When Macklemore & Ryan Lewis played San Bernardino's Paid Dues Independent Hip Hop Festival in 2012, they were just barely billed in the top half of the 2012 lineup. But that was before "Thrift Shop." One year and one No. 1 hit later, the Seattle duo headlined Paid Dues 2013 behind main act Black Hippy and they hit the stage ready to relish in the moment.
But aside from the celebratory mood, Macklemore was also on the defensive. The 29-year-old MC tackled his critics before launching into the ubiquitous hit that's brought him unexpected success and the inevitable haters who come with it.
"When you get a No. 1 single, people come out of the woodwork saying, 'Oh, this is wack,'" Macklemore told the outdoor crowd. "But this is a No. 1 hip hop record and it's independent. It hit No. 1 based solely on the strength of the people. Like Paid Dues, this fest that Murs started in 2006, this is independent hip hop."
Most of the audience whooped their support, although several people did make a point to remain stone-faced and silent during his defense. But when the "Thrift Shop" horns kicked in, objections became irrelevant: Nearly everyone was rocking out to it.
Later in the night, Macklemore tackled a much more important—and a far more contentious—issue in hip hop and today's society: marriage equality. And unlike his stage show, there wasn't any dancing around.
"We're in the middle of the biggest civil rights movement of our generation," Macklemore stated. "This is one of the most important weeks in American history." Without becoming too aggressive, the Seattle MC talked about the hate, fear and casually derogatory terms that pop-up in hip hop and asked people to "open their hearts" to the idea of marriage equality.
Following a heartfelt take on "Same Love"—the record's hook singer, Mary Lambert, belted the chorus with an all-out passion befitting the event and the historical timing—Macklemore took a moment to put everything in perspective. "Two years ago, if you told me I'd play a song about homophobia in rap and same-sex love to a sold out crowd at Paid Dues, I wouldn't believe you. But here we are. We are evolving."
That comment drew an overwhelmingly positive response, and this was from the same crowd that had cheered on as Tech N9ne urged women in the audience to "show your titties" not even an hour earlier. Which in its own way proves that Macklemore has a point: Hip hop can let its libido run rampant in the same evening it can pause to voice enthusiastic support for gay marriage. Things are changing.