Macklemore & Ryan Lewis go Downtown
"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," "Can't Hold Us," 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, 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."
"Downtown," the first official single released from those sessions, 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." 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.