This moment — this one right here, as you hold that newspaper or mouse in your hand — is Macklemore's moment.
It's undeniable. When the Seattle rapper, along with his DJ Ryan Lewis, comes to Bend tonight to play a sold-out show (see “If you go"), he'll arrive:
• 10 days removed from the independent release of his album “The Heist"
• nine days from seeing said album reach No. 1 on iTunes, and
• two days from learning that the album debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album-sales chart with around 78,000 copies sold, right behind Mumford & Sons and ahead of Barbra Streisand and KISS.
(Real quick: Rewind the tape, note the word “independent" in that first bullet point, and understand that “The Heist" reached those heights without the same kind of record-label promotional push afforded every other artist mentioned. Then know that that's an amazing achievement.)
More importantly, perhaps, in 2012, tonight's show is the eighth stop on a national tour that will take Macklemore (real name: Ben Haggerty) and Lewis to nearly 50 cities between now and Christmas.
As of Wednesday, all but three of those dates were already sold out, well in advance.
Haggerty's current, seemingly boundless momentum is fueled by passion: the passion that permeates his songs, and the passion of the people who adore his music. His is a digital grassroots success story, one in which naked honesty and a natural rapport with his fans equals 300,000 “likes" on Facebook and 26 million views on YouTube.
Which all adds up to this moment.
“The Heist" is a good record, but it's far from perfect. Across its 15 tracks, Lewis' beats are reliably chunky, melodic and refreshing, an easily accessible new-school version of old-school boom-bap.
As for Haggerty, he makes no effort to distance himself from his critics' most frequent complaints: that his music is too earnest, overly preachy, borderline pretentious; that he conflates swollen string sections and a Very Serious Rapping Voice with authenticity and sincerity; that he is, to invoke one of hip-hop's most cutting invectives, corny.
But one man's criticism is another's connection, and this is why Macklemore's fans love him: Because he is real to them. He's a personality, but it's a personality they recognize, and the things he talks about — alcoholism, materialism, white guilt, thrift-store bargains — ring truer to the plugged-in suburban kids that comprise his fan base than the crossfire street-rap of, say, Waka Flocka Flame or Chief Keef.
In his recent review of “The Heist," music critic Robert Christgau questioned whether Macklemore is “a cornball" because he's dumb or because he's brave. I suspect the answer is neither. He's a cornball because he's just being himself, and it turns out being himself is a pretty savvy career move.
There is one song on “The Heist" that transcends this discussion. It is sincere but not corny, and it may be earnest, but in this case that's a good thing. The subject calls for such a treatment.
The song is called “Same Love," and it is an unequivocal call for marriage equality in general, and, specifically, the legalization of same-sex marriage, which is on the ballot in Macklemore's home state this fall. It was released as a single in July in partnership with Washington's Music For Marriage Equality campaign and Sub Pop Records.
In it, Haggerty tackles the topic head on, ignoring a long-held taboo in hip-hop. He lays out his own stereotypes about homosexuality, decries the casual use of “gay" as a synonym for “bad" in our culture, calls out his own genre for looking the other way and, along the way, weaves in commentary on politics and religion. Seattle vocalist Mary Lambert ably sings the beautiful hook: “I can't change/ Even if I wanted to," which is lifted from one of Lambert's own songs.
Haggerty closes his third verse this way:
“I might not be the same
But that's not important
No freedom till we're equal
Damn right I support it."
Whether or not you or I agree with Macklemore is not the point here, by the way. The point is to acknowledge the guy's forever-place in a watershed summer for the heretofore odd couple of hip-hop and homosexuality.
Over the past several months, we've seen rising R&B star Frank Ocean release an album containing love songs filled with male pronouns (preceded by Ocean's preemptive announcement that his first love was a man), as well as rap superstars Jay-Z and T.I. echo President Barack Obama's support for same-sex marriage.
Macklemore is the least-known of those names, but “Same Love" is the strongest, most overt statement of the bunch (besides the president's, of course), and it is without question the best song on arguably the hottest album in America right now. With its release, Haggerty has staked his name to hip-hop history, no matter where his career goes from here.