The success of "Thrift Shop" was remarkable given how profoundly low-brow the whole project was. There was no major label puppet master pulling the strings of Macklemore's musty Grandpa blazer. The song's hook singer was holding down an office job at the time of the song's release. The video cost $5,000 to make.
"The video dropped and I'm sitting at my desk watching the numbers go up, it got up to about 1,000, 1,500, I just looked out the window and went, uh oh," hook singer Michael "Wanz" Wansley told Billboard at the time. I came back the next day and it had tripled in size, and I said, uh oh, and started pushing it out to my Facebook people, and the rest, as they say, is history."
The unlikely rise of "Thrift Shop" and its parent album The Heist became a modern underdog story: an obscure rap group from the Pacific Northwest with a self-released a song that went on to win two Grammy Awards for best rap song and best rap performance. As Sesame Street's Oscar would say in the "Thrift Shop" parody: "One Grouch's trash is another Grouch's outfit."
"It had the quality of, nothing else like that was on the radio," recalls John Ivey, president of CHR programming strategy for iHeartMedia. "I always tell people there's two kinds of that. There's like, 'Oh my gosh, there's nothing like this on the radio!' Then there's like, "Ugh, there's nothing like this on the radio...' And so it was one of those on the good side."
While "Thrift Shop" was the cheeky counterpoint to hip-hop extravagance, there was a tumultuous time in Macklemore's life when excess of drugs and alcohol was seriously thwarting his future. Just after meeting Ryan Lewis for the first time, Macklemore entered rehab for OxyContin abuse. "Being broke, having no career anymore was my rock bottom," Macklemore told Billboard in his 2013 cover story.
That second-shot spirit is imbued in the playful composition of "Thrift Shop": Rife with inventive percussion, zaps, scratches and even the "shiiiieeet" from HBO's The Wire, the music mimes the fanciful feeling of combing second-hand bins with your friends. But the song's real gift was the later-in-life discovery of Wanz, a fifty-something baritone from Seattle who was working at the time as a software test engineer. His chunky drone is the heart and soul of "Thrift Shop"; he's the voice who sings the only part you remember: "This is f--king awesome."