Macklemore Ponders Hip-Hop’s Bad Influences On A Song With DJ Premier

It has been over a decade since Macklemore & Ryan Lewis’ mainstream breakthrough, The Heist. Promoted with impressive Backroom freestyles and more, the album dealt with industry triumphs, sexual equality, and more. The against-the-grain LP featuring ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul would eventually (and somewhat controversially) win “Best Rap Album” at the 2014 Grammy Awards, while “Thrift Shop” took home “Best Rap Song” and “Best Rap Performance.” The MC/producer battery also secured “Best New Artist.” These wins came against fellow early 2010s breakthrough acts Kendrick Lamar and Drake, as well as legends like JAY-Z, Eminem, and Kanye West.

While Seattle, Washington’s Macklemore, who had been releasing projects since the mid-2000s, had achieved some rare air as a DIY veteran, the success came with a backlash. However, the artist born Ben Haggerty handled things differently than most. Macklemore texted fellow West Coast act Kendrick Lamar that he felt the Compton, California MC was “robbed” for good kid, m.a.a.d city not winning. Nine years ago this month, the then 30-year-old white MC told HOT 97 that he felt race was a factor in his Grammy wins. Meanwhile, Drake was among those who criticized Macklemore’s reactions. Around this time, there was speculation that another Underground Hip-Hop mainstay, Brother Ali, was speaking out against Macklemore, including through a vicious Sway In The Morning freestyle.

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In the months and years that followed, Macklemore intentionally showed his Hip-Hop roots. 2016’s This Unruly Mess I’ve Made included involvement from cultural pioneers like Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, and Kool Moe Dee, as well as features from legends such as DJ Premier and KRS-OneBen brought Caz, Mel, and Moe Dee to the MTV Video Music Awards, earning some strong support from Big Daddy Kane, who said that the Pacific Northwest was doing more for the cultural forefathers than his peers. Macklemore also made multiple volumes of songs about “White Privilege,” which he cited as part of his Grammy wins.

Since then, Macklemore has lent his voice and profile to fighting the opioid crisis (alongside President Barack Obama) and big pharmaspeaking out against politicians with opposing views, and more.

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Since 2017’s Gemini, it’s been quieter for Macklemore. During those five years, he and Ryan Lewis have released a handful of loosies and done some feature work but kept it low-key. Kicking off 2023, Ben returns with “Heroes,” a video single that marks a reunion with Preemo. Produced by longtime collaborator Budo (Grieves, Luckyiam, Dessa), the track finds Macklemore discussing Hip-Hop’s impact on his life and come-up. However, the imagery is different from what Heads may expect. “Heroes” differs significantly from Common’s “I Used To Love H.E.R.” or even Biggie’s “Juicy.” This one seems to be about bad influences.

When I grew up, criminal were my heroes / The beanie from New Jersey Drive over my earlobes / From jump, it was always f*ck cops and the bureau / Mix of ‘Casper,’ Harold Hunter, and De Niro / Now I’m with my kids and we watchin’ Olaf / And I’m like, ‘Damn, used to wanna be like ‘O-Dawg’ / Tuck the deuce-deuce under the goose, boostin’ y’all / Couple screws loose, cashier turns, poof, I’m gone / Seven, I heard N.W.A. in the street / From my older neighbor who was playin’ ‘F*ck Tha Police’ / Eleven, writin’ graffiti, 15, I’m sellin’ weed / By 16, I had an MPC / It was Hip Hop’s fault that I wanted to grow up / Sell drugs, smoke, drink Mad Dog and f*ck / Wanted a windbreaker and some Eastbay kicks / Wanted a perm like DJ Quik / My mama said, ‘Ben, are you aware your hair is way too thin?’ / But in my mind, I was junior high Iceberg Slim / Feelin’ fine, gettin’ high, spendin’ time with a b*tch / Takin’ Heineken sips, this is live as it gets, sh*t.

Macklemore Releases “Buckshot” With KRS-One & DJ Premier. Is That “Real Hip-Hop” Enough? (Audio)

Premier handles the scratch chorus (and appears in the music video), before Macklemore emphasizes his unique message in the second verse. “My heroes didn’t look yours / My heroes didn’t look yours, nah, nah / They didn’t work a nine-to-five, they worked a five-to-four / Woke up at three and recordin’ more / See, my heroes died of overdoses, ridin’ for the culture / Mind tied to psychosis, all the lies in show biz / My heroes shot dope and inhaled blow in their noses / Got locked up, got out, and did some more sh*t.” He raps about how Hip-Hop, pulp reading, films like Kids and Menace II Society, and more, influenced him. However, in addition to making beats and questioning police, he shouts out crime, overdoses, smoking angel dust, and other things that make this homage a bit different. He closes out in this form: “Steal the pancakes off your plate and then I’m robbin’ you at Denny’s / In a Plymouth that is tinted and the sherm has got me spinning / You don’t want it with this, put the truck in his ribs / We don’t fight fair, f*ck that, we jump and get our licks / Reds and whites flash through the dash, hop the fence / Wake up, smoke a blunt, hit the park and do it again / For my heroes.

Macklemore and Jake Magraw directed the black-and-video that matches the aesthetic of Mack’s lyrics.

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“Heroes” is the first single from Ben, a Macklemore solo LP, that is due March 3. Last year, DJ Premier was at the helm of a Hip Hop 50 EP that featured Nas, Remy Ma & Rapsody, Lil Wayne & Slick Rick, and more.

#BonusBeat: Catch recent songs featuring DJ Premier on the official Ambrosia For Heads playlist: