’s romps through local Goodwill and Value Village locations and became a viral sensation. The single steadily climbed the Billboard charts, hitting the top spot on February 2, 2013, and officially kicking off the Year of Macklemore. While already huge in Seattle, the pair arrived as global superstars with the album The Heist.

It was also a breakthrough for the Seattle hip-hop scene, which suffered a long period of national (and even local) irrelevance in the late ’90s post–Sir Mix-a-Lot’s heyday. Whereas Blue Scholars built a passionate hometown following and Shabazz Palaces garnered massive critical acclaim for 2011’s Black Up, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis took things further and found pop crossover success. They pushed past one-hit wonder status when the party anthem “Can’t Hold Us” followed “Thrift Shop” as megahit No. 2. The fact that they achieved cultural ubiquity as fiercely independent artists without a record label makes it all even more astounding. 

The Heist dropped at a perfect time to intersect with national Seattle moments. As the vote to legalize same sex marriage in Washington neared, the pair selected the pro-gay tune “Same Love” as The Heist’s third single. It quickly became an anthem for a movement. Additionally, Macklemore became the Sea-hawks’ signature celeb fan/unofficial secondary mascot while providing the soundtrack for their Super Bowl runs.

By unrelentingly repping the city, Macklemore served as our artistic ambassador to the world, taking the album’s local guest vocalists—Mary Lambert, Wanz, Ray Dalton, Hollis, and more—along for the whirlwind ride. While new Seattle superstars have yet to flow out of the floodgates Macklemore opened, there’s a palpable civic pride—and renewed engagement—in the very idea of local music because our guy made it big.

Four Grammys, millions of downloads, hundreds of sold-out shows, and innumerable (though not always deserved) backlashes later, The Heist has become a canonical part of Seattle’s pop culture history. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis needn’t rummage through the racks at thrift shops any longer (though they still do).

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