On the cover of The Source and on a two-page spread inside Rolling Stone last month, 26-year-old Marshall Mathers a/k/a Eminem and 29-year-old Bob Ritchie a/k/a Kid Rock were respectively photographed, both wielding chainsaws extending from their groins, out past the cornfields where the woods get heavy, possibly somewhere in the Upper Peninsula. Chopping down trees must be what New York glossy-magazine editors figure Michigan white boys—at least Michigan white boys with albums at the top of the charts—do in their spare time. Even in the sweet summertime.
“I put Detroit City back on the map!” Kid Rock raps in his current single. “Got the rock from Dee-troit, soul from Motown!” His first definitive song-as-statement, released in 1990, was heartland chauvinism worthy of Jack and Diane themselves: A middle-American midnight cowboy treks to Manhattan, where the cabbie drives like a moe-ron, and there’s “a fucking transvestite, walking in the daylight,” who’d “get dissed in Detroit, but I’ll leave him alone, ’cause New York’s not my home.” Kid’s got more local color in his lyrics than any Michigan musician ever: Livernois, St. Clair Shores, Taylor, the Great Lakes, being born and raised in the Outerlands, drinking 30-packs of Stroh’s (spelled backwards is “shorts”!), rolling deep in his Lincoln, self-made like Henry Ford. He’s got a tattoo of one of those olde English D’s from Detroit Tigers hats (also used on the cover of D’Angelo’s current longplayer, Doodoo). His new album, The History of Rock, starts with a song title clearly inspired by Grand Funk Railroad’s “American Band” and ends with songs unapologetically ripping Bob Seger’s “Get Out of Denver” and Ted Nugent’s “Stranglehold”—three landmarks of Michigan hard rock. Last year he visited the Bowery Ballroom and delivered maybe the most exciting rock concert since Guns N’ Roses in Detroit in early ’87, and here’s the medley he centered it around: “Sister Anne”(MC5)/”American Band”/”Ramblin’ Gamblin’ Man” (Seger)/ “Stranglehold”/”My Name Is” (Eminem).
On his own new album, Eminem—who changed schools constantly as a kid, but seems to have been reared mostly on his mom’s welfare earnings in 13-mile-drive-from-downtown Warren—disses fellow honky-rapping Michiganders the Insane Clown Posse for “claiming Detroit when y’all live 20 miles away” and because they “ain’t seen a mile-road south of Ten”; a couple weeks ago, he allegedly pointed a pistol at one particular ICP idiot outside an electronics store in Royal Oak, Detroit’s most bohemian suburb. His only other ode to his hometown on The Marshall Mathers LP is “Amityville,” a generically comic-bookish apparent tribute to the eccentric terror-rap of Esham, whose 20-some ignored-outside-Detroit albums apparently kick-started all the murder capital’s current white punks gone dope—most of whom may well hang themselves, if they get enough rope.
Esham is black, as were the Detroit kids who invented techno in the mid ’80s, and their “acid rap” and “ghetto-tech” descendants today. The metropolis has a unique history of musical miscegenation, of the ghetto taking cues from commuters, and vice versa: Motown slicking up soul, Seger and Nuge and the MC5 (and Iggy and Mitch Ryder and so on) rooting their hard rock in hard r&b, George Clinton making funk psychedelic, the Electrifyin’ Mojo spinning Kraftwerk and Billy Squier alongside Prince and Kurtis Blow on urban-contemporary WGPR in 1981, Madonna Ciccone usurping drag-queen disco for 10-year-old shopping-mall girls, Derrick May and Juan Atkins taking notes from Mojo’s Kraftwerk records. It all sounds especially good in big cars.
But Detroit, the land of Devil’s Night arson festivals and bombed-out crackhouse ghost-town blocks and cops pulling you over then robbing you at gunpoint, not to mention the largest predominantly black city in the U.S., has never produced a nationally successful hip-hop star darker-complexioned than Kid Rock or Eminem. Weird. The last U.S. census ranked the city second only to Gary, Indiana, as the nation’s most segregated; drive across the demarcation line that is Eight Mile Road, and before you know it you’re surrounded by the two-car garages and built-in pools of 86 percent Caucasian Oakland County and 95 percent Caucasian Macomb County—white-flight demographics spurred as much by the auto industry itself as by riots downtown 33 years ago.
