Macklemore & Ryan Lewis may be working separately for the time being — Macklemore’s solo album, Gemini, just came out, and Lewis is busying himself with production projects (he produced/co-wrote Kesha’s comeback single, “Praying”) and his own music — but the two are still best buddies, as evidenced by their adorable rapport while record shopping at Denver’s Wax Trax store.
It’s a bond they’ve shared since meeting on Myspace in 2006, after which Lewis became the rapper’s photographer and, later, his artistic partner. “We had nothing in common at that time,” admits Macklemore (real name: Ben Haggerty) with a laugh. “Ryan was like, ‘You like Jedi Mind Tricks? Oh, you’re not really that familiar? Well, we don’t have anything to talk about, then.’”
But the two ended up in each other’s top eight friends — and they still are, in real life.
“It was all so very dramatic, like, are you the first top friend or the second top friend? There was a hierarchy!” Lewis chuckles, remembering Myspace’s post-Friendster, pre-Facebook heyday. “And you would bump around, too. You’d wake up one day, you’d think you were friends with Jonathan, and then you dropped from No. 5 to No. 7. It was like everyone had their own little Billboard charts of friends, and you didn’t know where you were going to end up.”
Lewis gets even more nostalgic thinking about the mid-aughts, when music was taking over the internet like never before. “When we first started making music, you’re talking about, like, the pinnacle peak of mixtapes really emerging and becoming a thing. The emergence of blog reviews. So a whole shift, you know? And the beginnings of a lot of different people’s careers, like Wiz Khalifa coming out with a mixtape.
“I actually think we’re almost to the time that Myspace can now make a comeback. … Nobody has replaced what the Myspace music player really was. They truly put the music player side by side with social media in a way that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, nobody else ever did. And for artists in particular, that was your real good gauge of where somebody was at in their career.”
So, are Lewis and Macklemore’s personal legacy Myspace pages still up and running? “God, I hope not,” groans Lewis.
Get even more nostalgic with the longtime friends and fellow music obsessives, as they go from digital to analog and dig through Wax Trax’s vinyl crates — reminiscing about Kanye West, Digital Underground, Queen, Master P, and more.
Kanye West, The College Dropout
Macklemore: This is a great album. I love this album. … This was an imperative album to hip-hop.
Lewis: What’s your favorite song on the album?
Macklemore: It might be “Jesus Walks.”
Lewis: It’s gotta be “Jesus Walks”!
Macklemore: Yeah, my favorite would be “Jesus Walks.” I really like “Get ’Em High.” “Family Business” was great. Although I was hip to Kanye before this came out, and he had a demo of “Family Business” that I had probably a year before. And then he rerecorded it and put it in on this.
Lewis: And you like the first one much better, right?
Macklemore: Yes, I liked the messed-up recording.
Lewis: That’s usually how it is.
Macklemore: This is a great album. It changed hip-hop. … I will say that up until this point, you have a 50 Cent, dominant gangster rap [style]. And then Kanye came out and he was this, like, liberal arts dude who was an artist, who wasn’t from the street, didn’t really rap about it, came out being vulnerable, talking about insecurities, talking about his shortcomings, putting that on a record and really opening up an emotional side of rap that hadn’t been there before. Like, it’s OK to be myself. It’s OK to talk about what I am and what I’m not, and I don’t need to have this persona in order to, for one, make successful music, and two, make good music that resonates with hip-hop.
Digital Underground, Sex Packets
Macklemore: This is the rap music that I fell in love with at the tender age of 7 years old. I got Sex Packets. My friend’s mom was very lenient in terms of any sort of rules. He got Sex Packets, and then I got to dub the tape. I was 7, and that changed my life. My next-door neighbor was super into rap music. I always think about this: Had it not been for my neighbor being super into rap, like if he was into heavy metal and that was the first thing that I heard at the age of 6 or 7, would I be into death metal?
Lewis: She’s amazing. … She’s a powerful force in the studio, but she’s super-positive. She definitely has a bit of a hippie soul. She’s very fun, super-creative, and she works really, really hard. I’d never worked with her before. Obviously stepping in and meeting somebody brand-new with a really kind of intense emotional record — as opposed to, like, “Hey, nice to meet you, let’s make like a dance song!” — you kind of have to grow a relationship with somebody quickly to do it. Most people don’t have to have their big seasons of challenge on such public display.
Macklemore: I would echo everything Ryan said about Kesha. She was in Seattle, working with Ryan on some other records, and we got in the studio for a day, an evening [for a track on Macklemore’s Gemini album, “Good Old Days“]. She was late — which I’m still resentful about! [Laughs] But she showed up with a great spirit, just completely open. … And just a great person. I love her. I think she’s a great friend now, and it’s been great to see “Praying” take off and her album go to No. 1. You know, I’m rooting for her.
Macklemore: I really love this album. There’s so many cuts off here. Such a great balance of André, Big Boi, singing, rapping, features … it’s the perfect amount of all of it. The production, Organized Noize — classic. What a duo. They are iconic. I mean, to come out with “Bombs Over Baghdad” [“B.O.B.”] as their first single, when they had “Ms. Jackson” too? They had “Ms. Jackson” ready to go for radio, so to come out with “Bombs Over Baghdad” as their first single, with that video, was so forward-thinking. Like, you talk about Kanye always reinventing himself — Outkast always reinvented themselves. They always pushed the envelope of what was going to be the new sound. I mean, some stuff, like, took years for hip-hop to catch up to.
