How Macklemore has Turned His Disease into Activism Through His Compelling Verses

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Ben Haggerty, more commonly known as Macklemore


In 2017, we posted a blog that commented on the musical artists who glorify drugs and alcohol. In recent years, a lot of the music that tops the charts and even the music that circulates outside of the hit lists draw on the artist’s experiences while under the influence. More often than not, these intoxicated experiences are cast in a wholly positive light, so much so that even the hangovers and come-downs are romanticized. Many of these songs contain the sentiment that being heavily intoxicated is not only normal, but better than being sober.


However, there is also a substantial cohort of artists who raise awareness about the dangers of these habits who have equal followings to their more intoxicated counterparts like Macklemore, for example. Macklemore draws on his experiences with drug addiction and relapsing in many of his songs. Macklemore even ventures as far as to call other rappers out for glorifying drugs and alcohol. In one of his earlier songs, Otherside, he writes,

Trapped in a box, declined record sales

Follow the formula "Violence, Drugs, and Sex" sells

So we try to sound like someone else

This is not Californication

There's no way to glorify this pavement

Syrup, Percocet, and an eighth a day will leave you broke, depressed, and emotionally vacant

Despite how Lil Wayne lives

It's not conducive to being creative

And I know 'cause he's my favorite

And I know 'cause I was off that same mix

Rationalize the shit that I'd try after I listen to "Dedication"

But he's an alien…


Macklemore is explaining how deeply he was influenced by Lil Wayne: musically and far beyond. Macklemore more subtly called out The Weeknd in his 2016 song Drug Dealer when he writes “And we dancin' to a song about our face goin' numb” which references The Weeknd’s song Can’t Feel my Face about cocaine. Macklemore also calls out bigger parties like the U.S. Congress and pharmaceutical companies in Drug Dealer. Macklemore writes, “The whole while, these billionaires stay caked-up/Paying out Congress so we take their drugs”. Macklemore calls out Purdue and Activas specifically, but it’s the melancholy tone of the hook that defines the sentiment of the song. The hook, sung by Ariana Deboo, reads,


My drug dealer was a doctor, doctor

Had the plug from Big Pharma, Pharma

He said that he would heal me, heal me

But he only gave me problems, problems

My drug dealer was a doctor, doctor

Had the plug from Big Pharma, Pharma

I think he trying to kill me, kill me

He tried to kill me for a dollar, dollar

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A screenshot from the Drug Dealer music video



Macklemore’s songs Kevin and Starting Over are also based on his history of addiction and communicate similar sentiments to Otherside and Drug Dealer.


In 2016, Macklemore and MTV created a documentary about the opioid epidemic. Macklemore is featured in the documentary at length when he interviews Barack Obama, the president at the time. Interestingly, Obama was highly criticized for not taking drastic enough measures to combat the opioid crisis during his time as president.


In 2019, Macklemore continues to create art that can be turned up to the highest volume at a party or in one’s headphones at the gym, while simultaneously raising awareness about the perils of the opioid crisis and addiction.


Victoria is a rising senior at Duke University majoring in Cultural Anthropology and minoring in Neuroscience. Victoria believes that some of the overlap between Cultural Anthropology and Neuroscience manifests in the opioid crisis: Insight into the chemical alterations opioids cause in one’s brain is a helpful route to understand and empathize with the other, a cornerstone of cultural anthropology. Understanding others and graceful communication with others is not just what Victoria studies, but what she strives for. Last summer, she worked for a nonprofit and became even more invested in helping those affected by the opioid crisis than she was before, so Pilleve is an exciting next step. Part of Victoria’s investment in helping those bound by the grips of the opioid crisis comes from watching some of her loved ones become addicted to opioids in ways that could have been thwarted had Pilleve been in the picture. On a more artistic note, she always has a camera on her. Whether it’s a 35mm film camera, a digital camera, or a large format camera and a tripod, she loves taking photos as a hobby or in her work.

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