Which is not to suggest that there aren’t profound demographic differences within the burbs’ bourgeois utopia—surrounding Detroit, for instance, you’ve got your Jewish-American-princess suburbs, your assembly-liner-feeling-like-a-number suburbs, your rednecks-with-hunting-rifle suburbs, and lots between (and none of those populations is pure itself, either). Still, though Kid Rock proudly bills himself as white trash, he probably doesn’t need to go see The Virgin Suicides—set in old-money Grosse Pointe—to learn how the other half lives. He grew up on a six-acre plot with a 145-tree apple orchard in 40-mile-drive-from-downtown Romeo, tolerating his parents’ barn-dancing to Seger’s Live Bullet; his first hip-hop gig was popping and locking for a breakdance crew sponsored by the local Burger King. In his embarrassingly openhearted, Bill Withers-looping, allegedly autobiographical racemixer “Black Chic, White Guy,” revolving around a ninth grade abortion that “really fucked his head up,” the title’s white guy comes “from a family of middle class.” Kid’s stuff about how he grew up herdin’ cattle and has more rhymes than everyone in Seattle seems inspired by Weird Al’s “Smells Like Nirvana,” but his great secret subject is Pleasant Valley Sunday in Status-Symbol Land: layin’ sod, chillin’ in the old man’s boat, workin’ at the car wash (yeah), gettin’ set to go cut the lawn. If you’re really straight out the trailer, you don’t need a lawn mower!
Kid talks more about sex with black women than Eminem does (in fact, he seems to enjoy sex more in general), but they’ve got plenty of obsessions in common: their middle fingers, their mushrooms, their misogyny, their my-name-is songs, their misplaced (and much mentioned) hostility against homosexuals. The Nugent rip on Kid’s History is a gonzodelic father-and-son-debate fuzzbuild epic called “My Oedipus Complex”; on Marshall Mathers, Eminem raps oedipally about—grab your barf bag—raping his own mama (who, in real life, sued him last year). Mostly what the pair share, though, is vulnerability: a vulnerability that manages to keep their middle fingers interesting. They both give every indication, even, that they’re loving fathers in real life. Watching his youngest son helps Kid Rock (whose seven-year-old Junior comes up constantly in interviews) pass the time; Eminem (whose four-year-old Hailie does) imagines being 40, cooling with a 40, baby-sitting two grandkids while his daughter’s out getting smashed. “Kim,” the intensely-wailed-and-teary-eyed new marital-squabble duet where he kills his old lady (who in real life he’s since married, then just last month reportedly pulled a gun on) ’cause he caught her messin’ ’round with another man, actually starts with Eminem convincingly goo-goo-ing and powdering and diapering their little girl.
Not vulnerable enough for you? Depressed that such a sick motherfucker could have the summer’s most popular record? Worried what that says about the youth of America? OK, here’s my Minnesota friend Molly, on hearing “Kim” for the first time: “I can’t figure out why I feel sorry for [Eminem] when he breaks down and confesses to his wife, while he’s slitting her throat, that he loves her instead of ‘hating [her] so fucking much.’ Plus, I can’t remember the last time I took an album so personally. I feel violated listening to it, or like I’ve accidentally seen some domestic dispute that I can’t get out of my mind. . . . I want to like it because I think ‘art’ should make you feel, it should make you think, and it’s been so long since a record freaked me out. But, at the same time, I wonder if he’s just full of shit.” Which he is, of course. But that’s half the fun.
