Macklemore on addiction and hip hop’s acceptance of LGBTQ community

Welcome to’s The Big Questions, where we ask, well, the big questions (and the smaller ones too), and this week, we’re diving deep with Macklemore.

The 39-year-old Seattle rapper – real name Ben Haggerty – has come a long way since he and his former production partner Ryan Lewis burst onto the scene in 2012 with hit singles Thrift Shop, Can’t Hold Us, and Same Love — all of which appear on their Grammy Award-winning debut album The Heist.

Aside from going solo, starting his own record label, dropping a top five album, and guesting on some pretty big singles — including Rudimental’s UK number one These Days — he’s also now a husband and a father of three. His seven-year-old daughter Sloane actually directed the video for his latest single, No Bad Days.

His new album Ben — which he’s looking forward to sharing with fans when he heads out on tour in Europe this spring — is his first full-length release in five years and features the likes of Tones And I, DJ Premier, NLE Choppa, Murray, Pantogram’s Sarah Barthel and more.

As he prepares for what is certainly going to be a busy few months, Macklemore found some time to chop it up with

You’ve just released your new album Ben, what can you tell us about it?

Like all my music, it’s personal. It’s honest. I’m trying to strip away layers, I’m trying to get to the core of what roots me, of what grounds me, and of what gives me purpose, meaning and fulfilment in my life. I wanna make songs that make you think, that make you dance, that make you laugh — everything in between. So it’s all over the place, like all my albums are, but it’s me.

It’s the byproduct of four years of life lived. This album made it through a pandemic. The best albums capture the essence of what an artist was going through in a particular time of their life. This is that album for me.

You mentioned the pandemic, is this the reason for not having released a new album since 2017’s Gemini?

Yeah, the pandemic was definitely the reason why it’s taken so long to come out. We would have put the album out way sooner but I’ve always felt the need to be able to tour my art in order to give it its full life.

Why is that?

The recording process is a very introspective, deep, personal dive, but then the flip side of that is then you get to go do a very forward facing, public celebration with whoever ends up at the shows and festivals. I love to feel that. I love for the fans to sing the records back for the first time.

That’s the joy of putting out art. I didn’t wanna put out music and not get to see if people even liked it. Because the internet is just the internet, it’s not a real tangible place where I can physically feel and experience other human beings. There’s something about being in the same room and turning up at a live show that no technology will be able to capture.

Your recent single Heroes pays tribute to those who helped shape you as an individual — why is it important to acknowledge our heroes?

It’s super important to give people their flowers because we assume artists know how impactful they are. But you never know. If you tell Lil Baby right now, “Oh my God, you’re so amazing.” He’s gonna be like, “Yeah, dude. I know. I’m the s**t. I’m literally streamed by everybody.” It’s not surprising Lil Baby. If you tell Lil Baby in 10 years how much of an impact his music had, it’s gonna be different. Because he’s going to be at a different place in his career.

But for our OGs, for our heroes, for our elders, it’s probably easy to forget the impact you had because you’re ageing and you’re facing your own mortality, and we all go through these periods in life.

When was the last time anyone gave you your flowers?

It happened while I was working with Tones And I on this album. It was refreshing for her to be like, “You have no idea how much of an impact The Heist had.” If she would have told me that when The Heist was the number one album in the world, I would have been like, “Yeah girl! You and all these other m*********s.” But now I see that album actually led this person to be who they are. And there are people who have had that impact on me and they probably don’t know that. So I think it’s important to share our experiences with the generation that created them.

Who is one person you’d like to give flowers to?

Probably Big Boi from OutKast. He’s been the homie for about a decade now; we’ve spent a good amount of time together. The thing that people don’t understand about Big Boi is that he wrote most of the iconic OutKast hooks. I think when we talk about our top five favourite MCs or the best MCs of all time, [his OutKast groupmate] André 3000 is often times mentioned in the top five; if not then the top 10. But Big Boi is also a legend and certified in the game.

Macklemore has come a long way since he and his former production partner Ryan Lewis burst onto the scene (Picture: Press/Jake Magraw)
His new album, Ben, is out this spring (Picture: Press/Jake Magraw)

One thing that I’ve always respected about him, on top of his raps, is his ability to write for other people. As someone that can’t sing himself — I don’t know if he can or not — I like to write parts for other people that can sing. Being a writer, he would create for Sleepy Brown and other background vocalists. That whole hodgepodge of stacked vocals that is synonymous with OutKast, that’s Big Boi — and Sleepy Brown, and Dungeon Family, and André. But Big Boi was writing those hooks. That’s something that not a lot of people know and I think if they did, they would maybe respect him more for these songs and what it took to actually get to the point of completion.

You’ve always used your music and platform to campaign for equality and tackle human rights issues — where do you think we are as a society today?

I think we have evolved. I think we’re better versions of ourselves as a society than we were 10 years ago. But, of course, there are moments when we have to question that, like when a law gets passed where women’s rights are threatened, when women’s reproductive rights are threatened. Things have happened in the last 10 years that have seen us go backwards.

