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Macklemore on MJ, Pete Carroll & Seattle

12/19/2012
ESPNTBD

There's a reason why college students relate so well to Macklemore. He's like the best, most popular rapper on campus who keeps things on their level: realistic and entertaining.

For example, on the 29-year-old's biggest hit, "Thrift Shop," he cleverly and hilariously talks about rolling up to a club wearing discount clothes.

Now what college student hasn't done that?

Starting in January, kids at universities across the nation will be able to enjoy Macklemore's music whenever they tune in to "College GameDay." Macklemore's track "Can't Hold Us" from his debut album, "The Heist," is the brand-new theme song for ESPN's college basketball show. The rapper recently filmed a special video for the show intro, which will premiere next month.

As it turns out, Macklemore has previously dedicated two full songs to sports themes.

In "Wings," he discusses his childhood affinity for Air Jordans, while also addressing themes of materialism and commercialism.

Then, in "My Oh My," the Seattle native pays tribute to legendary Mariners sportscaster Dave Niehaus, who died in 2010.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was so moved by it that he tweeted, "Really loving 'My oh my' by @macklemore! What a cool song for Seattelites!"

Since then, the two have become good friends.

Most recently, Macklemore and his longtime producer, Ryan Lewis, headlined their nationwide "Heist World Tour," which just wrapped up this week.

After they unwind for the holidays, they'll continue making their campus rounds, and then travel to perform in Australia and New Zealand for the first time.

Before they get even busier, Macklemore spoke with ESPN Playbook to reminisce about Michael Jordan and reflect on his current endeavors in sports and music.

First of all, how did Macklemore come about?

Macklemore came from me being a 17-year-old kid. I was living in New York City at the time for the summer, and I would go to thrift shops and I would get the most crazy, eclectic, weird outfits possible, go out on the town, kick it and when I was in these weird outfits, I was known as Professor Macklemore. That was my self-inflicted alias and the name just kind of stuck and eventually I dropped the Professor and Macklemore remained.

How did your collaboration come about with Ryan? Who contacted whom first?

Ryan friend-requested me on MySpace and then I listened to one of his beats, and we ended up collaborating. We’ve remained friends for years and he was my primary producer, and it turned into he kept getting better. I was interested in really honing down with one producer and he was somebody that I was really intrigued by in terms of what he was doing musically.

Was there a certain sound you were looking for?

I think why Ryan intrigued me was because he was somebody that made records. He wasn’t just a beatmaker. He used a lot of different builds and progressions, and he understands texture. I produced for a lot of years and I definitely respected that about him. I think that we saw eye to eye on a lot of the decisions in terms of where the record should go. He was somebody that put extra time and energy into making sure that the whole song came out good; not just his beat.

I know a lot of guys hope for that big record deal, but you’ve established yourself really well independently. What’s been the mindset to develop as an artist that way, as in keeping a low profile but still doing big things?

I think that in terms of the exposure that’s happened now, a big part of it is because of the “Thrift Shop” video and “Same Love” video. Those are big videos for us to kind of push us to that next level.

But at the end of the day, it comes down to just being a human and making good music and connecting with the fans. The fame and the money and all that stuff that comes along with it is all great, but that’s not the sole purpose of why I make music. It’s an outlet. It always has been a creative outlet and if you keep that at the forefront, I think that the music will be all right and people will resonate with it.

What feedback have you heard from fans? Anything catch your attention that you didn’t expect to hear?

I think that the biggest gift that an artist can get is when a fan says, “Your music has changed the way that I think about a subject,” or it’s made them want to get sober or because of that sobriety, that song has saved their life.

I think that it sounds extreme and you think that maybe from an outsider’s perspective it might be easy to kind of disregard, but for me, hearing the testimonials and looking into peoples’ eyes with tears in their eyes, it gets pretty heavy, man. Any type of impact on that level has been pretty amazing.

Someone told you your music helped save their life? Wow.

I’ve had it numerous, numerous times. I think that the music connects with people on a personal level and I have a couple songs about my struggles with drug and alcohol. I think a lot of people have those struggles, and the fact that it’s made people want to get sober is definitely one of the biggest gifts of my career.

A lot of people can relate to “Wings” because of Michael Jordan and his sneakers. What message did you want to get across?

“Wings” was just me looking into my closet and a bunch of shoes collecting dust, and breaking down consumerism. Starting from a young age, when I was first affected by Michael Jordan and Nike, and the branding that I was conditioned to believe made you a better basketball player and jump higher, and you could be like Michael Jordan if you wore these shoes, to the present moment, which was a grown man who still had this obsession with this shoe. I really just looked at all consumerism and how it used external things to make us feel validated as human beings and how they form our identity of who we are.

Were you a big fan of MJ?

Absolutely, a huge role model.

What about him did you like?

Michael Jordan was just that dude. He was the best basketball player in the world. He embodied a competitive spirit, along with his tons of style and he obviously had the best sneakers that had ever been invented. He was the quintessential athlete when I was growing up. He was No. 1 and the Bulls were just that team. Six rings.

I was recently at a launch event for the new Air Jordan XX8 sneakers.

