Anatomy of a Hit: Macklemore & Ryan Lewis' 'Thrift Shop'
The Seattle duo, along with guest vocalist Wanz and manager Zach Quillen, recall how the No. 1 song came to be.
This story first appeared in the Feb. 15 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
The surprise hit of 2013? Rapper Ben Macklemore and producer Ryan Lewis' irresistible "Thrift Shop" from the Seattle duo's debut album The Heist. The track dropped on Aug. 28, 2012 and landed at No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in mid-January. The ode to secondhand stores, now certified double platinum, was an accidental single, penned to add levity to the album.
Macklemore, rapper: “For the last couple years, I was jotting down lines and had tons of material about thrift shopping. It was just an issue of narrowing it down and making a couple verses to come up with the idea for ‘Thrift Shop’”
Ryan Lewis, producer: “In terms of The Heist there are songs that Ben had already written, and then there are songs that he wrote to beats. ‘Thrift Shop’ is one that he had started writing a long time ago. Whenever that happens I think the first place you start is the tempo -- how fast he’s going to be rapping whatever’s already written.”
Macklemore: “I [first] just laid my verse down over some raw drums. And then Ryan went back in. It actually took quite a long time to get the right feel for the record.”
Lewis: “It took me f---ing forever to come up with the final beat.”
Macklemore: “We brought in a couple other producers to try and generate some ideas but that didn’t pan out. Ryan killed the beat all on his own.”
Lewis: “I probably made about 12 [different] beats before I actually hit the ‘Thrift Shop’ beat.”
Wanz, guest vocalist: “A local producer I had done past work with called [and] asked if I’d ever heard of Macklemore. He told me Ryan Lewis had called asking if he knew of any singers that sounded like Nate Dogg -- I sorta had that reputation. That led to being taken to Ben and Ryan’s studio [to record vocals]. From the time I arrived to the time I went home was a little over an hour.”
Macklemore: “I don’t think anybody thought it was an ideal single. In juxtaposition to ‘Same Love,’ which was a heavier record about a very serious subject [same sex marriage], we wanted to have something that was more light-hearted and upbeat.”
Zach Quillen, manager: We had decided to do a surprise performance at the Sasquatch Festival in May 2012 and led off the surprise set with ‘Thrift Shop.’ It was the first time the guys had performed it live, or that anyone had heard it. I think we knew right then that it was a single.”
Macklemore: “It was really Alternative radio that jumped on the record first and started playing it … The music video was huge [too]. It really gave it an identity. It brought the song to life in a way that I think really connected with the audience.”
Wanz: “I think the song is a breath of fresh music in a sea of thugs and posers. Macklemore and Ryan reminded people that you can blend hip-hop with a little bit of silly.”
Macklemore: “We’re at double platinum now. I would love it to maybe get a Grammy nod. Getting those next level accolades for the work we put into it would be the only thing that would go above and beyond where we’re at.”