In the midst of one of his recent sold-out shows in the Theater at Madison Square Garden, Ben Haggerty—better known as one half of the superstar duo Macklemore & Ryan Lewis—told the crowd a story.
That very morning, he said, he stripped naked and jumped into the frigid waters of the Hudson River. But after rubbing his eyes and looking back to the shore, he noticed a pair of thieves running away with his clothing. He swam back to the shore, at which point an old lady invited him to hop on her back. When he reminded her that he was completely naked, she told him not to worry: she was going to take him to the thrift shop.
With the punchline of his likely-apocryphal tale delivered, Macklemore launched into his smash hit of the same name, and the crowd lost its collective mind. Indeed, the song “Thrift Shop (feat. Wanz)” was one of the biggest sleeper hits of the decade, earning certification for 7 million downloads sold in the United States. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s (sort of) independently-released album The Heist has sold over 1 million copies, earning the duo seven Grammy nominations, second to only Jay Z’s nine.
Macklemore’s unlikely success is all the more remarkable given the unique set of business-related paradoxes presented by the subject matter of his album. First and foremost, it’s deeply ironic that someone could turn a song about buying clothes at the Goodwill into a multiplatinum hit—and enough album sales to earn Macklemore & Ryan about $9 million in a year, along with a spot on this year’sHip-Hop Cash Kings list.
More unusual is the fact that they were able to lift “Same Love,” a song about marriage equality, to the top of the charts. Doubly incredible is the fact that Macklemore & Ryan Lewis hail from hip-hop, a genre not exactly known for championing gay rights. (Less surprising is the fact that two white guys could put out a rap album adored by the mainstream–hip-hop is now just as much a part of pop music as any genre).
But two of the most paradoxical components of the success of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’s album are the comparatively lesser-known songs “Wing$” and “Jimmy Iovine.” The former is a deliciously subversive anti-ode to Nike sneakers, a shot at one of the most hallowed brands in hip-hop lore.
Indeed, a search on Rap Genius yields 1,869 song results for “Nike,” including tracks like Mac Miller’s “Nikes On My Feet” and Wale’s “Nike Boots.” In sharp contrast those rappers—and to Kanye West, who designed the Nike Air Yeezy line—Macklemore takes aim at Nike. He laments the notion of paying $100 for footwear and insists that “Phil Knight tricked us all,” closing his song by noting that, at the end of the day, even Nikes are “just another pair of shoes.”
Bashing potential tour sponsors (and their billionaire founders) is about as common to pop music as knocking Nikes is to hip-hop. Yet “Wing$” has been a hit, with its YouTube video racking up 1.6 million views to date.
“Jimmy Iovine” takes an even more aggressive stance on a lesser known but arguably more powerful icon of the music business: the head of Interscope Records. Iovine is largely responsible for launching the careers of artists from Eminem to Lady Gaga; along with Dr. Dre he cofounded Beats By Dr. Dre, which helped him accumulate a net worth of $400 million by FORBES’ last count.
That doesn’t seem to phase Macklemore in “Jimmy Iovine,” a fictional account of the rapper attempting to get a record deal from the executive by any means necessary. The setup: Macklemore sneaks into the Interscope offices dressed as a painter, takes an A&R guy hostage, finds Iovine and demands a contract. The Beats cofounder offers him one of the industry’s infamous 360 deals, andexplains how it works:
We’re a team, 360 degrees, we will reach your goals!
We’ll get a third of the merch that you sell out on the road
Along with a third of the money you make when you’re out doing your shows
Manager gets twenty, booking agent gets ten
So shit, after taxes, you and Ryan have 7% to split!”
Macklemore responds by saying he appreciates the offer, but that he’d “rather be a starving artist than succeed at getting f**ked.”
Granted, those numbers represent unusually unfavorable splits for an artist, but they underscore just how many hands there are in any mainstream musician’s pot—and how the amount an artist earns on paper and the amount he or she actually keeps can be quite different.
So how in the world did Macklemore’s The Heist—with some tracks covering taboo topics and others trashing the industry’s biggest brands and power players—end up at the top of both the Grammy voters’ list and the Billboardcharts? One answer: everybody loves a good paradox, even Jimmy Iovine.
“We heard Jimmy Iovine wants to be in the video, which would be incredible,” Macklemore told Fuse TV last year. “Ellen [DeGeneres] actually played the song for Jimmy Iovine. Then Ellen called me and said, ‘Jimmy loves the song, he thinks it’s genius and he wants to be in the music video.”
So far, that plan hasn’t come to fruition. But given the unlikely rise of Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, it would seem unwise to rule out anything.
Source: Forbes Magazine