Macklemore: ‘I Wanted to Write About What’s Going on in America’
The rapper on raising uncomfortable questions around drug abuse and white privilege in his songs
Whether he’s strutting down the street in a fur coat in the viral music video for 2012’s “Thrift Shop” or donning a wig onstage during his India debut at Vh1 Supersonic in 2017, American rapper Ben Haggarty aka Macklemore is wholly unapologetic about making a statement or two. Although known primarily as one half of the Seattle-based hip-hop duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis and the man behind “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” it’s actually his body of work outside these tracks which really hits home.
From lending his voice to the LGBT community with 2012’s “Same Love” with American singer-songwriter Mary Lambert to opening up about his personal struggles with drug abuse on tracks like “Starting Over” and “Kevin,” the rapper has never shied away from speaking his mind and using his platform of fame to bring several issues to light.
“White Privilige II” continues the conversation Macklemore started in 2005 with “White Privilege” from his solo album The Language of My World. The dark, gospel-infused track addresses racism in pop culture, the Black Lives Matter movement, cultural appropriation and Macklemore’s own role as a white rapper, all of which caused debates across social media upon the song’s release in January 2016. Macklemore however remains firm on where he stands. “Talking about race in America, there was no way to do that without ruffling some feathers and having difference in the opinion and people questioning your intention,” he says.
In a quick interview right before going onstage at VH1 Supersonic in Pune on February 11th, Macklemore talks to us about his most recent track “Drug Dealer,” making a stand for positive change through his and Ryan Lewis’s sophomore album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made and finding success in India.
Is it surprising to see such a big fanbase here in India?
Yes, it feels amazing to me that my music has reached this far. You know, when we came to India two years ago, in 2014, it was the peak of our success and I went all around India and nobody really knew who I was, which is very nice that I could kind of go incognito. But it’s amazing that it’s working out and we are here at a festival now and we have got so much love so far, so we are super excited.
Your track “Drug Dealer” is about the struggle with drugs you went through. What made you want to open up so much and how did you know it was the right time? What do you feel you were able to address which you didn’t get to with “Starting Over”?
Well, I have always talked about my issues with addiction and struggles with drugs. But that’s my personal stand point and how I perceive the music industry or the pharmaceutical industry to be. “Drug Dealer” timed out to be a special that I did with Barack Obama and I wanted to write about what’s going on in America and how we are taking pain. I feel like each one of them is a different chapter. You know “Starting Over” was a specific real life story about my relapse… So “Drug Dealer” is a little bit different but it is after all a continuation to it.
Your album This Unruly Mess I’ve Made discusses, questions and criticizes so many aspects of global society. Do you ever have a moment of fear before you release a track (like “White Privilege II”) which will definitely cause an uproar?
Yes “White Privilege” is definitely something that we worked very hard on and we knew that it was going to be taken in a million different ways. Talking about race in America, there was no way to do that without ruffling some feathers and having difference in the opinion and people questioning your intention. But I knew where I stood on the issue and it’s not like it’s contributing to a dialogue around race relations in America. But yes, they are definitely some scary things put out to the world.
Listen to Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ “White Privilege II” feat. Jamila Woods: