Macklemore: "Same Love" and a surprise at the TLA

Ben Haggerty (a.k.a. Macklemore, right) and his partner Ryan Lewis: Tackling hip-hop's issues.
Ben Haggerty (a.k.a. Macklemore, right) and his partner Ryan Lewis: Tackling hip-hop's issues.
Posted: November 16, 2012

Though modern rap may claim lyricists more compelling or technically gifted than Ben Haggerty, few emcees can boast such a precise feel for the pulse of a generation.

Facing a sold-out room at the Theatre of Living Arts on Wednesday, the Seattle rapper - who goes by the stage name Macklemore - delivered a set charged by the cares and concerns of the primarily college-aged crowd before him. Backed by the diverse beats of producer and creative partner Ryan Lewis, Haggerty began the night with "Ten Thousand Hours," a song-length exposition of Malcolm Gladwell's increasingly influential aphorism about how long it takes to succeed at something.

The equally inspirational banger "Can't Hold Us" ignited the floor with a quick opening stab at Internet addiction. The sax-looping YouTube smash "Thrift Shop" redefined good fashion sense for the recession-minded, offering an infectious alternative to the luxury brands incessantly endorsed in song by superstars like Kanye West and Rick Ross. Most movingly, the gay marriage paean "Same Love," which made the Billboard charts this year, welcomed lesbian singer-songwriter Mary Lambert to the stage, who added some heartfelt melody to Haggerty's most sensitive verses of the evening.

While helping to dismantle hip-hop's longstanding issues with homophobia and materialism proved to be Haggerty and Lewis' noblest feat of the night, it still wasn't their most impressive. That came during the encore, when Haggerty indulged in a bizarre bit of fan fiction to recast himself as Raven Bowie, the wig-wearing, accent-affecting love child of Samuel L. Jackson and Lady Gaga, of all people.

"And We Danced" ensued, a cheeky Euro-pop put-on that would alienate most hip-hop heads but in Haggerty's hands was a raucous fan favorite. Doffing his blond extensions, the rapper concluded with "Irish Celebration," a tribute to the land of his heritage - which saw the crowd just as implausibly chanting the colors of the flag of the Irish Republic as though they were America's.

The most exciting facet of Haggerty's show, then, was the visceral way he demonstrates that he's built an audience willing to follow him most anywhere. Working within a genre that enforced a pretty strict dress code not too long ago, he's switching things up one waist-length wig, pink triangle, and secondhand steal at a time.

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