It started with a video. While watching ‘Wings’ by Macklemore and one must wonder how it was possible that this dude had managed to visually and lyrically capture what throngs of misguided youth had been thinking/feeling about Phil Knight and Nike for so many years. It had the rich, deliberate and unconventional artistic visuals that you come to expect from independent movies, not hip-hop cuts. The “Otherside” video, describing Macklemore’s battle with drug addiction, was even more captivating and artsy. Now, countless across America are fans of the suburban kid from Seattle with the post modern haircut and the poetry slang.
On November 22nd, Macklemore enticed San Diego, California with a pre-Thanksgiving concert at The Epicentre. This is one stop on Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ Fall Tour and a hot ticket in the subterranean hip-hop scene. Macklemore was side-kicked by the infectious sound man, Ryan Lewis who supplies the audio backdrop for all of Macklemore’s tracks these days. This concert series marks the first tour of this caliber by the emcee and producer collabo, but is a definite sign of even bigger things to come.
The venue was small. Mack mentioned that it was the “hottest” venue he had ever been in. He made good use of the humid space. If you can tag your name in the sweat on the windows, you know it is going to be a cozy evening. But who cares if the music is ill and the energy is electric?
The opening acts were Xperience and Champagne Champagne. Xperience seemed settled with the lean of an emcee that has seen and wrecked multiple mics over the years. He brought a solid package of songs that ranged in topics from love jonesin’ to raw braggadocio. He did a decent job inviting the crowd into experience his music. Champagne Champagne, on the other hand, was all energy from the time they hit the stage to the time one of the two front men climbed out of the rafters – a crazy duo of black dudes from Seattle that mesh upbeat rhymes with a little tom foolery and rock and a lot of enthusiasm. During the last couple of tracks, the lead singer climbed the rafters, leapt off and then jumped into the audience… not to be seen again. The energy was respectable and the music was non-conforming. Hip-hop is a beautiful, mosh pit these days.
Macklemore did something with his set that can be lacking in most of hip hop’s live shows…he told the story. He communicated with the whimsy of a storyteller who is opening a picture book. The self-proclaimed “Eighties Baby” started out adorned in a Bowie jacket, stone washed up and ready to rock. We remember that jacket. “I Said Hey” blasted from the speakers and Macklemore held the audience’s hand and took them down the street that built the emcee on the stage – the same street that had kids dubbing radio songs onto cassette tapes instead of buying singles. Macklemore suggested that the audience put their hands up, and that, if they live for hip-hop, to never put their hands down. Their hands stayed raised for nearly two hours. Somewhere in La Jolla there is a kid who probably still has his raised toward the cosmos.
When “Otherside” started, the live instruments came in like a haunting symphony of truth serum. This song describes Mack’s battle with the syrup (also known as lean). This was said to be the same doctor prescribed cough syrup concoction that killed UGK’s Pimp C earlier this year. Macklemore explains how he wanted to be like Lil Wayne (his self proclaimed favorite rapper) and how he even took on some of his same addictive habits in the name of perusing Wayne’s bravado.
In the next moment the audience was transplanted to the MLB Division Playoffs in 1995 and Macklemore began narrating the exposition. The Seattle Mariners, armed with superstar Ken Griffey Jr., were on their way to the AL Championship and the audience was on their way to questioning why all music wasn’t like what they were hearing at that moment. One could ask more specifically, “why isn’t all music moving, thematic and raw to the heart?” This song speaks to all the kids who miss that Ken Griffey rookie card and remember how awesome that teal and grey was. When did hip-hop stop making personal anthems and start making one-dimensional songs? “My Oh My” was the song, but the feeling was more – it was childhood memories and dreams, and the things that are bigger than individuals… it was hip hop. That night everyone became a fan of childhood and baseball and his or her own hometown all over again.
“You feel the energy it’s effected them”
After that, the night kicked up; there were some pelvic thrusts and back-up dancers and the crowd of nineties children going ape. It was more live than Kanye’s stadium status ideology and had elements of the “Stankonia” days of Outkast. Meanwhile, Mack is talking about MJ and Hammer Pants and dancing in the living room. We’ve ALL done that (or something just as silly and real).
Malcolm Gladwell is the man that asserted that you need to put 10,000 hours into your craft in order to be great, to be an “outlier”. Macklemore is plugging away, a minute at a time. The emcee went hard in the second half, sweating and rhyming and connecting and repeating the process.
Mack and crew brought back XP to sing for “Keep Your Head Up.”
During the aforementioned “Wings” track people were taking off their shoes like it was “My Adidas” at a RUN DMC concert. Everyone knew all the words and I wondered if Phil Knight ever imagined, in his 1970’s Oregon University dorm room, the impact the swoosh would have years later in 2011.
On the next song he pulled a CC and went up into the rafters.
Insert frantic song about Ireland. Macklemore galloped across the stage waving a bigger than Dublin Irish flag.
Then there was a West Coast song (Yes, Seattle is considered the West).
Next, was a moment of San Diego research, in which Macklemore spouted Wikipedia facts about “America’s Finest City”. What did he uncover as the most poignant fact?
“SD throws the best dance parties!”
“And We Danced” came on and everyone on the stage was in eighties, hair band wigs and Macklemore had morphed into his British alter ego ala Ziggy Stardust. Mack was rocking a one piece, something or other and the audience pondered if there is anything that this guy won’t do. Mack was hitting his choreography and everything.
It started with a video. It’s been fueled by a concert that reminded the audience why we like music and personal expression. There is an uncanny way that Macklemore connects to a generation of suburban, college kids and reminds us that they need a voice also. Kids growing up in the ’burbs’ liked Eminem because his skin matched theirs and his angst matched their angst. Macklemore is becoming a mouthpiece for the kids that didn’t grow up in Compton and or on 8-Mile. These kids have been bumping hip-hop since they were young also and the love they have is as genuine as any other music fans. Yet Mack’s lyrics and production are on point enough for any hip-hop aficionado despite the socio-economic background of the artist or the listener.
Where it goes from here is as unlimited as Macklemore and Ryan Lewis’ imaginations. Check out the “Fall Tour” which is going on now at a venue near you. In the meanwhile, rock those J’s, listen to those tapes, and celebrate the culture that has helped to make us free. Thank you Macklemore, for being the emcee that we never knew we needed.
Antonio “PAZ1” Appling