Matson on Music
Macklemore is back with a little help from his friends
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Photo by Steve Ringman / Seattle Times
On a crisp Seattle night on Capitol Hill, local independent rapper Macklemore and his producer Ryan Lewis pick me up in Macklemore's 2008 Cadillac DTS Biarritz, to preview their new album "The Heist."
The tires are hip-hop classics, namechecked in many a rap song: whitewalls by the brand Vogue. Gliding eastward with no real destination, Macklemore, king of obviousness, blasts "White Walls," an anthem about this exact car and these specific tires.
Such literalness is one reason Macklemore is the most popular rapper in Seattle. People understand him. He and Lewis sold all 7,500 seats at WaMu Theater this Friday — an insanely big room for local hip-hop. "The Heist" is streaming here.
"White Walls" is the best song on the album — zippy, dark, anthemic. But the heaviest moment in our ride comes after "Starting Over," featuring Ben Bridwell from Band of Horses. The song is about Macklemore relapsing on prescription cough syrup.
"It's a weird thing to get home from tour when you're used to being in front of so many people," he says. "I hadn't been going to meetings. I felt weird in my head. And I had a cough. And I rationalized it."
At this point we are on Lake Washington Boulevard next to the water. Streetlights are few and far between. Lewis and I are silent.
"I went to the doctor and got a prescription," continues Macklemore. "First night finished half the bottle. Next night finished the rest of it. Didn't admit to myself that I was relapsing. I had a refill, so I waited a couple weeks and got the refill, and drank the whole bottle. I woke up and called some dude I had met in AA. And as I was telling him, a random stranger, it was very apparent to me that I had relapsed."
Three and a half years of sobriety — gone. It was a dark time, he says. And just like he did with "Otherside" from a few years ago, where Macklemore first rapped about his addiction, he made a song about it.
"It was one of those songs like 'Otherside,'" he says. "It just came. It wrote itself."
Compromised sobriety is the album's big surprise, but the main theme is collaborators. Of 15 songs, 11 have guest stars. The most exciting are Schoolboy Q and Ab-Soul, Olympics-level rappers from the Black Hippy group, from Los Angeles.
The full list includes Ray Dalton, Wanz, Buffalo Madonna, Mary Lambert, Allen Stone, The Teaching, Hollis, Evan Roman and Eight4Fly.
As we snake up Leschi past his old high school, Garfield, and back to Capitol Hill — a place Macklemore doesn't really hang out anymore, since it's full of bars and those bars are full of drugs — the abundance of guest stars starts to make sense: Macklemore needs a support group.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis with DEE-1 and Xperience at 8 p.m. Friday at WaMu Theater, 800 Occidental Avenue South; $29.50-35 (no phone; wamutheater.com).