Macklemore was born on June 19, 1983, in Seattle, Washington. Taking to hip-hop as a kid, he eventually released solo work before succumbing to drug abuse and entering rehab in 2008. He then teamed up with producer Ryan Lewis, and the two went on to have huge success with their debut album, The Heist, and the singles “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us,” with millions of copies sold. In 2014, the duo won four Grammys, including the prize for Best New Artist, and released their sophomore effort This Unruly Mess I’ve Made two years later.
Background and Early Career
The rapper known as Macklemore was born Ben Haggerty on June 19, 1983, in Seattle, Washington, growing up in the Capitol Hill area. His mother was a social worker who encouraged her son to be supportive of difference. He took to performing as a child, and was influenced by the likes of hip-hop groups Kris Kross and Digital Underground as well as pop superstar Michael Jackson.
He eventually attended Garfield High School, the alma mater of musical luminaries like Quincy Jones and Jimi Hendrix. It was at Garfield where Haggerty started to use liquor and drugs heavily, though his parents tried to end the habit by moving him to another school and into a college-credit program.
Drug Abuse and Rehab
With the young rapper increasingly entering the spotlight, he was consumed by the allure of sex and a variety of drugs, spiraling downward from the abuse. At his father’s behest, Macklemore entered a 35-day rehab program in the summer of 2008.
Teaming With Ryan Lewis
Right before he took steps to become sober, Macklemore had met teenage DJ and producer Ryan Lewis. The two teamed up and in 2010 released the Vs. Redux EP. Rather than go the traditional record-label route, the duo opted instead to work on their full-length debut independently, relying on their own business savvy, hard work, word of mouth and online buzz. They released the album The Heist in October 2012.
Major Hits: ‘Thrift Shop’ and ‘Can’t Hold Us’
The album’s lead single, “Thrift Shop,” eventually reached the top of the BillboardHot 100 chart, with eventual sales of more than 6 million downloads. The video for “Thrift Shop” has become a phenomenon as well, receiving tens of millions of YouTube views. The duo’s second single, “Can’t Hold Us,” reached No. 1 on the Hot 100 chart as well, making Macklemore & Ryan Lewis the first duo in music history to have their first two singles reach the top of the pop charts.
Part of the pair’s appeal is their innovation and reliance on ideas and lyrics that go against much of hip-hop’s traditional swagger. “Thrift Shop” talks of a penchant for secondhand clothes, with a chorus sung by Wanz (a onetime software engineer in his fifties), while the Heist song “Same Love” features singer-songwriter Mary Lambert in a celebration of same-sex unions.
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis embarked on a full-fledged international tour in 2013. The next year the duo won four Grammys, including several awards in the hip-hop category and the prize for Best New Artist. As seen via his Instagram account, Macklemore later sent an apologetic text to fellow rapper Kendrick Lamar stating he felt Lamar should have won the Grammy for Best Rap Album.
The hip-hop duo released their second album, This Unruly Mess I’ve Made, in 2016, preceded by Top 20 lead single “Downtown.”