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September 7th, 2011 CASEY JARMAN | Cover Story
 

Mack to the Future

Seattle's Macklemore is sincere, independent and huge. Is this the new face of hip-hop?


“Trust me, I’m an I-N-D-E-P-E-N-D-E-N-T shit hustla.” — Macklemore, “Can’t Hold Us” (2011)

Ten years ago, a man in Haggerty’s desirable position would be deciding which major label he wanted to sign with. But in 2011, he’s talking more seriously about starting his own. Self-releasing their singles has worked well for Macklemore and Lewis. Haggerty won’t talk about how much money they’ve made, but it’s enough to make a major label’s advance offers seem inconsequential.

“I don’t need the money,” Haggerty says. “What’s the most important to me is the art. I would hate to think someone else behind a desk is making those calls; it makes me sick.”

Sir Mix-A-Lot, who spent five albums on Rick Rubin’s American imprint, says a major label could ruin everything for Macklemore. “What makes Macklemore so cool to his fans is his independence and freedom,” Mix-A-Lot says. “The closer a label gets to him, the further away the fans will get. And if he’s taken away from what he does best, then he’s just another rapper.”

Whatever he chooses, Haggerty has his share of believers. His manager, Quillen, who in July packed his bags and moved to Seattle from New York City to be closer to Haggerty and Lewis, is perhaps the biggest. Quillen, agent to hip-hop stars such as Yelawolf and Wiz Khalifa for the powerful Agency Group, says he took on Macklemore as his first management client because “people like him don’t come around very often.” But not even he is sure what the future holds for Macklemore and Lewis. “A lot of what happens next is in their court,” Quillen says. “I think the sky’s the limit. If they want to take it all the way and have really large mainstream pop success, I think they could. If they wanted to take a more indie approach, I think they could be really successful on that level. The world is their oyster.”

Earlier in the day, Haggerty was characteristically humble and reserved on the point. “The whole ‘this is a defining moment for Seattle hip-hop,’ that’s not real,” he says. “Maybe it turns into that and maybe it doesn’t.”

But now, as he’s looking down at arriving ships in the bay, I start to see the fire that got Macklemore this far. He has found his train of thought. “I truly believe no one is going to stop us, only we can stop ourselves,” he says. “The opportunity is finally there, and the door is open, and it’s like, we can stand around and watch it or we can keep fucking walking.”


How Seattle put the Northwest Back on the Map

“The kids in the front, they bring out the passion, dude/ Make noise throughout the show and not only when we ask ’em to.” —Macklemore, “The Town” (2008)

SURF’S UP: Ryan Lewis leaps into the crowd at the second of three consecutive sold-out shows at Seattle’s Showbox.
IMAGE: Dave Lichterman ­— facebook.com/lavidphotos
The Northwest hasn’t produced a major hip-hop success since Sir Mix-A-Lot ruled the charts two decades ago, and until the mid-aughts, local hip-hop shows in Seattle were—much like most Portland shows—attended primarily by local artists themselves. What changed? Somebody invited the kids.

Until 2002, all-ages hip-hop shows were a rarity in Seattle. The draconian “Teen Dance Ordinance,” a 1985 city law that forced all-ages clubs to hire off-duty police and take out a million-dollar insurance policy in order to put on a concert, made under-21 shows prohibitively expensive. Indie-rock promoters sometimes ignored the ordinance, but hip-hop shows became favorite targets of the law’s selective enforcement. In 2002, the ordinance was replaced by the more forgiving “All-ages Dance Ordinance.” And while the Student Hip-Hop Organization of Washington, or SHOW, had been putting on major hip-hop concerts at the University of Washington for a few years, the rules changes eventually led to an opening of the floodgates that helped give Seattle hip-hop an off-campus push.

The Blue Scholars were the first to go big. The duo of smart, funky UW graduates became the face of the Seattle hip-hop scene in 2004, and by 2007, they were big enough to sell out five days’ worth of all-ages local hip-hop showcases at Capitol Hill institution Neumos. Later the group would invite a lesser-known MC—Macklemore—to open for it on multiple occasions.

Nowadays, Seattle’s hip-hop scene is so diverse and deep that even Sub Pop Records—the label that brought the world Nirvana, the Shins, and Band of Horses, among others—is getting in on the act, signing two Seattle hip-hop acts, Shabazz Palaces and THEESatisfaction, in the past year. Sub Pop’s Megan Jasper, who brought both acts to the label, says that despite Sub Pop’s lack of hip-hop history, the groups seemed like a natural fit. “People are talking about the music less in terms of it being a genre, and more in terms of it just being music,” she says. And after working at Sub Pop during the grunge explosion, Jasper sees some similarities between that era of Northwest rock and this era of Seattle hip-hop, with Macklemore at the helm. “What he is going to end up doing is paving the road for so many other artists.”

“Seattle hip-hop has found itself,” says Sir Mix-A-Lot. “You don’t have guys trying to be New York. You don’t have guys trying to be L.A. or the Dirty South. They’re comfortable being Seattle. I like that.” —CJ


SEE IT: Macklemore and Ryan Lewis play the Roseland Theater on Friday, Sept. 9 as part of MusicfestNW. 10 pm. $16 (or MFNW wristband). All ages.

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