I don’t know about them. They’re a little weird, but I don’t know. I have to see them in person. I don’t know about that thing over the top of it. It gets kind of wrinkled at the bottom. You roll it down and it kind of looks a little wrinkly.

I know you can relate to that roll-down look being from Seattle. It looks like Gary Payton’s The Glove kicks from 1996.

Yeah, exactly. That’s what I thought, too. The Glove was leather. This is like that ... I don’t know what kind of material it is.

Did you have The Gloves back in the day?

Nah, I never did have The Gloves. I’d like to have them now. When The Gloves came out, I remember getting the Pippens.

Do you think NBA basketball will ever be back in Seattle?

Yes, absolutely. It’s just a matter of time.

How rough was it when the team bounced to OKC?

You know, actually at the time when it happened, I wasn’t all that connected with the NBA. I think that if it would’ve happened now, I would’ve been really distraught. For me, it’s tough now watching [Russell] Westbrook and [Kevin] Durant. I mean, they have such a great team that it’s difficult to think that there’s a great chance they win the championship in the next couple years. To think that could’ve been us, it’s difficult, because I don’t want to like their team.

You have to hate OKC if you’re from Seattle. You just have to. It’s like a prerequisite. But it’s tough because I actually like their players and they’re a fun team to watch.

Who are SuperSonics fans now rooting for? A college basketball team out there or just no one in particular?

I don’t really know. I think everyone’s different of who they like. College and NBA are just different worlds, but for me, I like great basketball. I’m a fan of the Heat, even though I get tons of s--- for it. I’m a Heat fan. Every time I say that, people are like, “Oh my god, how could you?” But they’re just really fun to watch. I don’t really know how easy it’s going to be for anyone to stop them this year.

They upgraded by getting shooters Ray Allen and Rashard Lewis.

Yeah, I’m a big Ray Allen fan, too. Both of them played for the Sonics.

Did you ball growing up?

No, no, I was always really bad at basketball. For me, it was all about like if I hit the rim on a jump shot. That was good enough for me. We might mess around every once in a while, but for the most part, it’s just watching it as a spectator.

What sport did you play?

I played baseball up until my freshman year of high school. That was my main sport. I played third base.

Was the reason you stopped playing because music took over?

Yeah, that’s exactly what it was. I kind of traded in sports for music.

In 2010 you released a tribute song called "My Oh My” to pay tribute to the passing of the Mariners' broadcaster, Dave Niehaus.

Yeah, we’ve done a couple really cool things with the Mariners. We performed at Opening Day last year to honor Dave Niehaus, our sportscaster that passed away a couple years ago. I’ve also thrown out the first pitch not too long ago this year and we had a hat night. So the Mariners have been really cool to us. They’ve definitely supported what we do.

What sporting event are you checking out next?

I’m going to go to a Seahawks game when I get back home. Pete Carroll’s been real supportive of our music and he’s been playing it when they score touchdowns. So that’s going to be awesome. He came out to our kickoff Seattle show this year. He came out with his family, so he’s been real cool. I’ve got a couple friends that play. But for the most part, it’s just kind of watching it on TV when I can.

By the way, I saw you went to Garfield High School. I know an NBA player went there. Do you remember who?

Brandon Roy did.

That’s right. Jamal Crawford is from Seattle, too, right?

Yeah, he went to Rainier Beach. There are a bunch of hoopsters from Seattle.

We were talking about Michael Jordan before. How about an athlete you love to hate?

[Laughs.] I feel like I really hated USC as a team growing up because they would always beat the [Washington] Huskies. And it’s funny because Pete Carroll, who is now my homie, is the former coach of USC.

What’s your favorite sports memory?

I would say that the ’95 Mariners, just as a whole season, was a top memory. Beating the Yankees [in the ALDS] was a huge milestone for the Mariners, who were always horrible pretty much up until that point. It was kind of one of the changing of the guards in terms of us being a baseball city and people getting behind the Mariners. That really sticks out as No. 1.

Any cool sports memorabilia you have in your house?

The Mariners gave me, when we performed on Opening Day, a Macklemore jersey. But on the side, on the arm, there’s a “My Oh My” patch, which is Dave Niehaus’ catchphrase. So that’s a pretty special memorabilia that I own, because the only people that have that are the people that played in the game.

Do you hear from athletes about your music, that they say they rock it pregame?

Nate Burleson, who plays for the Lions, he’s a friend of mine and he’s been real supportive and has always looked out. I know there’s a lot more, but I can’t think of any at the top of my head.

So let’s say you and Ryan could take on any duo in sports, now or back then. Who would you guys want to play against?

[Laughs.] I don’t know if I’d want to pick Ryan as a teammate. In terms of an actual sport, just for the sheer hilarity of it, I’d pick Jordan and [Scottie] Pippen, two-on-two, halfcourt to see what we can do.

Any advantage at all you guys would have? Perhaps some trash talking, but I guess you can’t really outdo MJ with that.

Yeah. I think that we would get bombed on. It wouldn’t even be close, but to be able to play against Pippen and Jordan, that would be incredible.