Kid Rock recently helped legendary country outlaw David Allan Coe compose a similarly themed wife-murder spectacle called “Wreckless” for an upcoming collaborative EP; for Coe, who was splattering spouse-blood then his own all over walls on the “Sui-side” (as opposed to the “Happy Side”) of his Human Emotions album 22 years ago, and who claimed to have served time on death row in Ohio, this is not exactly something new, but whatever. The Kid/Coe EP has plenty of bottleneck and slide and crap about titty-bars, plus a slowed-down-and-censored version of Kid’s gorgeous power ballad hit “Only God Knows Why” (which version Kid recently re-covered himself on Saturday Night Live). Coe is slated to appear, along with Iggy and a TLC or two and maybe Axl Rose interpreting Lynyrd Skynyrd, on an album due this fall by Kid Rock’s vastly underrated Twisted Brown Trucker Band. Mostly, though, DAC exemplifies yet another tendency Kid and Eminem share: They really like helping out their friends. Though their friends are rarely as newsworthy as David Allen Coe.
Double Wide, the just-out roots-rock Hootie-hop debut album from Kid’s DJ and best friend, Uncle Kracker, peaks with a charbroiled-on-the-crossroads ZZ Top rip about whiskey, a fingersnappy Myrtle Beach tuck-you-in doo-wop, and a beige bopper about how “if heaven ain’t a lot like Dee-troit”—if it ain’t got no Eight Mile—it might as well be Hell or Salt Lake City. Kid also cameos on the album by Blowfish-brand jamless jam-band Robert Bradley’s Blackwater Surprise; mushmouthed deep-soulster Bradley moans sweetly about how he was born on a farm in Alabama, but now he’s motoring down the road take-one-guess-where.
And then there’s 3’9″-with-a-10-foot-dick Joe C, of course, whose debut album has been postponed, which might be just as well seeing how his purpose in life, obviously, is to serve as a sidesplitting free-lunch sideshow break in Kid Rock’s circus. Last year he squeaked about having the highest voice like Aaron Neville and being down with the devil; on History of Rock, he insists he’s vertically challenged but ain’t no goddamn midget. On Saturday Night Live, hugging Florence Henderson and mugging for the camera in Mickey Mouse ears and dolled up in a wedding dress as Jerry Lee Lewis’s underaged cousin, he stole the show from Kid Rock and Jackie Chan both.
By contrast, Eminem’s own height-identified protégé, Royce Da 5-9, has an amusing name but not much vocal presence. In fact, pretty near the only rapper whose dexterity and energy have kept up with Em so far is Kid Rock himself—in “Fuck Off,” which notably got lost in the shuffle on Kid’s octipussal-platinum Devil Without a Cause but which jumps right out of Eminem’s useful-if-illegal duet-and-remix-and-compilation-cut-compiling bootleg CD Fucking Yzarc. “This planet belongs to me and this hippie with long hair,” Eminem raps in it. The Snoop/Dre G-funk-era interlude on Eminem’s new album is summery and smooth, but too often, whenever anyone else joins in, we get snooze city: mere underground Method acting by dimwits trying too hard to sound hard.
The Dre connection—bolstered by Eminem’s yzarc willingness to both use Mr. Nigga With Attitude as his conscience and put him in his place—seems the main reason that rap’s answer to Jeff Gillooly (Kim being Tonya Harding, natch) is given props by r&b stations that would never touch Kid Rock or the Beastie Boys. Before you reach the whistling G-thang conclusion of Em’s ridiculously catchy current smash “The Real Slim Shady,” though, you’ve got to work your way through stanzas dinky enough to be nursery rhymes and taunts about how “you act like you never seen a white person before.” Molly (remember her?) says he sounds like Porky Pig. In the tradition of onetime funk-crossover stars Kraftwerk and Devo, his nasal whine is the ultimate parody of an Anglo-Saxon nerd: He makes no attempt to sound black. Yet at the same time, he’s the rare rapper who gets on rock stations without any attempt to sound rock, unless you count the “Back in Black“ riffs in certain bootleg “My Name Is” remixes. “How can I be white?” he asked last year. “I don’t even exist.”
