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Q&A: Rapper Macklemore talks thrifting, hip-hop and politics

Macklemore & Ryan Lewis will perform tonight to a sold-out crowd at the Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

By Anneta Konstantinides

Jan. 18, 2013 1:19 a.m.

On Sunday night, more than 700 UCLA students took over the back of Pauley Pavilion, shivering in below-50-degree weather, trying to keep themselves warm with tents, blankets and impromptu hookah sessions. The reason? Free tickets to see Macklemore & Ryan Lewis tonight at Ackerman Grand Ballroom.

The creative force, which has Macklemore rapping and Lewis producing and DJing, is currently touring to promote “The Heist,” which reached the top spot on the iTunes album chart within hours of being released. “Thrift Shop,” the first single off the album, is currently No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100 and has college kids everywhere poppin’ tags. Macklemore talked to the Daily Bruin’s Anneta Konstantinides about the autobiographical nature of his album, his future political plans and just what UCLA students can expect tonight.

Daily Bruin: You’ve had huge success with “The Heist,” and most especially with “Thrift Shop,” which, at least in terms of subject matter, is pretty different from the other songs on the album. Where did you find inspiration for the song and what prompted you to write and include it on the album?

Macklemore: “Thrift Shop” just comes from my life. I’ve been into thrift shopping since I was a kid and it’s what makes me who I am, and I think that, in terms of that fitting into the album, every song I write, it comes down to me sharing it honestly and openly and being real with me. I don’t think there’s many records on the album that sound alike – I think what makes it cohesive is the fact that there’s such diversity and range within the song.

DB: What was your last thrift shop purchase?

M: I found a Seahawks starter jacket yesterday, actually. A jacket that I’ve been looking for for a long time, so that was a great find.

DB: Why do you think “Thrift Shop” has been such a hit? It’s all over the radio, it’s playing at every frat party.

M: I think that “Thrift Shop” has been successful because, for one, there’s a great video to accompany the music. The music is catchy – it’s fun, it’s different. Everyone is rapping about how much money they spend on things, and this is a song talking about spending less, and in general I think that’s exciting for people. It’s different, it stands out. And you know it’s just a record that’s catchy and fun, and when you have that combination of something that’s different, along with something that makes sense in a pop world, it has the potential to be successful and catch on, and that’s what “Thrift Shop” has done.

DB: “The Heist” is so personal and autobiographical. Was it difficult to write? What was your writing process like?

M: Yeah, there were parts that were definitely very difficult – you know, things that I got stuck on in terms of writing. But inevitably, you have that breakthrough process too, which then that verse or that beat turns into a song, and Ryan and I are both perfectionists and it takes us a long time to craft a record that we make, but we usually stick it out until it’s at a point that we’re both really happy with. But there’s definitely points of stagnation and writer’s block along the way.

DB: Do you see yourself being very autobiographical in your future work and writing about your life, or do you see yourself changing it up?

M: I think that what makes me unique in my voice is that I do share what I’m going through in life. Could I switch it up? For sure, but it tends to be my strong suit in writing to speak from my own personal experience – that usually is the writing I’m most happy with. But I’m open to whatever in the future. And I want to write a movie. … I just thought of it this morning. I kind of want to write a comedy – that’s the genre, but I won’t reveal the subject matter yet. It’s like four hours old.

DB: Your career’s taken off pretty full speed ahead this year. What would you say has been the best part of the ride?

M: The best part of it is just watching it spread and having every week something new and exciting happen. There’s always new developments; there’s a bunch of things coming up this year that I’m really excited about. There’s been performing on “Ellen,” and “Jimmy Fallon,” and selling out our entire tour, and watching the success with “Thrift Shop” on radio, which we never anticipated. It’s tough to really boil it down to one thing, but overall just the music, just connecting with people and the reception that “The Heist” has got and continues to get as a piece of art, which is first and foremost the most important. “Thrift Shop” has obviously done well, and that’s exposing us to a new group of people at kind of a rapid rate at this point. But the thing that is most exciting is I think that we made an album I really believe in, that is a great piece of art and that people like.

DB: What’s your collaboration process, like with Ryan? How do you guys work together and go about making a song together?

M: I met Ryan after his entrepreneurial hot dog business folded at his high school. He actually had a truck that he used to sell hot dogs out of at lunch, and when that business folded he turned to music. And I watched him get better throughout the years. We started collaborating, and our process is really just sometimes Ryan makes a beat, and it’s usually like the skeletons of the beat – I write to that. I bring what I’ve written to Ryan, he critiques it. Sometimes I write first, no beat, and then Ryan makes a beat around it. But everything is very much collaborative; we do everything together.

DB: What’s been one really great memory so far from being on tour?

M: I got flashed once … that was a low point. But a high point would have to be watching Ryan Lewis jump from numerous balconies at venues – he’s a daredevil. He’s the Evel Knievel of rap.

DB: Can we expect any stunts from Ryan today?

M: You can expect stunts: somersaults, cartwheels, stage-diving, crowd-walking, high-fives, low-fives, pounds and hugs.

DB: Your music takes a huge detour from a lot of the stuff that’s on Top 40, where rap artists are talking about popping Molly and drinking in the club. Is that something you hope to see more of in the genre?

M: Hip-hop’s current fascination and obsession with Molly in songs is really played out. In 2013, I think people need to start rapping about acid or mushrooms, but no more rapping about Molly, no more synthetic ecstasy raps. That’s done. I think drugs are a huge part of American culture and that we’re probably not ever going to get over that with the music, because music is an escape – just like drugs are. And glorifying drugs in a way sells. When you go to the club, you don’t want to hear an anti-drug song or a song about sobriety. But there’s a balance and we’ve crushed that threshold, and popping Molly in 2013 needs to end, or at least people rapping about it. Do some ’shrooms … if you’re going to do drugs in the club.

DB: Your song “Same Love” is very political – do you see yourself writing more songs in that vein? And what made you want to write “Same Love” in the first place?

M: Yes. I don’t know what it’s going to be about, but yes. Watching the intolerance and lack of compassion, the unacceptance that’s plagued hip-hop throughout my entire life. Eventually, I just decided that this was something I wanted to take on, that I wanted to hold my community accountable, that I wanted to be honest and speak the truth, which is that human beings are equal. It’s time that we treated everyone that way.

DB: I read recently that you’re planning on running for mayor in 2025 for Seattle. Is this for real?

M: Absolutely. I’m running for mayor in 2025. My campaign was announced, my candidacy … that’s a weird word, I got to learn that by 2025, my candi– that thing, was announced maybe a week and a half ago. I’ve been selecting a team, a political advisor, a masseuse … pretty much just the political advisor and masseuse so far, but the team is getting orchestrated. We’re going to bring democracy back to the people of Seattle.

DB: Is there anything else you want to tell the UCLA community before the concert today?

M: I think it’s very cool that I saw a bunch of pictures of people at UCLA in tents. That impresses me, UCLA. I’m very impressed, very excited for the show, and we are going to have a party.

Email Konstantinides at [email protected]

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