Macklemore Discusses Drug Relapse, New Album

"The minute that I start actively seeking recovery — not just sobriety, but recovery — music is there," Seattle rapper says

Macklemore opened up about his drug relapse and how his recovery inspired his new album with Ryan Lewis Credit: Mat Hayward/Getty

Seattle rapper Macklemore, real name Ben Haggerty, admitted in a new cover story for Complex that he relapsed into taking pills and smoking weed following the monumental success of his 2013 LP with Ryan Lewis, The Heist. His recovery, however, was crucial in inspiring the duo's new album, slated to arrive later this year.

"I was burnt out," Haggerty said. "I was super-stressed. We weren't sleeping — doing a show every day, zigzagging all over the country. In terms of the media, I was getting put into a box that I never saw for myself. The pressure and the fame — everything. All the clichés, man — like not being able to walk around, having no privacy, and from this TV appearance to this TV appearance, and the criticism, and the lack of connection, and the lack of [12-step] meetings — all of that put into one pie was just… I just wanted to escape."

Haggerty copped to sneaking around to get high and promising to get clean but never following through. Lewis said he noticed a change in his partner's behavior, too, especially when progress on their new album stalled. But it wasn't until his fiancé Tricia Davis learned she was pregnant that the rapper again embraced sobriety.

"And, as it always works, the minute that I start actively seeking recovery — not just sobriety, but recovery — music is there," Haggerty said. "It always has been. Songs write themselves. My work ethic turns off-to-on in a second and I get happy again. I get grateful again."

The duo said they're three-quarters done with the follow-up to The Heist, with Lewis drawing inspiration from the methodically textured records of Led Zeppelin, Queen, Pink Floyd and the Beatles, while a larger budget allowed him to indulge his production whims.

Haggerty, for his part, didn't reveal much about the album's lyrical content, though he did hint at a quasi-sequel to "White Privilege" off his 2005 solo record, The Language of My World. While the original, Haggerty said, was more of a cultural observation, he acknowledged his vantage point is significantly different now that his detractors have accused him of being an example of cultural appropriation and white privilege in hip-hop.

"How do I participate in this conversation in a way that I'm not preaching, where I'm not appearing like I know it all?," the rapper said. "'Cause I don't know it all... How do I affect change? How do I not preach to the choir? How do I authentically initiate discourse without co-opting the movement that's already happening? You are constantly having to check your intention as a white person doing any sort of antiracist work."

To bolster his understanding of racism and how he can help inspire honest, earnest change, Haggerty attended a daylong seminar about the causes and effects of institutionalized racism. Beyond music, he said, he hopes that his next tour with Lewis can incorporate a series of town hall meetings in various cities with the help of local artists.

"A concert's not going to do it," Haggerty said. "Regardless of the song that I write, or that ends up coming out, it's not going to do it. It's going to be a tiny piece. This needs to be part of my life's work if I'm going to be authentic in the discourse."

Read the full interview at Complex.