Though it’s practically needless to say by now, this Saturday — March 16 — is a date that most rock fans have long had circled on their calendar: The 20th anniversary of Kid Rock’s remarkable second album, The Polyfuze Method.
Seminal, landmark, epochal, Important … really, none of the words in the music writing lexicon seem sufficient enough to encapsulate that astonishing moment in the spring of 1993 when unheralded Michigan native Bob “Kid Rock” Ritchie unleashed an LP suffused with youthful passion, irrepressible hedonism and jaw-dropping, groundbreaking sonic adventurousness which, in hindsight, incontrovertibly defined a generation and captured the zeitgeist of an era on the precipice of social, political and cultural upheaval.
I believe it was either Brian Eno or Brian Bosworth who said recently that while only 137 people may have purchased, or even heard, The Polyfuze Method in 1993, “just about every one of those 137 people started a rap-rock band.”
The oral history that follows is not meant to deconstruct the notion that the album seemed to have oozed from the primordial muck that was early ’90s Detroit rather than from the genius residing inside the heads of Kid Rock and his collaborators, but to revisit a towering creative achievement and reintroduce the LP to a new generation of music listeners whose ears are yet to bathe in its grandeur.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: I remember feeling pretty low back in ’91 after Jive Records gave me the boot after [1990’s] Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast. I had dropped out of the physics program at Stanford to pursue a career in rap music and thought it was going well until that happened, so I considered going back and finishing my degree but then I thought I would give it one more shot.
JOSEPH “VIOLENT J” BRUCE [INSANE CLOWN POSSE]: I had a real heart-to-heart with Bob in the spring of 1992, when he came by the studio to lay down some vocals on “Is That You?” for Carnival of Carnage. I knew he wanted to quit and go back to college, and I understood because I, myself, had turned down a Rhodes Scholarship just a couple years before to try to get ICP off the ground and I did have some nagging regrets at the time. But I told him, yo, you’re Detroit’s only hope, you gotta keep at this muthafuckin’ shit or I’ll curbstomp your muthafuckin’ face and stick a hatchet in your muthafuckin’ neck.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: That’s when it happened, that “light bulb moment,” if you will. I thought to myself, “Kid, you like rap, and you like rock…you should mix rap and rock together and make rap-rock!”
DAVID FRICKE (ROLLING STONE WRITER/EDITOR): What he came up with was revolutionary.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: Every night I’d go over to the 7-11, get a Slurpee — I used to mix the Coca-Cola flavor and the cherry flavor cause it would taste like a frozen Cherry Coke — and sit down on the sidewalk out front and started writing lyrics in my Moleskine, just like Oscar Wilde. The first song I wrote was “Back From the Dead,” because I wanted people to know that I wasn’t giving up no matter how bleak my career prospects seemed at the time.
FRANK McHUGH (RITCHIE’S CHILDHOOD FRIEND): We’d all see Bob sitting in front of the 7-11 and be like, “Yo, fagwad, put down that Moleskine and come smoke some blunts and drink some 40s with us,” but he wouldn’t — that dude never touched any of that stuff. He was as straight-laced a guy as there was. But it was cool because we all respected his talent, we didn’t want to distract him from his life’s work.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: That whole album just came tumbling out of my head really quick. It was a really interesting time, historically. I mean, think about it: Bill Clinton just got elected president, the World Meteorological Organization reported the ozone depletion in the Arctic and Antarctic, Belgium became a federal monarchy, Hammer DeRoburt — the first president of Nauru — had recently died, Krebs and Fischer won the Nobel Prize in Medicine… I had a lot to say, and it all came out in “Balls in Your Mouth,” “Blow Me,” “Fuck U Blind,” and “Killin’ Brain Cells.”
JOSEPH “SHAGGY 2 DOPE” UTSLER (INSANE CLOWN POSSE): The first time Bob played me a demo of “Balls in Your Mouth,” I was fuckin’ blown away, and I knew the album was gonna be special. He didn’t necessarily have to explain to me that the line “Next the cutie started rubbin’ my back/Then she put a finger right between my booty crack” alluded to the Serbian blockade of Sarajevo — it was fairly obvious, yet canny –but still, his explication of the entire conflict as we sat there in his living room remains one of my fondest memories.
DAVE MARSH (CREEM WRITER/EDITOR): His lyrics were astounding. That’s probably around the time when if you mentioned “Bob,” people automatically started thinking Bob Ritchie, not Bob Dylan. It’s a good thing he had the Kid Rock nickname to differentiate himself.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: The words flowed like New Zealand’s Sutherland Falls, but coming up with the samples and riffs and arranging it all was proving difficult. I realized I needed help, I needed the best producer the $520 in my bank account could buy, so I started sending off demos in the hopes of finding someone to work with.
SIR GEORGE MARTIN (BEATLES PRODUCER/ENGINEER): Once Bob’s demos got out there, it was a mad, mad scramble to get to Detroit for the opportunity to produce what we all knew would be a legendary album. I must admit — and he’s going to be shocked to hear this, if he has Internet access in prison — that I was the one who had Phil Spector paged at LAX to inform him that his cat had just died, so he missed his flight to Detroit. But by the time myself, Bob Ezrin, Dr. Dre, Rick Rubin, Daniel Lanois and Butch Vig got to Bob’s place, he’d already decided to go with Mike E. Clark, that lucky bastard.
