At the American Music Awards last month, Macklemore & Ryan Lewis took the stage and set their Top 20 hit “Downtown” momentarily aside to perform an emotional new song from their upcoming album. “Kevin,” which features rising neo-soul star Leon Bridges on the hook, focuses on the true story of Macklemore’s friend Kevin, who overdosed on prescription medication at the age of 21 in 2010, as well as the overmedication epidemic as a whole.
Bridges tells Fuse that working with Macklemore on “Kevin” yielded a socially conscious song that has already touched a large audience.
“Some people hate on Macklemore, and think he comes off as cheesy, but the beautiful thing is that this dude is making a difference,” says Bridges. “He’s really saying something meaningful with this platform, and that’s a beautiful thing. Macklemore is a good person, and I really respect him.”
Bridges, whose critically acclaimed debut album Coming Home was released earlier this year, says that Macklemore reached out to his management team and the collaboration was quickly arranged. The “Thrift Shop” star flew Bridges out to his Seattle studio, and briefed the singer on the concept for “Kevin.”
“We worked on the song for an hour or two — it went really quick, because Macklemore already had the verses,” Bridges recalls. “We collectively brainstormed on the lyrics for the chorus, but I mostly had the part of doing the melody. It was a cool experience. I was very nervous before doing that, but he and his crew are really chill.”
On “Kevin,” Bridges sings, “We’re in the waiting room and something ain’t right/All this is on you, we’re overprescribed,” in reference to the pharmaceutical industry’s over-reliance on synthetic drugs in the United States. Bridges admits that he wasn’t familiar with the problem before discussing the song with Macklemore, but is glad to now be informed on the issue.
“That topic is something that I didn’t even know about, or barely knew about,” he says. “It really opened my eyes to see that we can’t just supposedly put a mandate on a certain problem.”
Bridges, who will perform on Saturday Night Live this Saturday (Dec. 5), says that he hasn’t heard much else of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ eagerly anticipated follow-up to 2012’s The Heist, but is excited to hear more—and may play a part in a few other songs. “That day [we did ‘Kevin’] we recorded two other songs, and they were fun little songs,” he notes. “I liked that I was a little bit out of my element, doing a song with a rapper. I feel like I kept it true to myself.”