Photos by Janine Van Oostrom
He’s too corny, he wears his heart on his sleeve and it weirds people out, he’s appropriating hip-hop and is taking the focus away from more “real” artists, he’s just a pop artist masquerading as a rapper. I’m sure you’ve heard every insult thrown out to dismiss Macklemore and his success. He’s heard it all too and what is he supposed to do? He makes pop music that he raps on with either socially conscious messages or stories about his past struggles with addiction. Much like Kanye West another rapper who has had the entire kitchen of criticisms thrown at him, Mackelmore has also addressed everything in his music. He has two songs called White Privilege, where he acknowledges he has had unfair advantages in life because of the colour of his skin that his idols in the rap game didn’t have. On his drinking anthem song Irish Celebration he talks about the good old days and how he knows he can’t do that anymore because he is an addict. He raps about no matter how woke he wants to be, he struggles to actually join marches and how he still ogles women online calling himself a hypocrite. Whatever is the worst thing you can say about him, he has already recorded it.
Macklemore started out as a solo artist, going under the name Professor Macklemore for a few years before dropping the degree title, and made several mixtapes and one album back in 2005, in 2009 he joined forces with producer Ryan Lewis and were he had the most success of his career so far with two hit albums. He is now back to being a solo artist (he does plan on working with Lewis again in the future to continue their partnership) and he celebrates the release of the album Gemini.
Gone is the DJ backing him and instead is a band that consists of a drummer/muli instrumentalist, two horn players and two backing singers. The beat for Ain’t Gonna Die Tonight started up and the hook is the first part of the song and Eric Nally, former frontman of Foxy Shazam runs on stage to sing his part. Macklemore joined Nally on stage decked out in a Seattle Super Sonics starter jacket, supported his home town’s old basketball team.
Macklemore has always been a talker, it sometimes gets him in trouble like when he won the Grammy for Best Rap Album beating out the favourite Kendrick Lamar back in 2014 and felt the need to make several apologies to Lamar and rap fans for undeservedly winning rubbing some people the wrong way. On stage in front of his own fans he is a wordsmith, making jokes about having issues crossing the border for the show and proclaiming that he was there to party with everyone that evening. He joked about how he bought some expensive leather gloves in Toronto that day and decided to wear them on stage to only realize what a bad idea it was because they were too hot to keep on.
Not beholden to his old duo’s setlist he could play songs in whatever order he felt. This was evident by him playing his biggest hit Thrift Shop as the fourth song of the night. Macklemore put on a coonskin hat like he wore in the video and got the crowd to sing along with him. After the song he announced how he was awarded a plague for the song that had gone an incredible nine times platinum. To celebrate he joked he was buying the whole crowd Cadillac’s before launching into one of his other big hits White Walls, a loving ode to the classic car maker. Sadly he cut the song off before ScHoolboy Q’s fantastic verse, which I guess I should have expected but was still disappointed.
After a stirring speech talking about how America needs to get their shit together and in these troubling times we need to remember that everyone deserves equality and a chance to live in happiness he played his hit song Same Love about gay rights. While the song might seem a little too on the nose, it must be remembered that there never has been a mainstream hip-hop song so explicitly support gay rights. Sure artists like Kanye has given interviews about being more mindful with his lyrics and how other rappers should do the same or openly gay rappers like Le1f, Big Freedia and Azelia Banks but they haven’t hit the top of the charts yet like Same Love did. As the song played imagery of both political and religious symbols played adding to the message behind the song.
The night wasn’t intense the whole show as Macklemore came out dressed as Willy Wonka for his song of the same name while footage from the original Gene Wilder film played behind him and he shot off confetti into the crowd. For Dance Off he had his back up dancers pull up two audience members to have their own dance off. A man dressed like Macklmore in the Thrift Shop video and a young boy were selected and they both had the crowd energetically cheering for them. For Can’t Hold Us he managed to get the crowd to jump up and down, an impress feat considering people way at the back where I was standing had also joined in, not just those up front.
One of Macklemore’s first songs to put him on the path to a wider audience was Otherside, a song about his addictions set to the tune of the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name. I’m not sure if it is due to right’s issues or just creative license but going back as far as 2013 when I first saw Macklemore perform he did the song a capella. Singing the haunting song alone on stage with a single spotlight on him really showed the power of the words he wrote and the struggle he went through abusing drugs and alcohol.
For the encore he played several more songs including bringing back out Eric Nally, who somersaulted on stage to sing his part on Downtown from Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ second album. The show ended with Macklemore introducing his entire band and performing Glorious, a song that sounds like John Legend might have rejected it first. The diverse crowd ate up the whole show, and it isn’t very often you see a rapper make several costume changes, which only added to theatricality of the night.