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The Heist is Right

Macklemore & Lewis shun hip-hop stereotypes on their new album

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The hip-hop community is renowned for espousing homophobia. Eminem has used the word "fag" in his lyrics, and 50 Cent has said in interviews that he's not "comfortable" around gays. So it's refreshing to hear a hip-hop group like Seattle-based Macklemore and Lewis, who take on the issue of homophobia in "Same Love," a song that sounds a bit like "People Get Ready," albeit with rapped lyrics. "If I was gay, I would think the hip-hop world hates me," raps Macklemore.

The lead single from the duo's new album,

The Heist, the song has received a good deal of attention after the duo performed the track on "Ellen" and received a standing ovation at the end.

"It was amazing to have someone who is massive like that co-sign your song and video," says Lewis via phone from his Seattle home. "It was really special. We feel grateful to have done it. You make a song like that and it's bold to put out, but it's gotten an overwhelmingly strong reaction. The video has gone fairly viral and has six million plays in a couple of months. Referendum 74 [legalizing same-sex marriage] just passed in Seattle, and that is huge. To go to a wide variety of regions in the U.S. and in Europe and places notoriously Republican and conservative, and to have a new generation of youth and thinkers singing their hearts for that song, has been super special. It gives us a glimpse of a new generation of people."

Given Lewis's musical background, it's a wonder he ended up in the hip-hop world. The guy started playing guitar in what he describes as "screamer bands" before he began listening to other types of music.

"I was into metal for the most part," he says. "When I was 15 or 16 years old, I took a drastic shift into aggressive hip-hop, and when you get into production and sampling vinyl, it opens your mind up to genres that your teenage adolescent self, thinking only one thing is awesome, doesn't want a part of. I started listening to folk and indie-rock type of bands and a wide, wide variety of hip-hop. It's tough to tangentially figure out exactly how it started, but I was very fascinated by the process of being a hip-hop producer. There's not anything like it in terms of music creation."

Macklemore was a already a semi-successful rapper by the time he met Lewis, who had done a bit of producing and photography, and figured he could apply those skills and help Macklemore build upon his popularity.

"For the first three years we were friends, we did a little bit of music together. I did his show posters and a lot of visual stuff until 2008. Now we're best friends, and two very different people who get along on a uniquely wide variety of platforms. At this point, we have to make a million little decisions a day for our business. Our talents complements each other really well. I could do photography and web designs and mix designs and videos and blah blah blah. He's a notorious live performer. He's a great storyteller and songwriter. Stylistically, at the core of it, we have a unique bond."

"I never really aspired to be a DJ," says Lewis. "I did aspire to perform music that we can make in a live setting. For the most part, the work that goes into the live show is production. I'd love to be able to scratch and focus on being an instrumentalist, but at the end of the day, I don't think scratching would fit super well. We've developed a unique live show. My job is expanding, but at this point the purpose of my being there is that I know what's going to happen. I have more a hype type of role."

The band's popularity is clearly on the upswing. Its show at the Grog Shop had to be moved to the bigger Hosue of Blues to accommodate demand, and the group is regularly selling out mid-sized venues across the country, making it difficult for the band to maintain the intimate connection with fans that has helped it succeed so far.

"In the immediate future, what becomes challenging as you get more and more fans and exposure is being able to address the things that mattered in the first place: having a personal relationship with your fan base and getting them involved," says Lewis. "I was up until 7 a.m. last night working on tour videos. It's stuff like being able to have people on the ride with you. I want to have a music video contest for [the new single] 'Bon Bon.' In the grand scheme of things, what's most important is that we continue to run the show and invest in some of the talented musicians and singers surrounding us — the Ryan Daltons and whatnot — and keep making music videos, not just because it's what you're supposed to do. I'd love to make movies and get a Grammy, and I have no doubt we can reach those goals."

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