Like Teena Marie, perhaps the last Anglo-Saxon to so fully achieve approval across the great divide, Eminem complexly switches voices within songs for different characters (five or six in “The Real Slim Shady” alone), different emotions. He can be as verbally complicated as anybody else in rap, without limiting himself to anti-mainstream hip-hop’s gratuitous aren’t-you-impressed-by-my-thesaurus spelling bee. But most of the remarkable displays of technique (“skillz,” “flow,” who cares) on his breakthrough album last year weren’t compelling enough to return to much, maybe because his word-slinging sensibilities totally dominated over the music. For all its competently eclectic production, The Slim Shady LP was hardly conducive to background play—it had to be paid attention to, like a singer-songwriter record, almost. But The Marshall Mathers LP is another story: The ever increasing variety in Eminem’s voice (drawled Southern-bounce cadences, impatiently curt throaty staccatos, flat Beck-like deadpans, crying and screaming) somehow feels completely conversational, and the musical backdrop (calypso/Caribbean, Gothic etherea, jiggy disco evolving into P.M. Dawn) is frequently, of all things, beautiful. Heart-stopping use of musique concrète sound effects adds to thesuspense and tension and weirdness: Smith-Coronas typing fan letters, machetes impaling tracheas, music boxes jingling for baby, cars splashing in the lake, hostages shrieking in the trunk, insane clowns slobberingly sucking each other off. And it’s worth noting that, as on the debut, some of the best parts (“Stan,” “The Way I Am”) are not produced by Dr. Dre. One conceivable influence for all the funeral bells and blues-guitar-dirged waltz passages is the British Gregorian-rap group Faithless, whose trip-hop diva Dido croons behind Eminem in “Stan,” an impossibly eerie stained-glass rainstorm.
“The Real Slim Shady” blatantly announces itself as a sequel, and it’s got loads of unexpected bits, even beyond how Eminem rhymes “mammal” with “Discovery Channel” mere months after the Bloodhound Gang (and enunciates the word “clitoris” mere months after Danish hard rockers D.A.D.’s undiscovered cunnilingo classic “Kiss Between the Legs”). At least one line can be heard as explicitly pro-gay: “Who says a man and a man can’t elope?” (rhymes with cantaloupe, and antelope). But mainly, the thesis here is that a million other Slim Shadys are out there, walking and talking and cussing as scary as our hero—strange, because give or take maybe MC Paul Barman, no rappers have exactly plundered the dude’s dialect so far. Plus, if “every single person is a Slim Shady lurkin’,” then Eminem by definition is not the real Slim Shady—Michael Jackson or Iggy Pop or Attila the Hun is. Or Adam and Eve.
None of which matters, though, because Eminem recites it all like it’s just nonsense words to jump rope to. When it comes to exploring ways to deflate his own pretension, he’s up there with Richard Meltzer, almost: “Women wear your panty hose, sing the chorus and it goes. . . . ” Check out the hook while the DJ revolves it. He can singsong demands to “take drugs, rape sluts, make fun of gay clubs” like they’re Dr. Seuss; he can turn the seven words George Carlin couldn’t say on television into skooby-doo-wop scatting. Or last year, in the most Sesame Street smile around: “Hi kids!:-) Do you like violence?:-).” Identifies himself as the bad guy who persecutes people who die in plane crashes, but what he persecutes more is his own persona.
“This is for children who break rules,” Eminem says, “and every single teenager who hates school.” For somebody who hates school, though, he really does love playing with language (a pastime which school as often as not discourages, admittedly). He gets off on vowel sounds: “Don’t blame me if little Eric jumps off the terrace, you shoulda been watching him, apparently you’re not parents.” By the time he’s 30, he predicts, he’ll be in a nursing home pinching nurses and jerking off with Jergen’s ’cause the Viagra’s not workin’. He can’t rap anymore, he confesses once; he just murdered the alphabet. Seems to be keeping the Physician’s Desk Reference alive, though.