Kanye West, My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy
Lewis: I love this album. This is my favorite Kanye album — and I like all the Kanye albums. But like, “All of the Lights” features like 35 people, including Elton John, Fergie, Kid Cudi — and don’t forget his cousin Tony! That record is crazy for me, the production that I love. That record hit a certain bar of epic-ness. But you also have “Power,” whole different feel to it. You also have “Runaway.” You also have him basically breaking Nicki Minaj and her having the best verse over any dude in the album. One of the best verses probably of that year [on “Monster”]. … And then you also open up the album with Nicki Minaj speaking in a British accent, which is pretty hard too. I just love this album.
Macklemore: This is his most critically acclaimed album.
Lewis: The College Dropout, I would say, is the MC side of Kanye. Simultaneously, this dude is coming out and innovating the sound of hip-hop. And his original sound is, you know, everybody knows, is speeding up slow samples and having chipmunk vocals and this whole vibe that I don’t think anyone had quite done. And that was his first move. And this is what makes Kanye such an innovator in hip-hop, is that he wasn’t gonna do that forever. He was gonna figure out how to do that again and do that again. And you have Graduation flowing to this, flowing to 808, flowing to Yeezus — constantly trying to innovate and being dissatisfied with doing the same thing.
Master P, Ghetto D
Lewis: No Limit Records’ art was the most innovative album art! Not just their records, but their jewel cases that were straight thick orange or blue. That’s how you knew Snoop Dogg switched camps, because he comes out with a solid blue album. That was a big deal when he went over to No Limit, briefly. It was a whole different jewel case. It’s almost like they invented it. … but the use of diamonds and sparkles on albums? And pixelated JPEGs and drop shadows?
Macklemore: It was fire.
Lewis: Fire! But let me go back to what changed my life. So my introduction into hip-hop was very much, you know, Jay-Z, Eminem, DMX. But then when I got the Master P Ghetto D classic album, I fell in love with No Limit Records. Silkk the Shocker, C-Murder, Mercedes. Like, what I appreciate about that album, and about Master P in general, is that he seems like a real one-take Timmy. The dubs were never really lined up with the vocals.
Macklemore: Particularly with Silkk.
Lewis: Right. I mean, the No Limit camp, they came in tough, really doing ad-libs and dubbing all their vocals, but they were never always on, so it always had this loose feel, like, you feel like you’re just in a basement with people…
Macklemore: And the homies are drunk, right?
Lewis: It was purposely rough around the edges, and things are a little off-beat, but it doesn’t matter.
Queen, News of the World
Lewis: It’s very hard to not notice “We Will Rock You” and “We Are the Champions.” Queen usually have one life-changing worldwide banger on every album, but this particular album has two. I feel like Queen were the early masters of the “We” record. The records that you put on in arenas. The records that you put on when you’re going into a challenge. The records that inspire you. They make you feel larger-than-life, godly. I think Freddie Mercury was a genius. I think he had an unbelievable ability to bring people together through music. I think he had an unbelievable ability to go from one space in a song and then take you to a completely different space and then go back. Incredible performer. Queen has always been one of my main inspirations, especially when I’m trying to make anything big. They just knew how to do it.
Foxy Shazam, The Church of Rock and Roll
Lewis: The Foxy Shazam music videos are incredible. And [frontman] Eric Nally [who sang on Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s track “Downtown”] not only has the sound, but he just is it. Backstage he’s the gentlest, kindest, most tranquil human being, but then he gets onstage and he’s f***ing crazy. And he’s also super-inventive, like what he’s able to do with his body. His knees get bloody. He takes the pain for the people. Which is how you can compare him to a Freddie Mercury. They both go all-in. They’re committed. It’s just in their blood. It was amazing to work with him on “Downtown.”
John Williams, Star Wars score
Lewis: To me, John Williams is the Kanye of film. You’re talking about a guy that wrote the themes to Jaws, Indiana Jones, E.T., Harry Potter, Star Wars. I can keep going. John Williams wrote this soundtrack to Star Wars when Star Wars was not expected to be a massive production. It had a finite budget. A lot of people thought it would fail. And John Williams, who works nine to five, goes home at 5 o’clock, wrote this in 30 days. And forever he remains an inspiration to me because of what he does. I think he’s one of the greatest top-liners. He’s made some of the catchiest melodies that do not have words, but we can all hum it. … And we just don’t really do that in film anymore.
John Coltrane, Crescent
Macklemore: My [favorite song] would be “Wise One” by John Coltrane. I’ve been asked the question of what is my favorite song too many times, where I had to come up with something. It is John Coltrane, “Wise One.” Final answer. Soundtrack to my life.
Kendrick Lamar, To Pimp a Butterfly
Macklemore: Very conceptual album. Very conceptual. Listening to this from front to back with the skits, it’s a movie.
Lewis: It’s like an intense movie.
Macklemore: And one that you should listen to all the way through.
Lewis: All the way through. Meant to be a singular piece.
Macklemore: I remember when we listened to this, it was just like, “F***, Kendrick did that?”
J Dilla, Donuts
Macklemore: J Dilla. One of the greatest producers of all time, in any genre. He is Detroit. He is the standard Detroit. He has potentially the best drums and was the most influential in drum programming in the history of hip-hop.
Jay-Z, The Black Album
Lewis: This, to me, is one of the best hip-hop albums of all time. There’s not a bad song on this album.
Macklemore: I would disagree with that, but yes. It’s very good. “Justify My Thug” is a skipper.
Lewis: You could be right, but bro, what more can I say? “Encore,” “Change Clothes,” “Dirt Off Your Shoulder,” “Moment of Clarity,” “99 Problems,” “Lucifer”? And “My 1st Song,” which is in 3/4! This is a classic. What I also appreciate about this album is that he put out the a cappellas, which allowed all his producers to have moments. Like Danger Mouse made The Grey Album, which was the Beatles and The Black Album vocals. And it was phenomenal.