Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
"It was important for me and Ryan to step back and live a little bit of life, to have some experiences that could broaden our perspectives," says Macklemore, who along with producer Ryan Lewis took the world by storm with their record-shattering 2012 debut 'The Heist.' "We came back from tour and just needed some time to be human again."
"After going through two-and-a-half years of what 'The Heist' was, you're in a totally different place walking into the second album," adds Lewis. "Coming out of such a tremendously exhausting time period and feeling like we'd exceeded every goal we were going for, I needed to try to make sure I had a handle on life. I wanted to make sure I was still having fun making music, that I was making art that I was proud of and that felt innovative and interesting. I didn't want to get locked into everything that comes with knowing that there's an audience waiting for a new album."
‘The Heist,' recorded and released independently without a traditional record label, debuted at #2 on the Billboard 200 and went platinum on the strength of mega-hits like "Thrift Shop," which spent six weeks at #1 on the Billboard Hot 100; "Can't Hold Us," the Hot 100's longest-running consecutive #1 of 2013 and the most-streamed song of the year on Spotify; and "Same Love," their moving anthem for marriage equality, which they performed with Madonna at the GRAMMYs. The album earned them four GRAMMY awards at that ceremony, including Best New Artist and Rap Album of the Year. The tracks on 'The Heist' have collectively been streamed nearly a billion times on Spotify (with YouTube views far exceeding that), and the duo has performed on nearly every late-night show, as well as Ellen, Good Morning America, and SNL.
So how do you follow all that?
"We went out to the woods," says Macklemore, whose real name is Ben Haggerty. "We basically packed up the studio, took it to a small cabin, and had a concise month-and-a-half of making music with no distractions. It was the most prolific month-and-a-half ever."
The first song released from those wilderness writing sessions, "Growing Up (Sloane's Song)," tackles Haggerty's biggest life change yet, fatherhood.
"I think my wife Tricia was about six or seven months pregnant, and we had the idea of a song about giving advice to your unborn child," remembers Macklemore. "Ryan pushed me to get a little bit deeper with what I was writing and to touch on what I was feeling in that moment. I was scared and I was anxious and I was fearful that I wasn’t prepared to be a father yet. How am I supposed to raise another human being when I haven’t fully grown up myself? How can I bring another life into this world when I'm not a finished product?"
When writing the song, which features a soulful hook from Ed Sheeran, Haggerty didn't yet know the gender of his future child, so the first verse is written to a girl, while the second is penned to a boy. It's the kind of vulnerable, deeply honest writing, paired with moving, poignant music that sets the two in a lane of their own.
The new music's not all so serious, though. The second track (and first official single) released, "Downtown," is a multi-part epic inspired by the mopeds Haggerty and Lewis purchased in order to explore the cities they were visiting on their last US tour. Aimed at marrying their favorite sounds from the 70's and 80's, it's the most ambitious production they've ever attempted.
"Not only was hip hop incredible in the late 70's and early 80's, but rock and roll was incredible, too," says Lewis. "Phenomenal things were happening on completely polar ends of the spectrum. The challenge was how to make them fit together."
The duo worked on the song for nearly a year-and-a-half, with much of that time spent in Lewis' mobile bus studio, a space that enabled him to continue his production work throughout the band's hectic tour schedule. After managing to bridge old school hip hop influence with a soaring chorus hook sung by Eric Nally, they reached out to three of Hip Hop's greatest pioneers to make the song whole.
“For me, Kool Moe Dee, Grandmaster Caz, and Melle Mel were the originators of the style that I wanted in part of the verses of that song," says Haggerty. "The inflection and the tone and the cadence came from their era, and those guys were the ambassadors, the originators of hip hop and that style specifically, so it felt inauthentic not to reach out to the people that created this music and see if they wanted to be a part of it."
All three flew out to Seattle to join Haggerty and Lewis in the studio, and then made the trip to Spokane to take part in the music video shoot, as well.
"Those guys have seen this go from a genre that was supposed to be a fad to something that has had incredible longevity," adds Haggerty. "It's a culture that has really turned into popular culture. They have infinite wisdom."
It's longevity that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are after, as well. With "Downtown" and "Growing Up," they've already proven that 'The Heist' was just the start, and with a new full album on the way, the future looks bright.