Rap fans have said for a long time that hip-hop’s heart and soul now reside in the music underground, where indie DJs and lyricists erect an audience one fan at a time through devoted touring and a savvy Web presence as opposed to booty girls and gold-toothed bravado.
Seattle rapper Macklemore and his wingman, producer Ryan Lewis, proved it Thursday night during a sold-out show at the Ogden Theater. These guys came to work, and delivered a performance that was thoughtful, funny and raw.
After more than a decade in music, Macklemore is now promoting one of the most talked-about albums of the year, “The Heist.” The October release seems to gain devotees by the hour thanks in no small part to the street smarts and head-snapping production behind the infectious single “Thrift Shop,” a track that’s video has been viewed some 35 million times on YouTube.
Based on this stop in Colorado, which Macklemore called his “hip-hop home away from home… the first place (he) started touring outside of the Pacific Northwest,” the entertainer is wise about borrowing from the masters of his genre. He is at once smooth and charming like Snoop Lion, giving the ladies in the audience a twinkle-eyed shout-out. Then he’s devilish like Biz Markie, telling the crowd about how he donned a disguise and rolled past their sidewalk line on his scooter, “and I judged every single one of you!” He is pensive like Nas, revealing himself on such tracks as “Otherside,” about addiction and recovery, and “Same Love,” about marriage equality. And you know from the way the album title and lyrics were emblazoned across screens at the back of the stage that Macklemore listened when KRS-One talked about the hustle being essential to hip-hop economics.
At ease on stage, this rapper chatted casually with the crowd between songs, an endearing part of any solid live performance that some musicians simply loathe. But it was clear on Thursday, during what was only the latest in a string of sold-out shows, that Macklemore came into his own during years in Seattle’s grassroots music scene. What follows is a 2013 that is shaping up be a big year for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, whose upcoming dates include a headlining slot in February at Winter on the Rocks. Fans can only hope that the guys get enough down time in the new year to produce material that’s equally as exciting as “The Heist.”
Elana Ashanti Jefferson is a longtime music fan.
Ty Hyten is a Denver photographer and a new contributor to Reverb.