The last time we caught up with Seattle rapper Macklemore (due tomorrow at the Westword Music Showcase on the main stage), he was working on his latest album with remarkable fervor -- he chose to skip SXSW. That effort, combined with having been inducted into XXL's prestigious 2012 freshman class and performances all across the country, left barely a minute to spare. With vocals completed for the new album, which is due out in the fall, the rapper, also know as Ben Haggerty, had a little bit more time on his hands to chop it up with us about his new album, what his live show is like and which rap album he would take with him on the mothership.
Westword: Last time we talked, you were running around like crazy. You just had a birthday -- what have you been up to?
Macklemore: [Tuesday] was the birthday, and I finished recording right as I turned 29, so it was exciting, and I've been chillin' with the family, taking it all in.
You pretty much locked yourself away to work on the album until it was done. How do you feel?
I feel relieved. We worked really hard on it, and I really like the music. I think it's a really well-rounded album, and I'm excited to share it with people. You get moments when you think, 'This is amazing. This is awesome.' And then the next day, 'This sucks. Maybe this isn't good.' Now that it's done, I need to take a step back from it a little bit so I don't overthink it. The general feeling is excitement and relief.
Some songs go over really well when performed live. Are you looking forward to presenting the material live?
I think there will be songs I'm excited to perform. There are five or six songs I'm excited to perform; some of them cater to more of a listening and chilling experience. I'm really happy with the diversity: There are a wide range of songs, content wise, that I feel like represent me and where I am in my life.
Where are you in your life?
I'm in a different place than I've ever been. I've had a lot of success over the past couple of years. It's changed a little bit of notoriety with my craft. I'm not at the bottom in terms of making a name for myself anymore [laughs] -- I'm somewhere above the bottom. This is an album that showcases the range of where I've been in the last two years, the fluctuation I've experienced while trying to climb that ladder. I'm touching on some issues that are prevalent in society and with myself personally as I've developed into the person that I am.
Many people don't know that Seattle has a burgeoning rap scene. How has that fact influenced how you hustle?
To me, it's always been about, first and foremost, you want yourself to shine and get out of your own home town. Overall, though, it's bigger than just myself. You wanna represent your home town, and you want them to be proud of you and the accomplishments. That was my first reaction to the XXL nod. I felt like my home town would be so proud of me. Anytime you get to travel with your craft, it's like I am an ambassador of culture for where I come from. That's my favorite part of my job -- traveling and being in front of different people.
Who are artists that influence you from an overall-package perspective? Music, grind, trends?
Somebody that pops into my mind immediately is Kanye. He continued to reinvent himself and his sound while staying true to who he is and the music he wanted to create. It never seems forced, and I think that represents where he's at in life. Even when he's changing and evolving, the core of what makes 'Ye who he is is still there. I admire his quality of art, and I think that's what has sustained his longevity. He's not trying to compromise his creative vision for what's popular, yet he keeps up with trends, and it's not gimmicky.
If the time comes to board the mothership and leave Earth, what rap album are you taking in your backpack?
[laughs] That's a good question. I think it would probably be a jazz record, first of all. Part of me wants to take my own album, but it would probably be something by OutKast. Ah, I don't know! Maybe if I could make a mixed CD, I'd have Wayne and Kanye and OutKast and some of my own songs and probably some Kendrick Lamar on there, also.
Q-Tip is playing the Westword Music Showcase after-party. One might imagine he's influenced your love of rap, right? Can you choose a favorite Tribe song?
Yeah, I would say he's influenced me a little bit [laughs]. Tribe has been a huge influence in my life forever, it seems like. I was in, like, elementary school when Midnight Marauders came out, and I remember the "Award Tour" video. That was my first intro to Tribe. You remember how you could order music from those BMI catalogues? Midnight Marauders was my first Tribe album. It's so tough to choose only one song, but that whole album gets me.
We're excited to see your live show at Showcase on Saturday. What can we expect?
It's gonna be a wide range of emotions, tempos, energies. One thing I love about Colorado audiences is how the people get into the music and the performances with me, so, no matter what, it's going to be a wild time.
Page down to read our previous interview with Macklemore.
Westword: The most talk about SXSW this year is how huge it was compared to other years, with performances by titans Jay-Z and 50 Cent, for example. Why, on arguably one of the most standout years to participate, did you choose to forgo your trip?
Macklemore: The decision not to go to SXSW this year was really one based on balancing all the work I knew needed to happen in order to put out an album this year, and what it would be worth to be down in Austin. It's a fun time, and I always enjoy all the shows and music that goes along with it, but, in the long run, we needed that time to put in work with the new project.
The timing is crazy around you right now because you're so hot in the streets -- XXL, The Source. Do you feel rushed to put out a project?
You know, I wish I knew how to put out a project or a mixtape or an album every month and have it truly be a great piece of work. Artists who can do that, it works great for them. For me, though, and the way my process works, I like to put in the time to make each element match my creative process. Putting together an album, it's not easy. Some days it's like the worst thing ever. I feel like nothing I wrote is good enough, nothing is working out, and then once you get over that hump [laughs], the uphill battle is over. It's a roller-coaster ride.
An interesting perspective considering how much microwave rap is out there.
Yeah, people tend to want what's quick and easy to them, but, for what I know I have to offer, I'd rather take my time and put out something I'm truly proud of. Working with Ryan [Lewis], we just get better and better the more music we work on and produce. I feel good about where we're going and what the plans are for future material.
You're been crazy busy, right? I'm sure your schedule has been blowing up since the XXL Freshman class and the Source's Unsigned Hype news. Everybody loves you.
[laughs] Yeah, I've been working on balancing everything and making everything work between shows, interviews and also working on the album. For me, that's first priority right now. It feels really good to receive those accomplishments and the props, most definitely.
And you're still in the studio with Ryan Lewis, right? Is the chemistry between you two as producer and MC as hot as ever?
Absolutely. Ryan Lewis is handling all the production for the record. We've worked together for so long; we've built a great relationship throughout the whole album process. We're both on the same page in terms of making sure we put out something great that we can both be proud of. It's definitely an exciting time to be making the music we want.
Have you been inundated with the whole "white conscious rapper" bag yet?
You know, not from the media so much as a lot of the fans like to make those comparisons. If you check my Twitter feed right now, you'll see at least a dozen people talking about this white rapper or that white rapper.
Any XXL Freshman you'd like to work with? A Danny Brown/Macklemore collaboration would be crazy.
Yeah, he's definitely someone I'd love to work with. At first I didn't think I could get with an entire album of his stuff because his voice is just so crazy. After getting more into it, I love the guy, and his rhymes are just so ill.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Westword's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Denver's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Follow Backbeat on Twitter: @westword_music