When we last met him he was getting revenge on bullies, needing Tylenol PM to sleep, slicing up Dad in a dream, complaining about stabbing victims bleeding all over his rug, making the world fellate him without a condom on, winning a million bucks then robbing armored trucks, blaming himself for somebody’s psilocybin OD (“We need an ambulance!/There’s a girl upstairs talking to plants!”), and giving another girl herpes (which later in the album he can’t decide whether he has) in exchange for syphilis. But these were all really Slim Shady, of course, who is of course a cartoon, so the born-brain-damaged/one-sandwich-short-of-a-picnic-basket slapstick mostly came off cute—not terribly more authentic in its nastiness than, say, Alice Cooper in “No More Mr. Nice Guy” or Wile E. Coyote shopping for bombs at Acme. Puts on a bulletproof vest, ties himself to the bed, shoots himself in the head. The first time I heard “My Name Is” on the radio reminded me of the first time I heard “Loser” by Beck, in that it felt like a wacky novelty song—a good one, but hardly something presaging a career anybody would remotely take seriously.
Eminem has since, though, proved responsible for the funniest not-a-motherfucking-role-model-(or am I?) disclaimers in pop history—stuff about how children shouldn’t partake in the album with laces in their shoes, and Slim Shady is not responsible for their actions. “I try to be positive and keep it cool/Shoot up the playground and tell the kids to stay in school.” Slim Shady gives Em the luxury of narrative distance. And he’s constantly also portraying Greek choruses of peanut-gallery inhabitants criticizing Shady (“Stop the tape! The kid needs to be locked up!”), and nobody confuses those voices with Eminem, oddly enough. He laughs at his own audaciousness—all over his new album, he sets up an endlessly neurotic supply of trapdoors within trapdoors, turning-back-on-self techniques frequently more audacious than whatever audaciousness they’re escaping him from. Tells us he’s really just Marshall Mathers, a regular guy. Dippiest moment is when he suggests (in apparent seriousness) that it’s more dangerous to let 12-year-old girls wear makeup than to let them listen to him. But that doesn’t stop a couple brats in another song from breaking through his window and stealing his machine guns and trench coats.
Where The Slim Shady LP mainly comprised variations on “Glory Glory Hallelujah, Teacher Hit Me With A Ruler,” Eminem’s new set ranks with rock’s most outlandish travails-of-stardom dissertations ever, setting themes that Kurt Cobain never quite pulled off toatmospherics that Tricky never quite pulled off. Or you could say it’s all variations on “Positively Fourth Street,” except when it’s variations on “Hey Joe” or “It’s Only Rock and Roll.” Suicide right on the stage: Would you think the boy’s headful of ideas was driving him insane? Eminem’s always fantasizing about killing himself—”and I’ll try it again/That’s why I write songs where I die at the end.” And on the new album, the catalyst is mainly his fans. But as with Kid Rock on Devil Without a Cause, there’s a self-awareness and emotional complexity to The Marshall Mathers LP that Eminem previously seemed incapable of. He’s “sick and tired of being admired,” and he’s got no patience for either the cocky Caucasians at rock and roll stations or the underground rappers labeling him a sellout ’cause he can’t rap about being broke no more. He’s fed up with your shit and does not give a fuck what you think, and if you’re stupid enough to believe he’d really kill somebody, he says, well, maybe he’ll just kill you. He dismisses his own audience as “fucking retards” who, upon purchasing his record, have hereby kissed his ass. His best new song, “Stan,” consists of three obsessive letters from a stalking nutcase who thinks Slim Shady is a real person, and one uncharacteristically thoughtful Eminem missive back to him advising him to seek counseling. But (à la “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins, one of the letters points out) it’s too late; the dork’s already downed his fifth of vodka and driven into the lake with his girlfriend riding shotgun.
