Macklemore and Ryan Lewis collaborate in sold-out tour

Ali Breland

Very little music of worth or at least notoriety has come out of Washington since the heyday of Kurt Cobain and grunge music. In the ’90s, Sir Mix-A-Lot managed to move out of the Seattle scene and permeate into mainstream rap. However, Sir Mix-A-Lot is an exception to the norm.

Almost a decade later though, independent hip-hop duo Macklemore and Ryan Lewis stand to change that. The duo is made up of longtime Seattle MC Ben Haggerty, who raps under the moniker Macklemore (a reference to his Irish roots), and Ryan Lewis, who began producing for Haggerty after acting as his photographer for several years. They’re on their first national tour, which has sold out all across the Northwest, East coast and other cities in the U.S.

Haggerty’s style utilizes heavy narrative employment, with an articulate flow, almost reminiscent of a spoken word poet. Lewis’s beats also fill a unique niche within hip-hop. While sounding very hip-hop, they are almost cinematic in that they carry their own uniquely abstract narrative that wonderfully compliments Haggerty’s dramatic, yet sincere flow.

Although Lewis claims his beats sound plain to him, he cites a very diverse musical background that would explain his distinct sound.

“I’m not a hip-hop head like Ben [Haggerty],” Lewis said. “I was more involved in the rock scene when I was younger. It was a different culture, I played guitar. I’m heavily influenced by indie rock, and movie scores, too.”

Lewis’s intriguing artistic style were also most likely shaped by his unique experiences in college.

“Through my major at the University of Washington, I spent a year studying at three different schools, in Italy, Mexico and South Africa,” he said. “I read and learned a lot of different things there that changed my life.”

Lewis has a forthcoming untitled LP inspired by Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” and specifically the 10,000 hour rule Gladwell writes about.

“The idea that it takes 10,000 hours to master something is so interesting,” he said.

Haggerty admits that his drug use when the two met in 2006 through MySpace was debilitating to his work as a musician.

“[Drugs] were a huge hindrance to my creativity,” Haggerty said. “At one point, my father sat me down, and asked me what I was doing with my life. I checked into rehab, and I’ve been clean since 2008.”

He has managed to come a long way since then, having made five music videos, two EPs and a mixtape, with a forthcoming LP in the works.

One of the videos, “Wings,” garnered a tremendous amount of Internet attention for the group, as it hits the dialectic between sneaker culture and giddy sneaker-heads, and the materialism induced by, as Haggerty puts it, “just another pair of shoes.”

Haggerty wasn’t initially trying to write a critique of Phil Knight and company at Nike headquarters in Portland.

“I was more just trying to write a song about shoes,” he said.

As the song developed, it grew more critical.

“It brought up stuff with me and made me think about consumerism and all this stuff that I just want to buy,” Haggerty said

“Wings” isn’t the only song Haggerty has used as positive advocacy. His song “Otherside” hits on the destructive culture of “purple drank” and the drug lean, which has become very prevalent in hip-hop culture despite prominent rapper Pimp C dying from overdosing on a mixture of lean and other drugs in 2007.

“The formula is still the same,” Haggerty said. “It’s just about conveying honestly and vulnerability that people can relate to.”

Printed on Tuesday, November 29, 2011 as: Hip-hop duo will hit Emo's with Washington beats