We don’t know what clever one-liner you submitted as your high-school yearbook inscription — inspirational Weezy bars? shouts-out to mom and dad? Whatever made it to the page, it’s hard to imagine anything as spectacularly ambitious — and prophetic — as what Ray Dalton wrote. The 22-year-old behind Macklemore & Ryan Lewis‘ “Can’t Hold Us” hook had smash hits and MTV stages in his sights as a Fleetwood Mac-loving Seattle teen.
And now, with televised appearances ranging from “SNL” to this month’s MTV Movie Awards in the books, Dalton is vying for a new title at his five-year reunion: Grad Most Likely to Be Signing Autographs by the Appetizer Table.
We were low-key fixating on the baby-faced baritone with the manly pipes, so just a few days before “Can’t Hold Us” was certified platinum, MTV News dialed him up for deets on linking up with the superstar duo, that epic video and a few of the song’s widely misheard lyrics.
“Ryan heard me sing with another artist, and he Facebooked me, and was like, ‘Hey, you should come to my studio,’ ” Dalton recalled of meeting the talented producer three years ago.
As Lewis and Macklemore (born Ben Haggerty) hit the road for an increasingly frequent run of shows, the long-grinding act recruited the crooner to fill out on vocals. Eventually, the Internet caught up with the rapper/producer phenomenon, who watched as their independent effort, The Heist, climbed to the tip top of the Billboard 200 and their ode to all things gently used moved five million copies. “They were just like, ‘You should be part of the team,” Dalton said, remarking that the duo’s success necessitated a full-time commitment from him, which included recording for their album.
Setting aside the knee-slapping gimmickry and social commentary of their lead tracks, the third single from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis is a sweeping anthem in the purest sense. The twosome’s origin story is not only revealed, it resonates. And over the course of four minutes, the MC’s gravelly verses are bookended by Dalton’s velvety vocals on an unshakeable chorus that was actually the last part of the song to be crafted.
“What happened was we were looking for a hook and it had no hook. There was just space; there weren’t even words,” Dalton explained. “So when Ryan was testing my levels, I started humming them a melody, and that melody is what is now today the ‘Can’t Hold Us’ song. [Then] Ben was like, ‘Say this.’ And I was reading the words to the melody that I made, and that’s just how it happened.”
Asked to break down that catchy chorus, which kicks off “Here we go back/ This is the moment,” Dalton good-naturedly interrupted us to point out, “It’s ‘Can we go back.’ ” But a million Internet lyric sites can’t be wrong, right? (Et tu, Rap Genius??) “It’s all good though,” the singer said laughing off the fumbles. “As long as they singing it, I’m happy!”
As for the clip, filmed across six continents on a seemingly bottomless budget, Dalton told MTV News his scenes were captured during the Australian leg of the rapper/producer pair’s Heist Tour. “All my shots were shot in New Zealand, where they did ‘Lord of the Rings,’ ” he revealed of the beachy landscapes.
The cherub-cheeked crooner of Mexican (his mom) and African-American (father) descent does his part to help carry the flag in the video, a symbolic, home-bound journey that ends atop Seattle’s iconic Space Needle. Off-screen, Dalton is doing his part, too. There’ll be more concert dates, TV shows and, just to remind him how “unreal” it all is, those ever-present Microsoft commercials. And then the tennis enthusiast who spent senior year listening to Amy Winehouse, Kanye West and Missy Elliott will set his sights on new dreams.
[Ed. note: Rap Genius editors have since updated the “Can’t Hold Us” lyric.]