Seattle hip-hop artist Macklemore is known for his activism – and it isn’t just his music that tackles social problems.
Macklemore, who will perform tonight in Olympia with DJ/producer Ryan Lewis, works with a mentorship program for students who skip school at Cleveland High School in Seattle.
“If you’re going to try to write a song about any kind of social issue, it’s important to get actively involved,” said Macklemore, whose given name is Ben Haggerty. “It’s living it, and living it takes time and a lot of energy. That doesn’t happen overnight; that doesn’t happen in a week or two.”
Macklemore worked with incarcerated youth while a student at The Evergreen State College, from which he graduated in 2005. He was working on his first album, “The Language of My World,” at the time.
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He used music in his work with young men at the medium- to maximum-security Green Hill School in Chehalis. “I would bring in beats and facilitate writing workshops,” he said. “We recorded some songs. We put on kind of a talent show. I helped them find a creative outlet while incarcerated.”
He learned about the importance of giving his time from his mother. “My mother was a big advocate of volunteering and still does volunteer. She was always involved in Seattle public schools.”
The work he’s done with youth is reflected in his songwriting, as are the 29-year-old’s own struggles with addiction and growing fame. “Overall in terms of social issues, one thing that I am touching on is our society and how it treats our youth,” he said.
He touches on that in the lyrics to “Make the Money,” a single released last month: “See life’s a beautiful struggle, I record it/Hope it helps you maneuvering through yours.”
He and Lewis are aiming to have an album out in the spring and will be performing a few tracks from it tonight.
“It’s in the same vein as my music has been, which is trying to be as honest and genuine to who I am as a person as possible,” he said. “I always push myself in terms of content to try to challenge myself and the listener.”
Many listeners are welcoming the challenge, and Macklemore has been playing larger venues.
“In a small room, it’s easy to really make eye contact to engage a crowd,” he said. “When it’s such a massive show it’s tough to take it all in, it’s more challenging to really be present.
“As the crowds get bigger, you get used to it,” he added. “You find the intimacy of that. I’m much more comfortable in front of a 1,000- to 2,000-person crowd than I ever have been.”
As his career began to bloom, he said, he went through a time where he wasn’t doing volunteer work. But as he wrote in “Make the Money,” he has realized that his work includes both: “I was meant to be a warrior/Fight something amongst me, leave here victorious/Classroom of kids, or a venue performing.”
“Over time, I just realized that in terms of being truly fulfilled, service needs to be a part of that,” he said. “Success can come and you can make more money, but if you’re not giving back and being a part of something that’s outside of you, there’s something missing.”