Macklemore and Ryan Lewis had a wild run in 2013.
Their record sold more than one million copies, the videos for “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” had a combined 700 million views, they’re nominated for seven Grammys, they just wrapped up a triumphant tour and, tonight, they play New Year’s Rockin’ Eve in Times Square.
But right now, as he transitions from the screaming crowds and back to normal life, is when Macklemore, also known as Ben Haggerty, worries about relapsing into the substance abuse that has derailed him in the past.
“For me, what is a temptation is coming home off of the road, which is why this time period is interesting,” the rapper told ABC News. “This is when I’ve fallen back before.”
At its worst, drugs and alcohol landed him in the hospital, and in 2008, in rehab. “Isolation, broke, depressed, no reason to really live,” is how Macklemore described that low point in his life.
His music partner, Ryan Lewis, says it impacted their working relationship.
“We didn’t work for the first three years that I knew him,” Lewis recalled. “And I think that was probably at the centerpiece.”
Macklemore agreed, “Absolutely.”
When he’s healthy, Macklemore’s working relationship with Lewis, who he met on Myspace eight years ago, is more collaborative than many fans might realize.
“I’m critiquing lyrics for sure,” said Lewis.
“Critiquing the hell out of my lyrics,” Macklemore quipped. “We should get you a red pen. [It'd] be fitting.”
One song where Lewis weighed in heavily was “Same Love,” the band’s ode to gay rights.
“I was sent a story from my mom about a gay, bullied kid who committed suicide,” Macklemore said. “It started with me writing from the perspective of that kid, trying to take it on from his vantage point. And as usual, I kind of liked what I wrote.”
But then he brought it into Lewis, who gave Macklemore his thoughts.
“Ryan was like, ‘You know what? This isn’t your story to tell,’” said Macklemore. “‘You have a story. You have a vantage point, but it’s not this.’”
Macklemore says that’s probably the best advice Lewis has ever given him about a song.
“It shaped ‘Same Love,’” he explained, causing him to go back to the drawing board. “I was like, ‘Okay, I do have a vantage point.’”
That song, which takes a hard run at homophobia in the rap world, created some backlash. But it was nothing compared to what happened when Macklemore brought up Trayvon Martin on the American Music Awards.
“The feedback from that, the hatred in the next 48 hours from that, surpassed all the hatred in the last year from ‘Same Love,’” he said.
After hustling and scraping to make it for years, fame is sometimes tricky, especially the lack of privacy and the exhaustion from the road.
Macklemore says he sometimes has to check himself when he has a “diva moment.”
“I don’t want to look back and be like, ‘You had it all, and you weren’t even present for it. You weren’t able to enjoy it,’” he said. “I want to be here, be now and be grateful.”