It was only a few years ago that Macklemore and his collaborator Ryan Lewis came seemingly out of nowhere to take the music industry by storm, and all without the help of a major label. The duo debuted their first full-length together, The Heist, at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, and they placed a pair of pop/hip-hop hybrids at No. 1 on the Hot 100, and that’s to say nothing of the other singles that have charted since then.
Macklemore is now working on his own, and he’s finding plenty of success trying new things and pushing new tunes in nations all around the world, proving that his talent knows no bounds.
Macklemore talks about how the exhausting pace many hip-hop musicians work at these days and one of his biggest recent hits, which reinvigorated his promotional cycle and brought his name back to charts all around the world.
Your music toes a line, as you're a hip-hop artist, but some of your singles are very pop. When you're creating, is there any thought given to how the hip-hop community sees you?
Macklemore: Yeah, those thoughts come into play. My compass operates from, "Is this genuine to me?" And that might be a pop song. I'm not scared to make a pop song. I'm not scared to make a straight rap record. 'Cause those are both genuinely me, and as long as I'm not trying to ride somebody else's wave, or be inauthentic to what trend is going on right now, it all feels good.
People want to compartmentalize artists. You know, people want to be like, "This person is trap, this person is pop, this person is West Coast gangster rap," whatever it is, the public wants to put people in boxes. If you look at the course of my career, it's not as easy to put me into any one of those boxes like you're speaking about in the question. There's different facets of my personality and my career that I like to explore creatively, and I don't ever want to feel like, "Well, this is what they know me for. I have to give them this." Those thoughts do come up, it's just they're met with resistance.
In hip-hop, people churn out several projects a year. Are you worried about keeping up, or about radio, charts...any of that?
Macklemore: No. I mean, I would be lying if I said that fleeting thoughts didn't come across my head every once in a while, but I am happy with my life, and I find that the more that I'm competing in that rat race, the quality of my life goes down. Even if the public perception is...even if I'm on billboards walking through Times Square, there's this underlying current of fear that's like, "Well, what's the next one? When's it going to run out? Okay, we got to stay on top of this. Got to get back in the studio and make the next single. Summer's coming up. What's the summer song?" You know, all of that is exhausting, and it doesn't lead to a better quality of life for me.
I've also been off Instagram. I'm actually about to post today, I think, about this campaign, but I've been off Instagram for the last month and a half or two months or something, and it feels great. I've never gone that long, taken that long a break. I’ve noticed that my interactions are more meaningful. I’ve noticed that I'm not comparing myself to other people, or looking at other people's highlight reel of their life and all this stuff that happens on Instagram and Twitter. I just, I haven't done it and I feel spiritually healthier.
I also know that there's a flip side to that. Like, "Okay, well you're not letting people in. People love your Instagram stories. No one knows what's going on. You’ve got to stay in it," but that's coming at a cost. That's not to say that I'm never going to get back on Instagram, but I dunno, I’ve been reevaluating where my priorities are and what's really important at the end. Because me being on Instagram all the time comes at a cost too.
You had a really big one last year with Rudimental and Jess Glynne. “These Days” came out of nowhere and blew up. I thought it would be a U.K. hit, and it was a global smash. How did that feel and how did that come about?
Macklemore: That was a funny one because it was sent to me years before it came out.
Macklemore: Yeah, probably two years. A little less than two. And it was just Dan Caplen, who wrote it and wrote the piano, it was just him and the piano. I was like, "Oh, I love this guy's voice." He's actually on my album Gemini twice. And I did my verse fairly quickly, turned it in, that was it.
Then Rudimental kept shifting it, sending it back to me every three or four months. I would forget about it. There were so many different versions of it! And then they got Jess on it and put it out and we shot a video and yeah, you're right. I don't know how big it was in America, but the rest of the world, it was a smash hit. Touring all over Europe, it's like the minute the piano drops, 15,000 fans start going nuts. It's like, "Wow, this is unexpected."
When something like that happens, does that completely change your plans? Touring, that might be a whole new cycle of shows in certain countries. You might think, "We have to release a single now to build off that." What do you do when something like that sparks?
Macklemore: Well, it actually played really well into the Gemini cycle, because the album at that point had been out for like six months, and the singles, "Glorious," "Good Old Days” and "Marmalade," as well as the album itself, were all really successful, but it these things can have a six month shelf life, and they were starting to cool down a little bit, and then that picked it all back up. Most of Europe was already sold out by the time that that song came out. We added a second London date because of it.
It was a nice surprise. I think it's interesting too, because the rest of the world doesn't have the turnover that America has. Like Europe, Australia, these places aren't like, "Alright, what's new in the last three days? What's popular right now?" So I think that where that song was the biggest, I was already doing great. It wasn't like all of a sudden I have a smash in America and I have to keep up with it. It was another song to add to the show, and that’s great.
You must have brands come to you a lot wanting to work with you. Some on projects like this, some just on ads. How do you choose which ones you're going to say yes to?
Macklemore: I think for one, we need to align morally and ethically. I think what's important is that there is a common passion or interest behind it.
Of course, you know, there's a financial issue to any brand collaboration, but all money isn't good money. It has to be going to the right place. So that's kind of my gauge with my own moral compass in terms of where I land on this scale of what I want to put my name behind. And I don't do it very often. I’m very particular about it, and I make sure the interests are the same.
Photo Credit: Macklemore