Macklemore may have wrapped up promotion around 2017’s “Gemini” — his first album without beatmaking accomplice Ryan Lewis in more than a decade. But the playful, socially conscious pop-rapper wasn’t done making moves.
In August, word came that the former Capitol Hill kid, an unabashed Seattle sports geek, had acquired an ownership stake in the Sounders alongside MVP-caliber football tosser Russell Wilson and his pop-star wife Ciara. Last month, the homegrown chart-topper rocked an intimate (by Mack’s standards) Seattle crowd at the Paramount Theatre to celebrate five years of The Residency, the hip-hop youth-development program he and Ryan Lewis founded in partnership with MoPOP and Arts Corps.
We caught up with the real-life Ben Haggerty to discuss the Sounders deal, Seattle hip-hop and five years of The Residency. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Take me back, how did you guys get The Residency started?
Ben [Secord] and I had always dreamed about doing something like The Residency and creating a program where youth could come and rap and get outside of their comfort zones and really engage in a community space, one which I felt was lost a little bit from the days of myself rapping in high school.
What was your experience like when you were that age just starting out?
For me, when I first started the only place that you could participate in the culture was in the studio, which I didn’t have any money for, at hip-hop shows or at school. This was much more an art form that was based on cyphers and freestyling and creative expression in the moment than it was for anyone to be doing by themselves. We were very much sharpening our swords by being in this collective and getting better as a group.
While at The Evergreen State College you led a hip-hop writing workshop for incarcerated youth. Was there anything from your time there that stuck with you?
That was a very transformative experience for me to be able to see what it feels like for someone to write a rap and say it out loud for the first time; to share their truth amongst people that they might not feel 100% comfortable with. It’s those experiences that I had when I was 15, 16 years old at Langston Hughes. We used to be in the basement on Mondays for Poetry Experience and that was my time where I got to figure out who I am and be nervous and shaky, and spit the rap that I had worked on that week for other people. It just took somebody else to be able to give me a platform, so I think at a relatively early age I realized that if we grow as a culture, we grow as people when we give back what was freely given to us. And that’s the essence of The Residency.
How do you feel the hip-hop scene has evolved since you were coming up?
When I was coming up it was such a different art form. Hip-hop was not pop culture. Now, hip-hop is the biggest genre in the world and I think that has a trickle-down effect in Seattle. When I was coming up, there was, like, 500 people that were truly coming out to shows and participating in the culture. But they were participating in it. You were either a B-boy, you were an emcee, a graf [graffiti] writer, a DJ. You did something in the culture. When we hit the era of the Blue Scholars, that’s when it opened up to a bigger demographic of people coming out to local hip-hop shows that weren’t just participating in the elements of hip-hop, but were actually coming as just fans. There’s a lot of really talented people in this city that are preserving the art, pushing it forward. We’ve never had a consistent sound and that’s something that I think makes our city dope.
I think the first time was at The Residency. Travis stuck out. He was this little guy with this kinda Justin Bieber haircut. He had a charisma and a confidence about him from the jump. I was like, “Who is this kid rapping — and chopping!?” He got a little lisp and everything. He was just a character. He got good really fast.
On Travis’ song “Glass Ceiling,” your line about Dave Meinert — voicing solidarity with calls to boycott The 5 Point Cafe, which he has owned since 2009 — resonated with a lot of people in Seattle. How did you feel when you found out about the sexual-misconduct allegations against him? [Editor’s note: Meinert has denied specific accusations of rape and sexual assault, though he acknowledged being “handsy” in the past.]
It kinda hit me in the gut, man. To be honest. I was a little bit in shock, just in disbelief and bummed out. He’s someone that in a lot of ways is a businessman I looked up to over the years. Then you read about an allegation and you’re like, agggghhh! Then you read about multiple and you’re like, OK, this is not an isolated incident. And I try to reserve judgment. If I wasn’t there, I try not to form opinions on anything. But if you start hearing detailed allegations from women — multiple women — I’m going to side with the woman that’s calling it out. At a certain point, you have to take a stand against shady behavior that men have been doing forever and if we really want to change, it oftentimes comes from affecting people’s pockets and their businesses.
Shifting gears a bit, congratulations on the Sounders deal. How did you get involved with that?
The Sounders was a long time in the making. I believe that came about with a conversation with Larry Estrada, who works with Russell Wilson. Those deals take a long time to happen, but I’m super excited to be a part of the team. I think that we are gonna win a lot of championships and it’s a legacy piece for the city. Having myself and Russell and Ciara involved, we’re just super honored that we get to be a small piece of that.
I know you’re a big sports fan, but was there anything about the Sounders specifically that appealed to you?
Anything Seattle sports related I’m going to get behind. We have super die-hard fans here. We have great attendance, we just have a connection with our sports teams and the Sounders are one of those teams that the city has really rallied behind.
You ever play soccer growing up?
I did. I played till I was about 15. Then I realized that I was always trash.