Not to say it’s out of his system yet (his rap remake of Bob Seger’s beautiful-loser-on-tour tour de force “Turn the Page” is due next year), but Kid Rock actually immortalized in verse the travails of stardom before he was a star, in “Only God Knows Why”: “Guess that’s the price you pay for being some big shot like I am.” Easily one of this year’s most irresistible radio singles, said backporch ballad comes closer to realizing what made the Allmans’ “Ramblin’ Man” or Skynyrd’s “Am I Losin’ ” great than Wilco or the Jayhawks, say, ever could. Rhythmatized by the danciest hard-rock drummer (her name is Stefanie Eulinberg, by the way) since Steven Adler on Appetite for Destruction, Kid’s eight-piece Twisted Brown Trucker Band regularly finds the funk at the heart of Southern rock that has eluded generations of jam bands. His “Welcome to the Jungle”/”Hotel California”/”Hollywood Nights”-style move-to-L.A. fantasy “Cowboy” rocks like Beck would if Becks could rock; his boast about living on “Matchbox 20 money” seems even goofier in the wake of Santana hiring smoothie Rob Thomas; his a cappella Fleetwood Mac basslines in “Wasting Time” (Devil‘s best dance song, now penciled in as its platform-shoed fifth single) are even funnier than the Backstreet Boys’ a cappella basslines in “Larger Than Life”; his “Dust in the Wind” reference beats Enrique Iglesias’s. And his alcohol fixation—bottles of Beck’s, gallons of cognac, 18 Heinekens, Boone’s Farm, shots of Jack, and his man Jim Beam, all to wash down the one-hitter puffs and New Orleans jumbo shrimp he loves so much—would stop anybody‘s 12-step program from keeping them clean.
Gold links and minks and shrimps on the bayou, these are the things he ain’t gonna buy you. He’s bad, he’s nationwide—life’s a bitch, but he deals with it. He’s slept in Dumpsters, got high with kings. He’s an easy rider dreaming of Winona and he rides all night ’cause he sleeps all day ’cause he wang-dangs more sweet poontang than k.d. lang (got a whirlpool, don’t even ask, lickin’ pussy underwater blowin’ bubbles up your ass) ’cause yodelin’ in your valley is a delicious break from potatoes. Causes chaos, rocks like Amadeus, finds West Coast kootchie for his Dee-troit playas, who might also be his heroes at the methadone clinic. He’ll serve no rhyme before its time, and he’s got more time than Morris Day, and he’s so greasy you can call him mud, and he can feel a little Hank running through his blood. Ayn Rand couldn’t stand him, so she banned him, but he doesn’t steal from the rich and give to the poor; he steals from his bitches and gives it to his whores. He’s a Capricorn, and Detroit City’s where he was born—at night, but not last night, baby. Maybe he’s also a sexist pig. But you better not need to be born in Detroit City yourself to detect a ferocious wit—not to mention an enviable IQ—here.
Even his kiss-my-grits “aggression” feels good-natured. Being punk is not his talent: Warmth is, and humor, and craft. It took a lot of work to get all the jokes and choruses and piano breaks on Devil Without a Cause into the right places, and even more to make them sound so tossed off. Kid’s louder Rage Against the Machine-type harangues (despite commendably frequent “Immigrant Song”-like twisted propulsion)—the ones where he shows you some metal—actually tend to be his least interesting stuff; for months, in fact, they led me to underrate Devil as a whole.
It was in 1996 on Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp (which provided Devil with two songs and History of Rock with three) that Kid Rock truly forged both his redneck image (on the CD cover: long unwashed hair, tattoo, wifebeater tank top) and his groove: descending symphonic blaxploitation wah-wah slinkin’ round the block (three years after his White Room Studios stablemates Big Chief—the Michigan band most responsible for Motorbooty magazine—made a fake blaxploitation concept soundtrack), hard-boiled barbecue-rib-joint boogie drama, soul-sister backup winding upward, high squealing drop-the-bomb-on-the-white-boy-too nuclear synth sirens, Rufus/Frampton vocoders, “Freddie’s Dead” falsettos, shotgun blasts, spy-movie organ. The vocals, chanted as much as rapped, were schooled largely in Too $hort’s bootiliciously beeyatch-baiting Oakland pimpitude, but also in badass shit older than old-school: the JBs, Blowfly, Rudy Ray Moore, John Lee Hooker, Swamp Dogg, Parliament’s live album, the dozens. So despite his welcome antinostalgic claim that “everything that gets old gets overrated/old to me just means outdated,” Rock really does have a sense of history—on Devil, remember, he based “Bawitdaba” ‘s MTV-smashing chorus on an old Sugarhill Records mantra, and he threw up his Zodiac sign in “Ain’t Nothin’ but a Party” like one of the Furious Five (Cowboy, maybe?) at a roller rink.
