May 25, 2013


Seattle's Hip Hop Prince, Crowned: Macklemore Basks in NW Love at Sasquatch

Imeh Akpanudosen
Imeh Akpanudosen

Seattle rapper Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis' headlining set to open Sasquatch Fest Friday night was certainly a homecoming to rival all homecomings. 

"I've been backstage with anxiety, thinking, 'This is your people, your family, the Northwest is gonna be here tonight,'" he told the audience at the Gorge Amphitheater, a stunning venue (and longtime home to Sasquatch) a four-hour drive east of Seattle. "What do I say to these people? How do I address 30,000 people here?"

Then he delivered it: "I've been working my entire life to step up here onstage at the Gorge," he said, now emotional. "Nowhere in the world is as beautiful as the backdrop here."

This was a local boy done good, returning home to flaunt the pop glory and bask in the adoration of his most fervent fans, and they gave him a prince's welcome. 

Earlier, the crowd watching Vampire Weekend, playing across the hillside venue, thinned to surprisingly sparse numbers as the buzz built for the hip hop duo's main stage arrival. A Euro-soccer-stadium-style chant echoed (how 'bout those Seattle Sounders, eh?) and horns trumpeted. And then there's Macklemore, in his rattle-snake-skin sequined robe, stomping and running along a stage jutting into the audience, doing his knees-bent, arms-flailing, "Whoa, I'm falling... maybe..." signature dance. 

He rapped, "This is our evening, this is our night..." No, dude. This is your night (and Ryan Lewis' too, but mostly just yours).

And the socially-conscious rhymesayer came armed with a message, a few of 'em, actually, and the crowd agreed with their leader, who's a bit of an anomaly in the rap game. 

His breakout LP with Lewis, The Heist, is colored with the childhood memories of an '80s baby--SATs, Nintendo, spiral-notebook classroom scribbles, those first Nike Air Jordans. But his more risky messages are aimed at rap music. He dissed the glorification of drug use in hip hop on "Otherside," an older track from his first collabo with Lewis, 2010's VS. Redux EP. He prefaced it with the confessional story of his own addiction that was first met with beer-hoisting hollers, but later, perhaps, moments of self-reflection for the intoxicated crowd. 

"I never had moderation with drugs," he said. He preached of the horrors of OxyContin and Percocet addiction (which, like much of work class America, ravaged the Seattle area), and praised a 2008 rehab stint for setting his music career on track.

Then onto his next cause: Gay rights, and its role in hip hop, a long misogynistic genre. "I believe in compassion, love and tolerance," he preached before his breakout The Heist hit, "Same Love." 

"And Washington State is leading the way!"

That was Macklemore's real message Friday night: The Pacific Northwest is the bestestest. He honored its rabid thrift shop and vintage culture in "Thrift Shop," featuring deep and smooth vocals from singer Wanz. Gold lights flashed, backup dancers worked it and brass wailed. Macklemore rolled across the stage on a second-hand scooter in the fur coat from the song's popular music video, rapping about broken keyboards and hand-me-down kneeboards. The Goodwills along I-90 will certainly be cleaned out by Tuesday.

He honored Dave Niehaus, the late Mariners baseball radio sportscaster, in "My Oh My," showing images of Ken Griffey Jr., the city's '90s sports super star, crushing home runs onscreen. He saluted a picture of the fallen Kingdome arena.

He wore a vintage Detlef Schrempf Seattle Sonics jersey in solidarity with the "F-ck the NBA" t-shirts in the crowd, protesting the vote preventing the team's return to Seattle. 

"You have no idea how amazing it feels to be back home in the Pacific Northwest," he gushed. 

That's not hyperbole. Considering the duo's whirlwind, worldwide press blitz behind The Heist, an independently-released album that's topped the charts and sold over 500,000, it's not hard to imagine a heartfelt return home for Macklemore.

He shouted out Spokane, Vancouver, BC, Portland and finally Seattle to a massive roar. Then he dedicated "Cowboy Boots" to the Emerald City's hipster 'hood Capitol Hill: "Cowboy boots doing lines at the bar / Where the time goes slow when you're drinking PBR / And we drink and get older / And some of us even try to get sober / Now here's to the assholes and the last calls."

There's a twinge of disdain for the hipster elite that's often dragged Macklemore through the mud in the press. But he's a rapper who does it his way, whether it's his interpretation of the hip hop genre, his version of "cool" or the messages he supports. And people from the Northwest--people accustomed to doing things their own way, too--are proud to call him their own.