Macklemore: On the edge of fame

Feb 28, 2011, 2:27 AM | Updated: Mar 28, 2011, 3:46 pm

What happens when everything you’ve ever dreamed of starts to come true? Would you be ready for it? That’s what a local rapper is wondering.

After a weekend of sold-out shows in Seattle, Macklemore is beginning is first headline concert tour across the country. I had a chance to talk with him one-on-one in his living room.

Macklemore is Ben Haggerty’s stage name. The 28-year-old performer was born in Seattle. His friends are here, he went to school here at Tops, Garfield, Nathan Hale, and Seattle Central. This is his home.

“Now I’m starting to see kids following my music who are 10 years younger than me, 12 years younger, 13, 14 years,” he says. “They go to the same schools I went to or my friends went to. Seattle is a big, small city.”

Growing up, one of Haggerty’s neighbors listened to rap music, and that’s what he always wanted to do, even though people throughout his teen years and beyond told him, there’s not a lot of demand for white rappers.

“My dad started saying that when I was in my mid-20s, that no one’s going to make it rapping and I probably should give it up,” he says. “I kept saying ‘I got this.’ If this happens and this happens, then I’ll be okay.”

He wasn’t okay though early on he had problems with substance abuse, and wrote about it in his song “Otherside.”

Broken, hopeless, headed nowhere
Only motivation for what the dealer’s supplying
That rush, that drug, that dope
Those pills, that crumb, that roach
Thinkin’ I would never do that, not that drug and growing up nobody ever does
Until you’re stuck, lookin’ in the mirror like I can’t believe what I’ve become
Swore I was goin’ to be someone
And growing up everyone always does
We sell our dreams and our potential
To escape through that buzz
Just keep me up, keep me up
Hollywood here we come

“I think I always just had an addictive personality from the point of first starting drinking at 14 or 15,” says Haggerty. “I never knew moderation. It was just something I didn’t have and it got worse as I got older. There are certain people that quote, unquote ‘need to get high’ in order to be creative. I’m the type of person that once I get high or drunk that creativity completely ceases. Any sort of connection I had to to my writing or to something greater than myself stops. So it literally can’t exist together.”

He’s been clean and sober for two and a half years. His only high now happens the second his when his foot hits the stage.

“I rhyme words. That is the definition of what a rapper does,” he says.

As a Master of Ceremonies, or MC, he’s the one who controls and “moves” a crowd at his shows and brings “emotion into an atmosphere.”

“To bring an element of genuine self to a stage,” he says with a zen-like look on his face. “That is what my job is.”

Although fame is always what he wanted, as he performs at concerts around the region with Ryan Lewis and the rest of his crew this week, then heads back to Seattle for an added third show on March 5th, there is a part of Macklemore that worries as he begins his national tour.

“I think that there is something you sacrifice when you put yourself out to the public like that, and you get there you can’t it back,” he says. “The way that I perceive success right now is to be able to continue to maintain a lifestyle that I can live off my art, but be appreciative of wherever that takes me. That’s extremely challenging.”

No matter where he goes, he says Seattle will always be a part of who he is. That home-town pride is represented in the Macklemore and Ryan Lewis tribute song to Dave Niehaus, “My Oh My.” Many of his fans were born in 1995, the year the Mariners had a tremendous run in the division series.

Macklemore says songs like that aren’t difficult to write because they come from deep inside his heart.

“When you have that shot of emotion, whether that’s happiness, whether that’s sadness – a lot of times it’s sadness, a lot of times it’s turmoil that fuels my music – but when you have that emotion to kind of feed off of and you can really tap into it because it’s there, it’s real, it’s tangible, you’re feeling something, your heart hurts, those songs tend to just come,” says Macklemore. “The words are there, you just need to tap into that emotion.”

It’s my city my city childhood my life that’s right right under those lights
My city my city childhood that’s right Niehaus
My oh My come on, my city my city childhood my life that’s right under those lights
its my city my city childhood my life Niehaus My oh My Rest in peace.

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Photos by James Whelan

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Macklemore: On the edge of fame