The History of Rock, despite being not nearly as funny or fruggable, despite mostly haphazardly handpicking rerecorded renditions of old songs that are no match for new hesher-hop product by upstarts like Kottonmouth Kings and Brougham, and despite leaving such fuzzily boinging Beastie-beatboxed scratch-rap goodies as “Live” and “Classic Rock” in the vault, is still a keeper. Previously unheard tracks—for instance, the soaring road anthem “Dark & Grey” (complete with expert Appalachian banjo break)—head in a dirgeful sort of biker-metal direction. “Abortion” (neither manifestly pro- nor anti-) is snarled with the same tough horror-movie Zappa tongue that Monster Magnet used in “See You in Hell,” which similarly ascribed a personality to the unborn. In “American Bad Ass,” Kid even catalogs his record collection: everything from the Clash to Johnny Cash to Grandmaster Flash. Not to mention, ick, Korn and Limp Bizkit. But “boy bands are trash,” he tells us (and on Saturday Night Live he dissed Britney Spears for lip-synching the week before); Eminem’s current single, too, words-up Fred Durst and disses your typical teenybop targets. Em’s Will Smith and LFO parodies are admittedly entertaining in their grossout way, but both Detroit boys are suckers for clichéd “keep it real” baloney. “Vanilla Ice was fake,” Eminem told the L.A. Times this year. “3rd Bass was real.” Even though “Ice Ice Baby” (and “I Want It That Way” and “Oops! . . . I Did It Again”) have more life in them than 3rd Bass or Fred Durst (or Royce Da 5-9 or Robert Bradley) ever will.
Kid also furthers his 1993 Polyfuse Method hair-loss obsession in “American Bad Ass” by bragging about not needing Rogaine. Then he boasts about going platinum seven times, though he was more likable when he was bragging about how he was going to go platinum—back in Devil‘s title track, after a truckload of albums that didn’t sell diddly outside Detroit. He made like Babe Ruth calling the shot, and wound up not eating crow: No more floozies, just high-class ‘hos! But in the rock world, success can be failure, and failure can be accomplishment. This is something he and Eminem instinctively understand. Kid says he doesn’t like small cars or real big women, but somehow he always finds himself in ’em; Eminem says he hasn’t had a woman in years, his palms are too hairy to hide. These guys brag about being fuck-ups in ways black rappers never would (though, then again, black rappers would never disrespect their own moms the way Eminem does, either). “Fuck high school,” Kid proclaims. “Pissed on my diploma.” “I never went to college/Ain’t got no skills/I got hair on my shoulders and a bottle of pills.” “I ain’t no rough guy/Ain’t no tough guy/Don’t get out much/And don’t dress up fly.” This beat is for Sonny Bono: In “Black Chic, White Guy,” he even concedes that people listening might be laughing at him.
Part of his shtick, of course, is to exaggerate his dumbness, to pretend “my only words of wisdom are Suck My Dick.” “You can look for answers, but that ain’t fun”: It’s not a problem you can stop, as Axl would say, it’s rock and roll. It’s not something to fix. “Crucified by the critics every day,” Kid kvetches, “’cause I really don’t have that much to say.” Yet it’s obviously not far-fetched to argue that his and Eminem’s embrace of “white trash” (starting with the pejorative itself) has much to say about class—not for nothing did Kid cover Creedence Clearwater Revival’s anti-entitlement anthem “Fortunate Son” at Woodstock last summer, almost a year before Sleater-Kinney’s rendition of the same classic led to claims in the Times of their reinventing punk rock. If Kid and Eminem are reinventing anything, it’s probably just the idea that, as much as (say) Wu-Tang Clan fans, white kids who hate school need something empowering to call their own, and to blast out car windows while driving through menacing neighborhoods like their parents blasted snakeskin cowboy Ted Nugent and sick motherfucker Alice Cooper back in Dazed and Confused daze. Which is important,y’know? Ain’t it funny how the night moves, when you just don’t seem to have as much to lose?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 4, 2000