Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are hip-hop’s new great white hope
Since performing their new single “Same Love” on Ellen, the hip-hop group Macklemore & Ryan Lewis has seen its popularity escalate. The two white dudes from Seattle have been selling out shows on tour in support of The Heist, a carefully crafted album of songs that espouse positivity and equality for all. We recently spoke with Lewis for a feature for a weekly paper, but here’s the rest of our conversation.
Talk about that performance on Ellen. The crowd was on its feet by song’s end. What was it like to get such a huge reaction from her audience?
It was amazing to have someone who is massive like that co-sign your song and video. It was really special. We feel grateful to have done it.
Do you have that entire ensemble on the road?
We took string players and a horn section to the West Coast and we have a smaller team for the South and they’re reconnecting with us in D.C. We had 23 people for the West Coast and we’re going to go back up to that. I think we’ve gotten very good as a trio. We had some good rehearsals with the string players, too. They’re different types of shows. I like both.
To go to a wide variety of regions in the us and in Europe and places like notoriously Republican and conservative and to have a new generation of youth and thinkers singing their hearts for that song has been super special. It gives us a glimpse of a new generation of people.
What’s been the reaction elsewhere to “Same Love”? How has it been received by the hip-hop community? Do you think that the homophobia in hip-hop has started to dissipate?
Yeah. You make a song like that and it’s bold to put it out, but it’s gotten an overwhelmingly strong reaction. The video has gone fairly viral and has six million plays in a couple of months. Referendum 74 just passed in Seattle and that is huge. To go to a wide variety of regions in the us and in Europe and places like notoriously Republican and conservative and to have a new generation of youth and thinkers singing their hearts for that song has been super special. It gives us a glimpse of a new generation of people.
Talk about how you and Macklemore first met. I think I read you did some photography for him.
We met on MySpace over a beat. I had been playing music for a long time but I had been a producer for a only year and had doing photographer for the same amount of time. For the first three years we were friends, we did a little bit of music together. I did his show posters and a lot of visual stuff until 2008. We first met in 2006 and became friends and been working together almost every day since then. We’re best friends and two very different people who get along on a uniquely wide variety of platforms. At this point, we have to make a million little decisions a day for our business. Where our talents lie compliments each other really well. I could do photography and web designs and mix designs and videos and blah blah blah. He’s a notorious live performer. He’s a great storyteller and songwriter. Stylistically, at the core of it, we have a unique bond but we’ve been excellent business partners.
How’d you end up getting into music?
I started playing guitar when I was ten and making websites when I was 12. I was into metal for the most part. I was a solo guitarist person in screamer bands. When I was 15 or 16 years old, I took a drastic shift into aggressive hip-hop and when you get into production and sampling vinyl, it opens your mind up to genres that your teenage adolescent self doesn’t want a part of. I started listening to folk and indie rock type of bands and a wide, wide variety of hip-hop. It’s tough to tangentially figure out how you started, but I was very fascinated by the process of being a hip-hop producer. There’s not anything like it in terms of music creation. Bands of all types and all genres more often than not are at band practice and writing songs and you come up with a catalogue of songs. You go into a studio and link with engineers or producer. Hip-hop is now more than ever unique in that everything is done at the same exact time. Your mixing process and composing process is all wrapped into the same process. There is no rule as to how you start. You’re making a record that people are going to hear from the beginning as opposed to writing something and then going in after the fact. For how my brain is wired, the creativity of writing music and mixing music and the process of textures and finding an actual sound is intriguing to me.
How is your role different than that of a DJ?
I never really aspired to be a DJ. I did aspire to perform music that we can make in a live setting. For the most part, the work that goes into the live show is production. I’d love to be able to scratch and focus on being an instrumentalist but, at the end of the day, I don’t think scratching would fit super well. We’ve developed a unique live show. My job is expanding, but at this point the purpose of my being there is that I know what’s going to happen. I have more a hype type of role.
What goals do you have?
In the immediate future, what becomes challenging as you get more and more fans and exposure is being able to address the things that mattered in the first place: having a personal relationship with your fan base and get them involved. I was up to 7am last night working on tour videos. It’s stuff like that. It’s being able to have people on the ride with you. I want to have a music video contest for “Bom Bom.” In the grand scheme of things, what’s most important is that we continue to run the show and invest in some of the talented musicians and singers surrounding us — the Ray Daltons and what not — and keep making music videos, not just because it’s what you’re supposed to do. I’d love to make movies and get a Grammy and I have no doubt we can reach those goals.
11/14 Philadelphia, PA
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11/23 Toronto, ON
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11/25 Cleveland, OH
11/27 Lansing, MI
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11/30 Minneapolis, MN
12/2 Iowa City, IA
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12/6 Denver, CO
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12/10 San Francisco, CA
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