Mack, there was a NY Times article that came out in February that talked about you and Baauer and your chart-topping success. In the article, Jon Caramanica wrote, “Macklemore’s success is a reminder that in 2013 it is possible to consume hip-hop while remaining at a far remove from the center of the genre.” What’s your response to that?
Macklemore: Well, that sounds like it’s coming from a thirtysomething-year-old white man, and they tend to be bitter and cynical. I think that we as humans who have grown up listening to hip-hop music, hip-hop is a certain thing to us. For me, the “pure” hip-hop is the Golden Era. That’s what brings back that nostalgia, that feeling of being a kid and connecting with music, like, “This is the real shit. Everything else is fake,” and it goes through all these different phases. But you had Puffy come out with the shiny suit after that, and then it was like, “Oh, hip-hop is dying. What is this?” Then it was like, “Oh, the skinny jeans! Skinny jeans are fucking killing hip-hop! That’s what’s the matter with music, is these fucking skinny jeans.” And now it’s Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, and now it’s really over.
But that’s bullshit. I think that the dude who wrote that probably hasn’t listened to the whole album. When a song like “Thrift Shop” becomes a part of popular culture and soccer moms are bumping it and 5-year-olds are singing, “This is fucking awesome,” it’s really easy to go in with a scalpel and dissect it and scrutinize the shit out of it. If it was somebody else who made the song, I’d probably do the same thing, particularly if it was two white dudes. But I still think “Thrift Shop” is a really great record. I think that the beat’s slapping, I think that I’m rapping my ass off, and I think that it has a really catchy chorus, and those things came together and made a record that crossed over to pop. But we made a song about secondhand clothes; it’s about thrift shopping. How is that…there was no mass plan, like, “We are going to take over the industry by making a song about clothes that smell like piss!” That’s a horrible marketing scheme. [Laughs] But in terms of that writer and in terms of anybody else who says anything like that, I understand. I am that guy, too, and I do view music in that same way, but I think it’s narrow-minded and I would encourage people to listen to the full record before typecasting us and putting us in a box.
With hip-hop turning 40 this year, why do you think we’re still having arguments about authenticity?
Macklemore: I think that it’s because we hold on to what is true to us. Because of that, there’s this mold, this “perfect record,” and there is a right and a wrong. The older that we get, the more jaded that we get, so it’s like, “Oh, Soulja Boy is the cause of music being whack. He’s the person that’s ruined it, but this right here is the truth.” It’s night and day; it’s people being close-minded to change and not being able to adapt to what’s popping now. As I’ve said before, I’ve been that person. I think that the smart person that has longevity in this industry is someone who studies what is current, studies what is relevant and studies what the kids are gravitating toward.
Ryan Lewis: Or on the flip side of that is looking to make what is current. That’s why I think somebody like Kanye is absolutely phenomenal, because he continues to come out with something that nobody else has and he redefines what the standard is to an acceptable hip-hop beat or an acceptable cadence or subject matter. It’s the reason why he is a trailblazer in the genre.
Macklemore: When you see people who have longevity in this industry, it’s people who reinvented themselves. Jay-Z, although Reasonable Doubt is one of the greatest hip-hop albums of all time, Jay-Z hasn’t made 15 Reasonable Doubts. Some people wish that he would, but people evolve, artists evolve, and music evolves. There’s old fools arguing against the new fools and blaming them for shit they shouldn’t be blamed for. There’s always going to be the debate. With every Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, there’s gonna be people that are like, “This isn’t the true shit,” but there’s also gonna be people like, “You know what? Let me find out and investigate myself, find some validity in it,” and then there’s gonna be some people like, “This is the truest shit.” Maybe in 10, 15 years, they’re going to be like, “This shit’s whack. I wish their music would get back to that Heist album.” That’s the cycle of hip-hop, that’s why we argue, that’s why we make lists, that’s why we say this person’s the best MC and then fools call up and get pissed about it and our egos flare up. That’s what hip-hop is—this ego-driven, testosterone-filled, machismo melting pot of culture. That’s the argument right there, and there’s beauty in that.