What about in terms of the LGBTQ community? On your 2012 track Same Love, you advocate for same-sex marriage while also condemning homophobia within hip hop. Do you think the culture has become a lot more accepting of the LGBTQ community in recent years?

I would absolutely say there has been immense growth around the acceptance of the LGBTQ community within hip hop. We are expanding, we are growing and we are realising that hatred and homophobia doesn’t serve anybody. 

So much of it is just what we’ve been conditioned to believe masculinity looks like, right? Like, if you rap, you need to have women around you, you need to be pulling women, you need to be talking about women. And it’s like, no, you don’t need to be misogynistic. 

No, you don’t need to be homophobic. You don’t need to do any of that. You never need to put anybody else down to push yourself up. That doesn’t work, it’s an outdated model. So I think that we’re growing.

What do you think inspired this growth?

People are just getting freer with themselves and questioning where these biases are coming from. No child is born like, “You know what? If a boy likes a boy, that’s wrong.” This is all learned conditional behaviour; we have been taught these things.

I’m not s******g on organised religion, but so much of our bigotry and bias comes from interpretation of words that were written thousands and thousands and thousands of years ago and flipped by humans throughout the course of civilisation. Then here we are with these [people who say], “But this is what Jesus…” But Jesus wanted love, bro! Jesus said, love thy neighbour. He wanted people to be loved. Love is at the core and at the forefront.

As we reprogram as a society we’re learning that tolerance and radical acceptance of where anyone is at in their life, and that their sexual preference is 100% their business and has no bearing over anybody else, that is love. The world is better with more love in it.

You’re very open about your previous struggles with drug addiction and last year revealed you were 694 days sober after suffering a relapse during the first summer of Covid. How are you doing with your sobriety today?

I feel good — but in that [slightly timid] voice. I think there has been so little time in this crazy scramble of an album rollout to really feel tapped in, in terms of physically going to meetings and doing step work, and those are two things that are super important to me.

I have been subsidising a little bit in terms of service work and making sure that I’m connected to other people that are still struggling. I think that’s one of the places that I can constantly go, even when I don’t have time. 

Because I might not be able to leave three kids and go head out to a meeting multiple times a week at dinnertime, but what I can do is make sure that I’m picking up the phone, that I’m reaching out to people that are near and dear to me, and people that I know are going through it, and it immediately relieves me of the obsession of self and gets me back in a place of the universe’s will; not my own. And I feel better. So I would say that as little asleep as I’m getting, I still feel that connection.

‘I want to be able to tell people my truth so I can get free,’ the rapper says (Picture: Press/Jake Magraw)

And you’ve remained clean since your announcement last summer?


What advice would you give to anyone who has relapsed and needs help restarting their sobriety journey, and perhaps think they’ve let down the people they love?

The only way you let anyone down is holding on to your secret longer than you have to. Get free; let it go. People want to love you, they don’t want to judge you. If they do judge you, that’s their own work to get through and it has nothing to do with your journey. Tell your truth, get back into the rooms of recovery or whatever you were doing that was working, and start again.

You didn’t lose what you learned in that time of sobriety. We like to quantify in this very linear way, when it’s like, no — and I’m not a proponent of any relapse but I do believe that sometimes we need to get slapped in the face with life in order to get back on track. I don’t want that pain again for myself and I wouldn’t wish it upon anybody else. I don’t think it needs to be a part of anyone’s story. 

It is a part of mine but I don’t want to hide from it. I want to be able to tell people my truth so I can get free.

What does Macklemore’s weekend look like?

What does a typical Saturday look like for you?

Probably me trying to get one of my kids to attend a sporting event. We do soccer, we do tee-ball, and there was a period when track was really popular with my seven year old, but they’re not that into sports really. Other than that, you’ll usually find me in the kitchen making breakfast, cleaning up food, and realising that I have no childcare so it’s gonna be a long day.

What’s your go to brunch order?

Anything that reminds me of being at a corner store eating candy in the morning is a good thing. So that’s waffles, that’s French toast, that’s strawberries, that’s bacon. I’m into anything with maple syrup.

How have your weekends changed over the years?

I don’t drink alcohol anymore, which means I’m not hungover or sleeping in. But the biggest change is having three kids now. So anything we try to get accomplished outside of just parenting is not gonna happen. I’m raising these beautiful, young citizens of the world to be the best versions of themselves — and I’m having a great time doing it.

If you had a free weekend and the house to yourself, what album would you throw on to soundtrack your alone time?

There’s this John Coltrane compilation called Coltrane For Lovers which features some of my favourite Coltrane records all on one album. I know it’s not a cool answer because it’s a compilation but it has the most Coltrane cuts on it. Every Coltrane album has a couple songs that have permanent, very deep meaningful resonance with my heart. So this one checks all the boxes. I just love John Coltrane. I think he has an ability to freeze the moment with his instrument and that’s the greatest gift an artist can have.

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