It's easy to get lost in hip-hop's unending torrent of uploaded-one-moment, forgotten-the-next mixtapes and MP3s issued by rappers chasing the dragon of blog buzz, a legacy measured in download counts and dead links. Here-today-gone-tomorrow artists are everywhere. It's the perfectionists who keep a fickle audience waiting months or sometimes years who run the most risk, one that carries the possibility of the ultimate punishment: irrelevance. One Seattle rapper, however, is trying to have it both ways. And by all accounts, he's succeeding.
Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) is the man behind songs like the cautionary tale "Otherside," chronicling an all-too-real addiction to cough syrup, as well as "The Town," his anthemic tribute to his home town. Like most of the 28-year-old Seattle native's work, both tracks have a distinct energy — and a lasting one. "Most of these blog-buzz rappers, their shelf life is a year or two, tops," says the freckle-faced MC. "I would much rather take the time to make pieces of art that, even if they don't become popular, I can listen to in ten years and be proud of what I made."
Haggerty may be serious when he says he'd sacrifice accolades for artistic freedom, but it's not a choice he's had to make yet. Although it's been seven years since Macklemore's most recent full-length record (2005's The Language of My World), his fans haven't just stuck by him, they've multiplied. He can attribute the rise in part to a handful of smart, meticulously crafted releases — last year's Redux, a remix of 2009's The VS. EP, and "My Oh My," a timely, viral tribute to recently deceased Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus — and tremendous grassroots support: Haggerty raised more than $18,000 from fans to film a music video for his sneaker hymn "Wings."
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, with MTHDS, Xperience and Shelton Harris, 9 p.m. Wednesday, April 11, and Thursday, April 12 (sold out), Fox Theatre, 1135 13th Street, Boulder, $17-$20, 303-443-3399.
Haggerty clearly feeds off that hometown love. But a year ago, before he was featured on the cover of XXL as a member of the magazine's 2012 freshman class, after playing a few sparsely attended shows at industry blowout South by Southwest in Austin, he wondered if staying put meant never getting ahead. "I was feeling trapped without a formula to get out of here," he says. "I thought about [moving to] L.A. and New York."
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He ultimately ended up staying in Seattle, though, because he realized he couldn't replicate the community he's built there. "Will I stay here for the rest of my life? I hope not," says Haggerty, who says he plans to continue work on his next LP after the tour ends. "But this is always going to be home, regardless of where I end up. And it's important right now, more than ever, to rep where I'm from, so the rest of the country gets familiar with what's going on up here."