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Seattle Sounds

How Seattle's Macklemore made it to the top of the Billboard charts

Warning: This video contains some graphic language

Seattle's Macklemore and Ryan Lewis are atop the Billboard charts for the second straight week with their hilarious and infectious hit "Thrift Shop."

It's an impressive feat for anyone, but it's extraordinary considering the duo have done it all themselves without a record label or major money behind them.

From college radio stations to Top 40, "Thrift Shop" is everywhere. Long time Seattle radio veteran, DJ and program director for Movin' 92.5, Maynard, says he's never seen anything like it.

"It's not like he's got these TV commercials with the song running in the background. There's not even the old fashioned way, he's done it in a way that's never been done."

The song is beating out big label stars like Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift for the second straight week. Maynard says that's even more impressive considering hip hop and rap are at their lowest point of mainstream popularity in more than a decade.

"To have somebody come out and just shatter all the other music styles and sales and in demand both on the radio and online is amazing," says Maynard.

Veteran Seattle music journalist Charles Cross says Macklemore's surprising rise to the top is a testament to extreme smarts, hard work and great music. He says Macklemore has masterfully built an audience through social media and YouTube over the years, with the video for "Thrift Shop" driving the popularity of the song on radio and online.

"I love the fact that it was filmed at Goodwill and that it's kind of down home, it was made very cheap and it's a great video. Anyone who was watching it was going to love it," says Cross.

Seattle has hardly been a hot bed for hip hop, at least in the eyes of the rest of the country. Cross says that's actually an advantage, because Macklemore and Lewis have been able to develop a unique sound.

"In some ways that was also the reason that grunge took off because it sounded very different than anything else that was on the radio and bands here had the chance to develop organically and to some degree that same thing is being repeated with Macklemore's success."

The Stranger's Charles Mudede agrees. He says "Thrift Shop" stands alone in what he calls a "homogenous realm of contemporary pop music."

"That isolation sort of benefited in the sense that now they're just making stuff that's completely different from what's happening in the mainstream. If you look at the top 10 of the hip hop charts Macklemore just looks like a freak."

But Maynard says it's about more than just the music. He says many people have told him it's also Macklemore's message, from his moving tribute to former Mariner's announcer Dave Niehaus to his anthem for same-sex marriage "Same Love."

"You know, he's got a different message and in a lot of aspects he's got a real positive message. When you look at the expectations of hip hop and R&B and rap, that he's really defied those in a way," says Maynard.

Race has clearly paid a part as well. Cross says the white rapper's appeal to white audiences is a key to his new-found commercial success.

"You can only be so big if you aren't playing to the suburbs and Macklemore's music appeals to suburban white kids who want to be slightly edgy but it's not gangster rap, that's for sure."

Whatever it is, it's a crafty concoction that's put a couple of kids who were struggling to get a gig in Seattle a few years ago on top of the music world. Who would of thought it would be thanks thanks to a little ditty about shopping at the local Goodwill.

Josh Kerns, MyNorthwest.com Reporter
Josh Kerns is an award winning reporter/anchor and host of KIRO Radio's Seattle Sounds (Sunday afternoons 5-6p) and a digital content producer for MyNorthwest.com.
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