Macklemore & Ryan Lewis shocked the world earlier this month by leading this year’s batch of American Music Awards nominations. The duo’s six nominations eclipsed those of more established stars such as Taylor Swift, Justin Timberlake and Rihanna.
It was surprising because Macklemore is not yet a household name, and even among the people who are familiar with Macklemore, Lewis is an unknown. (For the record, he is Macklemore’s producer and co-writer.)
But perhaps it should not be so surprising, considering the duo’s rocketing success since they hunkered down in their home base of Seattle between 2009 and 2012 recording “The Heist,” Macklemore’s breakthrough second album. (His debut album, “The Language of My World,” was released in 2005, well before he began collaborating with Lewis.)
Three singles have propelled the rapper (a two-time nominee at the 2013 BET Awards, by the way) to the top of the charts, with “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” landing at No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart and “Same Love” reaching the top 10.
Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty 30 years ago) and Lewis headline the Maverik Center on Oct. 26; here are five songs to make you believe they should become well-known in your household.
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Released as a non-album single, this was one of Lewis and Macklemore’s first notable collaborations, in 2010. While many of the duo’s songs are frivolous, this song testifies to the rapper’s struggles with substance abuse, referencing the Red Hot Chili Peppers song of the same name when he raps, “This is not Californication / There’s no way to glorify this pavement.” (“Californication” is the album where the Peppers’ “Otherside” appears.) Sample lyrics: “And trust me it’s not dope to be 25 and move back to your parents’ basement / I’ve seen my people’s dreams die / I’ve seen what they can be denied / And ‘weed’s not a drug’ — that’s denial / Groundhog Day life repeat each time.”
“My Oh My”
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Released on the deluxe edition of “The Heist,” this was the first single from the album and failed to chart, only becoming better-known as the duo’s other singles gained prominence. It memorably samples Mariners announcer Dave Niehaus, whose expression “My oh my” is known to Seattle baseball fans. Besides signifying Macklemore’s love for baseball, it also is a testament to his pride in his hometown. Sample lyrics: “Live it like we’re under the lights of the stadium / Fight until the day that God decided to wave us in / Right until he waves us in.”
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Released on “The Heist,” this was the song that launched the two, with its video nearing 500 million views on YouTube. It is only the second independent song to achieve the No. 1 spot on the Billboard singles chart, two decades after Lisa Loeb’s “Stay (I Missed You),” and is a response to the tired theme in rap music that too often celebrates designer clothing and other sundry luxuries. (Are you listening, Jay-Z and Kanye West?) Its looping saxophone melody throughout captures the fun of the song. Sample lyrics: “Draped in a leopard mink, girls standin’ next to me / Probably shoulda washed this, smells like R. Kelly’s sheets / But s---, it was 99 cents! / Coppin’ it, washin’ it, ’bout to go and get some compliments.”
“Can’t Hold Us”
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Released on “The Heist,” this song proved that the two’s appeal had spread and they would never be thought of as a one-hit wonder. Even better, the track celebrates the duo’s commitment to being independent and the ability to create a movement without the support of major labels. The anthem’s hand-clap-boosted propulsion, at 146 beats per minute, can be adopted by everyone who faces forces that seem oppressive and overwhelming, Sample lyrics: “Labels out here / Now they can’t tell me nothing / We give it to the people / Spread it across the country.”
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Recorded during the campaign for Washington state’s Referendum, which legalized same-sex marriage in the state in 2012, this is by leaps and bounds the most moving song on “The Heist.” The cover artwork for the single shows Macklemore’s uncle John Haggerty and his partner, Sean, who are referenced in the song. While Macklemore’s words are progressive and counter the stereotype that all rappers are homophobic, and Lewis’ simple production that features a plaintive piano is awe-inspiring, it is guest singer Mary Lambert’s gorgeous chorus that drives the point home beautifully without being overbearing: “And I can’t change / Even if I tried / Even if I wanted to / My love / She keeps me warm.” Sample lyrics: “Till the day that my uncles can be united by law / When kids are walking ’round the hallway plagued by pain in their heart / A world so hateful some would rather die than be who they are / And a certificate on paper isn’t gonna solve it all / But it’s a damn good place to start.”
Macklemore & Ryan Lewis
When • Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Where • Maverik Center, West Valley City
Tickets • $27 to $46.50 at Ticketmaster.com