Kate Robertson chats on the phone with Macklemore for exactly nine minutes and thirty seconds, just enough time to ask him about his new album GEMINI, why he ditched the other dude, and making music in Trump’s America.
It’s hard not to bop along to Macklemore. Some rap purists will say they thought he was cool back in 2005, before he became a top 40 sellout and apologised to Kendrick Lamar for winning Best Rap Album at the 2014 Grammys. And I get it. I too have only recently come to terms with the fact that I actually like his music and need to check my ego and my preconceptions.
You see, Macklemore has been on the money since day one. He’s found a sweet spot on the rap spectrum where he can use his somewhat goofy white boy image to get away with rapping about dance battles and the peer pressure he feels to buy a Fitbit, but can also hold his own addressing politics and his privilege in a way that pushes just far enough, but never crosses any lines. Hell, you’ve only gotta eyeball the features he loads his albums with to see his influence surely goes further than surface level. From Idris Elba and Anderson Paak. through to Kesha and Ed Sheeran, you can’t help but wonder how he hasn’t made more enemies along the way.
Unsure of what to expect from the rapper who can seem more like a meme than an actual person, it turns out he’s every bit as engaging as his music would have you believe, and you can bet I clung to every second of our nine and a half minute phone call.
This is the first album in years that you’ve not worked alongside Ryan Lewis on. How did that change the way you worked?
The biggest difference is that Ryan and I are obviously two people. When you have two people you have a relationship, and you have to make sure the other person is okay with what you’re doing, which makes for great music. I worked with a couple of main producers on GEMINI, but at the end of the day it was a solo album, I had the final say on what made the cut and what didn’t. When you’re working by yourself it’s quicker. When it’s Ryan and I, everything is a little bit more methodical and a little bit more drawn out. This time was faster and more of an expedited experience of making music.
Did you have to push yourself harder or was the motivation as present as ever?
I think the motivation was really there. I usually take a lot of time between albums to go do stuff, but this time I got back in the studio as soon as we wrapped the Unruly Mess tour. I wanted that experience of getting right back to work and not taking a tonne of time off like we did after The Heist, and you know what? I had a lot of fun.
It was a very liberating experience. I built a studio in my basement which meant I could go hang out with my daughter upstairs then go back downstairs to work, and there were always a bunch of musicians coming in and out. It was a fun experience to be able to do it with my family around and in my own house.
You’ve got a history of writing political songs. What’s been on your mind this time around?
It’s funny, I think a lot of people assume because of the current state of politics in the United States that I would make a very political album and that there would be a song or two addressing that, but that’s not what I did at all. I made a bunch of different songs, but didn’t touch on politics for the entire album.
At this point in America it’s very polarising, and if you are a Trump supporter in any way, particularly with what’s happened in the last 48 hours around trying to deport the Dreamers, there is a very clear line that you are supporting a racist.
I feel like music is a form of resistance and it doesn’t always need to be explicit. I wanted to make an album that people could celebrate to and dance to and feel emotion to without having to talk about the current state of affairs.
Even when you are addressing the heavier subject matter, your songs still have a hopefulness about them. Are you just a happy go lucky guy 24/7? Is that where it all stems from?
I wish I could say I was like that 99% of the time. With this album, I was in a good place which is reflected in the music. When I’m going through something emotional or there’s something weighing heavily on my heart, that’s gonna come out in the music. I definitely think where I am today and how happy I am is reflected in this album. There are some darker moments for sure, but it’s more channeling things from the past than it is anything in the present.
You have a song out with Lil Yachty, a poster boy for the dominance hip-hop has over pop culture right now. Is hip hop’s reign here to stay?
Definitely. Hip-hop is the most popular genre in the world and it has the most influence on pop music. I’m listening to these pop artists’ singles going, ‘these are pop chords over trap drums.’ ‘Bad and Boujee’ wasn’t meant for radio by any means, but then it went to number one. Hip-hop is absolutely more than ever infiltrating pop music in every aspect.
You’re headlining the NRL grand final pre-show, will you be sending your performance to Super Bowl HQ? Give them a taste of what you could do for their halftime show?
Anytime you get in front of that many people, when it’s televised that way, it’s a huge opportunity. The Super Bowl would be amazing to play. I would absolutely play it if I got that call, for sure.
Postscript: A couple of days after this interview was conducted, former Australian prime minister Tony Abbott lobbied for Macklemore to be banned from performing at the NRL grand final, given the nationwide non-binding referendum on same-sex marriage currently being held in Australia. Abbott was, obviously, unsuccessful and on 1 October, Macklemore played his 2012 hit ‘Same Love’, which has been adopted by supporters of same-sex marriage in various countries around the world.
Macklemore is performing at Spark Arena in Auckland on 9 February and TSB Arena in Wellington on 10 February 2018. Spark have an exclusive pre-sale for Spark customers, available from 12pm, Friday 6 October to 12pm, Sunday 8 October.
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