Macklemore, with the help of his production partner Ryan Lewis, has refined his exceptional ability to take acutely personal experiences and digest and deliver those into songs whose narratives weave those private moments into larger questions about social issues.
And he's done it again with "Kevin."
Though songs like "Thrift Shop" and "Can't Hold Us" helped him become a mainstream name, its with this kind of songwriting that he really thrives. He did it with "Same Love," rapping about his gay uncle and questioning his own sexuality before advocating for marriage equality. He did it on "Wing$," grappling with his own love for Air Jordans while indicting our culture of consumerism. He did it on "Otherside," opening up about his bout with addiction as an entry point to criticize the fetishization of lean.
"Kevin," which features Leon Bridges and which the trio debuted at the American Music Awards on Sunday night, again touches on drug addition and its pitfalls. This time, though, it's through the story of one of the rapper's friends (the song's namesake), and the drugs in question are prescription pills.
"I said peace at 5:30, the next time that I saw him was in the hands of the pallbearer/ What if I would've never gone and dropped him off there?/ Blaming myself, in hysterics, screaming 'It's not fair!'" he raps, after referencing Kevin's addition to oxycontin earlier on in the first verse.
In the second verse, he takes the macro approach: "I don't blame Kev or his mom freebasing while pregnant with him/ I blame the pharmacy companies/ And country that spends trillions fighting the war they supplying themselves/ Politicians and business and jail/ Public defenders and judges who fail."
Macklemore actually shared Kevin's story in an interview with mtvU in January 2014, as part of the "Half of Us" initiative to strip away the stigma of mental health issues.
He explains that Kevin, five or six years his junior, was an old friend an aspiring rapper, whom he would see from time-to-time at recovery meetings. After Kevin got two weeks sober, the Seattle rapper took him to the studio to record a few songs. He dropped him off at home, and found out from Kevin's sister, the next day, that he had overdosed. According to government statistics, over 50 million people in the U.S. over the age of 12 have used prescription drugs for a non-medical purpose.
"If I don't share Kevin's story, if I don't participate in a community of sobriety, I could very easily wake up -- not wake up, like Kevin," he said.