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City, Don't Sleep

Macklemore's Seattle

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Some people ask me what it means/I don't know where to start...

You know that old chestnut "It ain't where you from, it's where you at"? Truer words never spoken (thanks, Rakim), but I think we all know that where you're at has everything to do with where you're from. You spend your life either conforming to or reacting to your upbringing, but either way, you're a reflection of your origins.

This dynamic is exemplified in the hiphop world, and in particular in the realm of the MC. On his debut album, The Language of My World, gifted local rapper Macklemore holds forth candidly on issues of race, class, scene politics, and sex, staying unerringly true to self. In an art form where MCs with stable, middle-class upbringings boast of murders and crack sales, it's nice to hear someone be himself.

Macklemore's style is confessional, intimate, self-conscious; kicking off his LP with his incisive "White Privilege," he clearly isn't pulling any punches, especially toward himself. Even on the more boastful tracks, one can sense his decompression, his willingness, or rather his need to put it all out there, bolstered by the necessary skills to back it up. Although he may scarcely appreciate the comparison, Mack's style evokes Atmosphere's Slug, minus the Rhymesayer's more flagrant emo histrionics. Unlike Sluggo's Midwest meditations, however, Macklemore can be identified as a product of Seattle after one listen to his record.

I grew up on Capitol Hill with two parents and two cars/they had a beautiful marriage, we even had a swing set in our yard...

"Yo, I did the same kinda things a lotta kids that are into hiphop did coming up—you know, skating, graffiti," Macklemore explains. "As soon as my parents let me strike out on my own, hop the bus and whatnot, I was looking for something to get into." There were, however, plenty of spots to get into something—in his own backyard.

"For a while, the spot was the wall of the Comet Tavern, before they put that painting or whatever up there; it was a free wall, and it ended up just being a spot to chill and network with like-minded cats. Drinking 40s, writing, scheming on ways to get over. My boy Frank lived on Broadway," Macklemore chuckles, "and we'd link up and go hustle, meaning the old hey-we're-raising-money-for-team-uniforms trick; then we'd take that money, buy equipment, weed, whatever."

As we speak, Mack lists his old favorite neighborhood spots, remembering times and rhymes past. Places to kick it and participate in ciphers with his people—like in front of Seattle Central, where he attended Running Start classes his junior year; Louisa Boren Park, across from the cemetery on 15th Avenue East: an "epic spot" where he and his boys would hang, chew 'shrooms, and bug out on the panoramic views of Lake Washington and the Cascades. He recalls annoying bike cops, skating behind Taco Del Mar, and that charged, something-real-is-happening feeling in the air around the time of the WTO—a feeling that's since passed.

One of Language of My World's best tracks, "Claiming the City," details Macklemore's anxieties about the swiftly tilting cityscape around him. "Since I attended Garfield, man, the CD has changed dramatically. You have a very real process of gentrification, and I know it's reality, economics, inevitability, but essentially it still boils down to one of the city's only black communities—one of the only real communities in town, period—being pushed or bought out of the area to make room for these developers and young white people buying up condos. People moving in don't really wanna see their role in it, are maybe sensitive about it, say it's 'progression' or whatever, but it still sucks. It's the saddest thing to me, that loss of community, to watch that dry up, everywhere."

Such is the charge of any truthful artist: to contribute to the public record, and log the happenings in his/her world—in time, a historical consensus emerges. And it don't stop...

My mom once told me that we're not finished products/only authors of the book, and the object is to write it slowly...

hiphop@thestranger.com
 

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