Hip-hop isn’t often a genre that advocates thrift shopping and gay marriage, that’s changing quickly. Macklemore and Ryan Lewis, an emcee and producer duo from Seattle, are working to change that notion. They’re sticking to a formula that’s now taking them around the world: be yourself.

In a genre that typically follows the leader, the two have made waves by choosing to instead lead by example.

Next week, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis arrive in Northern California for two sold out shows as part of their Heist World Tour. Sunday, October 21, they play The Fillmore then head south for a show at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz October 24.

On the mic, Macklemore is ambitious in his message. His verses, spoken with the conviction of a professor (fitting since his original stage name was Professor Macklemore), have covered everything from his proud Irish heritage to the dark side of consumerism, all topics realized with a storyteller vision and uncompromising honesty.

October 9 marked the release of their debut full-length The Heist, which topped iTunes hours after becoming available. It’s their best work to date, surprisingly effective because of its nuance, as hip-hop isn’t often this silent or musically resonant. On album opener “Ten Thousand Hours,” Macklemore states, “a life living for art is never wasted.” “Hours” and “Can’t Hold Us” explain that Macklemore’s inclusion among the XXL magazine Freshman Class of 2012 was not an overnight journey.

That’s not to say the duo doesn’t keep it light. Take a listen to “Thrift Shop,” a nod to second-hand clothing that contains the gem, “ask your grandpa, can I have his hand-me-downs?” Album closer “Cowboy Boots” falls in the same vein, serving as a hipster ode with a shout-out to PBR in the chorus.

Macklemore’s penchant for spinning compelling, thoughtful tales stems from his past as an educator in his community. After graduating from Evergreen State College, he began working on a program called Gateways at a juvenile detention facility. The program used rap as a focal point for artistic expression. He also facilitated writing workshops.

The effectiveness of Macklemore’s message comes from his close partnership with producer Ryan Lewis, whose soundscapes score each song’s arc with the discerning eye of a film composer. Their music bears the mark of a true partnership. Key moments build to crescendos and key realizations are made over near silence.

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