Macklemore, Ryan Lewis: 5 Things You Don't Know About the Music Duo

Entertainment Aug. 21, 2013 AT 9:15AM
Macklemore and Ryan Lewis at the Woodie Awards on March 14, 2013 Macklemore & Ryan Lewis are up for six trophies at Sunday's MTV Video Music Awards. Credit: Tim Mosenfelder/Getty

Nominated for six Moonman trophies at August 25's Video Music Awards, breakout artists Macklemore and Ryan Lewis just may have the potential to sweep the annual MTV awards show. Tying Justin Timberlake for the most nominations, the duo will face off against artists like Timberlake, Robin Thicke, and Taylor Swift in categories including the coveted Video of the Year.

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While the music world waits to see which stars will win big at Sunday's show -- airing live from Brooklyn's Barclays Center -- Us Weekly gets to know the powerhouse duo behind the hits "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us," with five fun facts that just may surprise even the most dedicated Top 40 fan.

1. His hits spread like wildfire earlier this year, but rapper Ben Haggerty (aka Macklemore) has actually been on the scene for quite a while. Born and raised in Seattle, Macklemore first burst onto the local scene in 2000 under the moniker Professor Macklemore when releasing his EP Open Your Eyes, and five years later, his debut The Language of My World. In 2010, Macklemore teamed with producer Lewis and released two albums, including 2012's mainstream smash The Heist. Debuting at No. 2 on Billboard's 200 chart, The Heist contained the duo's hit singles "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us," for which they're nominated at the VMAs.

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2. Why the name Macklemore? Why not! Living in Brooklyn, N.Y., in his late teens, the rapper frequently shopped at thrift stores for anything and everything plaid. "When I'd go out in the city and kick it, I would dress up in these garments," he told MTV of the looks, which he categorizes as "Prince meets Bob Barker meets your grandpa meets Matt Lauer.' Added the star, "When I did this I was known as 'Professor Macklemore.' Later, I realized that I wasn't a professor of anything but the name Macklemore followed me."

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3. They got their start on NPR. Streaming their album The Heist on National Public Radio before its official release, the duo made themselves stand out from the hip-hop crowd for their uniqueness and ingenuity. "[We tried] to create a wave that keeps building and building over months and [ended] in this one event," booker Joshua Dick told The Hollywood Reporter of the motive behind collaborative efforts to gain buzz for the pair. "There were so many things -- the timing of the singles and the tour, the music videos, even the name of the album. Calling it The Heist which implies an event, so all of our marketing is building up towards this one seemingly monumental moment."

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4. The music is socially conscious. An advocate for equal rights, Macklemore sang in support of same-sex marriage on the track "Same Love," which led to a performance on The Ellen DeGeneres Show and kudos from celebs including Elizabeth Banks. "You can only watch injustice go on for so long until you're compelled to say something," Macklemore has said, explaining that he was prompted to record the track after reading about a gay teen who committed suicide because of bullying. Macklemore has also sang about his past struggles with drug and alcohol addiction on The Heist's "Starting Over." Following a rehab stay, the rapper has been sober since 2008.

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5. They're not just musicians -- they're shrewd businessmen. Releasing all of their music on a self-run label, Macklemore and Lewis also produce their own music videos, T-shirts and even posters to sell at concerts. "I spent a lot of my life rapping and not making enough money to live, and gratefully, that's not the case anymore," Macklemore told Rolling Stone. "But not having a foreseeable end date in sight is a little bit scary."

The MTV Video Music Awards air Sunday at 9 p.m. (EST).

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