Every teacher wants one of their kids, their special students to make a big splash in their chosen field, make it big and rule the world. Senator, successful businessperson, supreme court justice, civil rights leader. Or rock star. We all want to look back and say “I remember when . . .”
Well I’ve done that . . . sort of. My big connection is to Macklemore, Seattle’s own phenomenally popular rap artist. From 1992-1997. I was the 7th and 8th grade social studies teacher at TOPS (The Option Program at Seward) in the Seattle School District. For two of those years Ben Haggerty was my student. Ben is Macklemore’s alter ego.
A couple of quick disclaimers. We were not close. I have no vivid memories of Ben as a student. That’s probably good, because his student cohort was not easy, and I owe a number of my gray hairs to them. What I do remember is that the musical interests of his class represented a shift away from the decaying Seattle grunge movement toward rap music. It was a time when the city was alive with baseball. The M’s had their magical Cinderella year of success in ’95 and were competitive in the years that followed. I remember Ben was a fan. The world was different, we all bled Mariners blue.
My second disclaimer is that I am not a rap aficionado. What I know about the genre would fit on the head of a very small pin. This is very much an outsider’s look at what I believe to be a remarkable record. I don’t pretend to be what I am not, a rap critic.
But I am a music lover, and this album has a lot to recommend it. The depth of musical instrumentation and guest performers seem to make “The Heist” more accessible to a larger audience than traditional rap. It seems more melodic, and easier to listen to for grumpy old guys like me, and Macklemore and Ryan Lewis should be congratulated.
The Heist is so much more fun than much rap that I’ve heard. “Can’t Hold Us” is so infectious, it’s hard not to be caught up in the excitement. It’s fast and fun, caught up in a success that seems to be without horizon. Combining the speedy rap with Ryan Lewis’ exultant melody creates an exuberance that’s pretty hard to match. Though I tried really hard to dislike the expletive-laced Thrift Shop, it’s pretty hard not to get sucked into the fun and funny lyrics. The Wanz vocals lend some depth to the lyrics. The video is hilarious
I am not only impressed but truly enjoyed by the depth of character and self reflection in many of the songs. This is not an album about gold, bitches and ho’s, though they make their way into the album. As much as anything Macklemore tells the story of his painful road to success. “Ten Thousand” offers a moment of reflection of the road traveled. “Starting Over” shares the rapper’s constant battle with sobriety, while trying to seem a role model on the other hand. An amazing song. Perhaps the most important song on the album is “Same Love.” Macklemore rejects the explanations and and excuses, and embraces same sex marriage, on a par with traditional mixed gender partnerships. It is courageous and unequivocal.
No freedom ’til we’re equal, damn right I support it.
If his career ended tomorrow Macklemore and his fans could point to this song and be proud.
If Seattle basks in the glow of it’s native son’s success, Macklemore clearly acknowledges his home town roots. “Cowboy Boots” reveals the difficult nights performing at a Capitol Hill bar. References to Seattle dot his many of his songs. But for a died-in-the-wool Mariners fan, it is difficult to listen to “My Oh My” without longing and lamentation for days lost and the hope for better days ahead. Macklemore’s recollection of 1995, the use of the sainted Dave Niehaus’ famous call of Junior coming around third behind Joey Cora to win the 1995 ALDS is sheer heart attack, that closes in a prayer for his Seattle home that is difficult to listen to with dry eyes..
From my old guy pedestal, I confess that some of the features that put me off about the genre, plenty of the gratuitous “muthafucka’s” together with bitches and ho’s are present for good measure. Half the 18 songs have explicit lyric warnings. It’s almost as though they are necessary to capture the rap audience. But there is so much more of such great quality to hear. Musically, lyrically The Heist seems such a departure from the rap I’ve heard.
I’ve told my Macklemore story to my advisory. They are high school juniors, and for the longest time they were more impressed by it than I was. But then I saw Ben making himself available at Seattle sports events. And then I listened to this record. I’m proud to have had a connection to him, no matter how slight.