Back in 2012 Macklemore featured on 2012 XXL freshman cover next to French Montanna, Kid Ink, Iggy Azalea, Future, Danny Brown, Hopsin, Roscoe Dash, Don Tripp, and Machine Gun Kelly.
70% of this class are internationally known, only 40% of these artists went gold in the US, and the only MC to attain a platinum album is Macklemore.
The XXL cover was a milestone, but it wasn’t the starting point of Macklemore’s career. Since his debut album “The Language of My World” back in 05’ Macklemore has come along way. Since their debut ‘Redux’ EP in 2010 Macklemore and Ryan Lewis have come a long way. Together they have carved out their own place hip-hop, cracked the codes of the independent hustle, broken records, created their own unique sound, and shown that ‘Sir Mix A lot’ wasn’t the only Seattle hip-hop act capable of attracting global attention.
They never begged for relevance, they didn’t need a co-sign.
It looks like nothing has changed. They still release their music independently, they still have their own unique sound, and they still have a punishing tour schedule. Back in 2012 I witnessed Macklemore & Ryan Lewis tear up Kings College London in front of 300 avid fans, recently I witnessed Macklemore & Ryan Lewis tear up the O2 arena in front of 10,000 avid fans with the same passion, the only difference being a bigger crowd, bigger stage, and bigger show.
Another successful independent artist by the name of Immortal Technique told me in a previous interview that ‘you have to create your own game.’ He said that ‘If you create your own game, you create the rules, so only you can win’ and that’s exactly what Macklemore & Ryan Lewis have done. They never ‘played the game’ they created their own game and won several times over.
They created their own style of hip-hop, generated their own fan base, and worked to their own timeline. They never begged for relevance, never played the radio game, they didn’t need a co-sign. They won on their merit of their work ethic and skill, it all changed the minute they were involved with the traditional system. The 4 Grammy awards that they picked up in 2013 immediately put them into ‘the game’ that they had successfully avoided. Before the Grammy wins they had their own lane, the Grammy wins introduced them to the highway of turmoil and fuckery.
It would be an understatement to say that the last few years have been a testing time for the duo; the infamous text to Kendrick, the claims of cultural appropriation, the mistakes of other white hip-hop acts, a biased Grammy voting system, the Drake disses, and the tense socio-political climate in America created an overnight maelstrom of controversy and negativity that would have broke lesser artists. Had they not won the Grammy awards they would never have attracted the same attention and criticism.
It’s similar to the mountain that Eminem had to climb before he was fully accepted within hip-hop. The revelation of Em’s use of the N Word, persecution by the then hip-hop bible ‘The Source’, charges of homophobia, etc. could have easily destroyed him. Thankfully Eminem had the support of then Interscope records president of Jimmy Iovine, and the rap privilege of Dr Dre on his side providing an invaluable co-sign by the greatest hip-hop artist of all time.
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis don’t have the rap god co-sign or a seasoned industry exec on their side. They have figured out this unruly mess for themselves.They released the ‘difficult second album’ and traversed their own mountain, but it feels and looks like they’ve made it down the other side.
I recently caught up with them backstage before the O2 arena show and nothing has changed, they’re still on the grind, still perfecting what they do, the only clear difference is that they’ve grown resilient to the fuckery.
Every successful hip-hop artist has had their own mountain to climb, it is what makes them great. The fans of the most unforgiving art form actually like to see their favourite MC struggle and prove their worth. Macklemore and Ryan have proven their worth several times over, but their new found resilience or thick skin is what will fuel their next heist. I just hope they continue to play their own game by their own rules as there is no doubt that they will continue to win.