Backed by Ryan Lewis' beat, Macklemore parodies the materialistic content of contemporary rap music, with rhymes about shopping for clothes at thrift shops. The Seattle native doesn't care if he's wearing your grandmother's coat or your grandfather's sweater, as he's a "prolific thrift shopper" and he looks "incredible." Released as the fifth single from The Heist, the comic ode to discount shopping became the duo's first Hot 100 hit.
The song proved to be especially popular Down Under, topping the singles charts in both Australia and New Zealand. After staying at #1 on the Australian charts for six weeks it was replaced at the top of the tally by another Macklemore tune, "Same Love
Macklemore told MTV News the song is a way of life: "Rappers talk about, oh I buy this and I buy that, and I spend this much money and I make it rain, and this type of champagne and painting the club, and this is the kind of record that's the exact opposite," he explained. "It's the polar opposite of it. It's kind of standing for like let's save some money, let's keep some money away, let's spend as little as possible and look as fresh as possible at the same time."
When the song arrived at the top of Digital Songs, the Macklemore imprint became the first independently-distributed title to top that tally since Artists for Haiti's "We Are the World 25: For Haiti
" led for two weeks in February and March 2010.
The intro to this song runs 33 seconds, which is exceptionally long for a hit song of the era, especially one in the rap genre. It keeps your attention because there are four distinct elements within this section. First we hear the kid who asks Macklemore to go thrift shopping. This is followed by the drums and the "what, what" vocal stabs. The third element is the vocalizations that come in around :12, and finally we get the horns about ten seconds later.
Asked by MTV News why he thought the track was so successful, Macklemore replied that it may be because it sounds nothing like other Hip-Hop hits. "I think hip-hop goes in waves, and it's something that's different. It's a concept. It's obviously against the status quo of what people normally rap about," he said. "This is a song that goes against all of that. How much can you save? How fresh can you look by not looking like anybody else? And on top of that, you have an infectious beat and a hook that gets stuck in people's heads."
The song features vocals from Michael "Wanz" Wansley, who prior to this break out performance was a full-time software test engineer for companies such as Microsoft, Adapx, and Volt. Wanz told Billboard magazine that Macklemore and Lewis were looking for a Nate Dogg sound-alike to guest on their tune and it was label boss D. Sane who suggested him. He recalled: "I got connected with a guy named D-Sane who is the owner of Street Level Records and he was doing underground hip-hop here in the North End of Seattle. One of his guys called me and asked me to sing a hook on one of his songs, and everybody dug it. That led to my career in singing hooks. So that same guy calls me on Monday night in July and asks if I've heard of a guy named Macklemore and I said I'd heard of him but I wasn't familiar with the music. He was looking for a guy that sounds like Nate Dogg. For a decade, I've been known as the Nate Dogg of North End in Seattle in that little circle of underground hip-hop. He called me back like five minutes later and said they want to bring you in. So 45 minutes later I'm at the studio and meeting Ben and Ryan for the first time and talking about what my history is, Ghetto Monks this and my own originals and what I wanted to do. Ben showed me the hook for 'Thrift Shop' and said 'Sort of like this.' I sang a line to him and he said yeah, like that. I go in and get levels and 45 minutes later, I'm going home. Pretty quick, quicker than anybody imagined."
Macklemore was surprised when this song became a huge hit. "I wouldn't have anticipated that a song about used clothes would be #1," he told Rolling Stone. "I thought it was a niche song with some pop appeal - never thought it would get played on the radio, much less get where it is now."
The song returned to the top of the Hot 100 after a five-week gap, the longest ever for a #1 since Chubby Checker's "The Twist
" reigned in 1960 and again in 1962. Later in 2013, Miley Cyrus had a longer wait when "Wrecking Ball
" returned to the peak position after a nine-week break.
This was replaced by another Macklemore and Ryan Lewis song, "Can't Hold Us
" after 14 weeks on top of Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs. Had it picked up a 15th week at #1, it would've tied Mary J. Blige's 2006 R&B hit "Be Without You
" for the longest tenure at the summit in the Nielsen era (Dec. 1992-present). However it did achieve the feat of becoming the longest-running #1 rap song on the chart.
Speaking to MTV News UK in July 2013, Macklemore said that he still shops at thrift shops. I feel almost silly going into thrift shops now," he admitted, "'cause when people see me in a thrift shop its very cliché so I go in in a fake moustache and a wig and hat but I still definitely shop at thrift shops."
The song climbed to the peak position of the Hot 100 on the chart dated February 2, 2013. It was the first #1 for the Warner Bros. label since Jason Derulo's "Whatcha Say
," led the November 14, 2009, tally.
It also marked the first debut Hot 100 chart-topper for a rap act since Wiz Khalifa's "Black and Yellow
" ascent to the summit on the week of Feb. 19, 2011 and the first duo to reach #1 with its first entry on the list since Los Del Rio's "Macarena
" back in 1996.
Ryan Lewis admitted to Billboard magazine that he came close to giving the song to another producer after struggling to find an appropriately goofy melody for the topic at hand. "I was landing too much on the sinister side, where it was sounding like a really serious hunt to find clothes," he said.
Filming of the song's music video took place at several thrift shops in Seattle, as well as other locations in the city like the Unicorn/Narwhal Arcade Bar and the Northwest African American Museum. Some local Seattle musicians such as Thomas Grey of Champagne Champagne appear in the clip.
The video was co-produced by Seattle singer-songwriter Hollis, who also worked on the clip for "Wing$
," as well as providing vocals for "White Walls
." She recalled to Billboard
magazine: "Working on the 'Thrift Shop' video, it was obvious that Ben forever has identified with the discovery of thrifting and his own personal style, so bringing that to life made sense. But in retrospect, none of us knew that it would actually do what it did. It was a five-day shoot [and] it was totally nuts -- we were sweet-talking Goodwill and Value Village into letting us dance in their establishments. Working with [Macklemore & Ryan Lewis] has always been really scrappy, and even now, with them firmly in the mainstream, they still have that 'get your hands dirty' attitude."
This won the Grammy Awards for Best Rap Performance and Best Rap Song at the 2014 ceremony. Macklemore & Ryan Lewis were part of a very memorable Grammy moment when they performed "Same Love
" on the show while 33 couples were married in the audience.