The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint
The greats were great cause they paint a lot
You are not born with greatness. Escher, Basquiat and Harring did not come out of the womb creating masterpieces. But with countless hours of practice, their form was strengthened until they realized, and were realized for, their true potential and greatness (it’s that 10,000 hours theory at play again). There have been multiple interviews where Macklemore has claimed that he was an awful rapper when he just started in high school. Overtime, he crafted the skill and was able to come out with a top-notch album.
It’s possible to hear it as “because they paid a lot” — matches the past tense of “were great”, and speaks to the sacrifice required to become excellent.
To help improve the meaning of these lyrics, visit “Ten Thousand Hours” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis (Ft. Macklemore) Lyrics and leave a comment on the lyrics box