MIKE E. CLARK (PRODUCER): The Polyfuze sessions were, in a word, indescribable. I’ve never worked with anyone so focused, determined, industrious, and discerning. We had Dono [Zoyes], Peg Leg [Sam], Mike [Henry] playing on those tracks, but by then Bob had become virtuosic on just about every instrument in the studio, it was unbelievable. I remember the day Prince called just to ask Bob how he managed to do it all. And to think that on top of that he was able to rap in a manner that made Chuck D. jealous pretty much just adds to the legend of Bob.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: I wouldn’t have been able to do it without Mike and the guys. In fact, it was Mike who suggested we sample The Smiths’ “How Soon is Now?” for “Back From the Dead,” which is what really made the track shine. I honestly didn’t think we’d get clearance.
MORRISSEY (FORMER SMITHS SINGER): Unlike the invariably nauseating rascals and bores I’ve had the great displeasure of encountering daily in my years on this godforsaken planet, I found Robert to be a most agreeable and erudite chap, and his Wildean love of Moleskines only charmed me that much more. It was an honor and a privilege to grant him the usage of that hallowed snippet, and I’ve told him so. In fact, should the Smiths ever reunite, I swear upon James Dean’s divine visage that it shall be as a support act for Kid Rock.
See also: KISS and Morrissey: Together At Last
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: After we finished Polyfuze, I was humbled by the label bidding war that ensued. I mean, Clive Davis offered me a two-album, $300 million deal and even scrubbed my and Shaggy 2 Dope’s toilets for a month. So I felt bad turning him down, but I felt like in the end, the smartest move was to sign with Continuum Records, especially since they had just put out that Benny Hill greatest hits album.
DIRK FLANGLER (FORMER CONTINUUM RECORDS PUBLICIST): I mean, holy shit, when I found out we were putting out the Kid Rock album I shit myself. Literally shit myself. There was shit coming out of my ass and running down my pant leg. It was like I just won the lottery. We had already done Ronnie Wood and Roger Daltrey albums, but fuck those guys, you know? The eyes of the world were on us, and I was just excited and terrified at the same time, you know? I didn’t want to let Kid Rock down.
MIKE E. CLARK: I remember sitting in Continuum’s offices with Bob and all the label executives, trying to figure out a release date for the album. Everyone was sitting there, stumped, and then Bob, in that gravitas-laden voice of his, just said, “It HAS to be March 16th. We HAVE to honor the 175th anniversary of the Second Battle of Cancha Rayada. I owe the Chilean people nothing less!” And that was it, the decision was made.
DAVID FRICKE: I remember getting a Polyfuze cassette in the mail and — I’m embarrassed to admit this now — but I started laughing and I probably said out loud, “Kid Rock? That loser from Grits and Scrapple for Breakfast or whatever that thing was? Why the hell did he make another record?!” Of course, after about 10 seconds listening to it on my Walkman I changed my tune completely. It was rap, it was rock — AT THE SAME TIME — and it was, as you can imagine, a life-changing experience.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: The day it came out, I started getting all these calls from all these other artists, people I had looked up to — Chuck D., Tupac, Eric B. AND Rakim, Mick Jagger, Kurtis Blow, Artimus Pyle, all the guys in Sigue Sigue Sputnik — just telling me how incredible the album was. I was speechless.
ADAM “AD-ROCK” HOROVITZ (BEASTIE BOYS): When I heard “Prodigal Son” I was like, fuck a duck, how many times have we sampled “When the Levee Breaks” and Kid Rock makes it work like we never could.
FRED DURST (LIMP BIZKIT SINGER): I was gettin’ tatted up in Jacksonville when someone put that album on and BAM, next day I was on the phone with Wes, gettin’ our shit together. If it wasn’t for Polyfuze, there wouldn’t have been no Limp Bizkit. Thank you, Kid.
JUSTIN VERNON (BON IVER SINGER/MULTI-INSTRUMENTALIST): Obviously I don’t sound anything like Kid Rock, but I can tell you that hearing Polyfuze during my formative years showed me the possibilities of what music could be. I’m definitely doing what I’m doing today because of that album.
LL COOL J (RAPPER/ACTOR): This is still hard to talk about, but after I heard that album, I cried for like six months straight. I was like, this is so far and beyond anything myself or any of us have done or will do, what’s the point? I HATED Kid Rock with every fiber of my being, you know what I mean? We all did. Envy is a terrible, terrible thing, man. I’ve mostly come to terms with it now, and like my therapist told me, no matter how genius you might be, there’s always someone more genius than you. Except in Kid Rock’s case. Excuse me…[cries].
JIMMY PAGE (LED ZEPPELIN GUITARIST): I think LL does speak for us all when he says that.
DIRK FLANGLER: We had something like 18 million copies made of Polyfuze — figured that would hopefully get us through the first week. No one, and I mean no one, was more surprised than us when it only moved 32 copies.
DAVE MARSH: Look, the world just wasn’t ready for it yet.
DIRK FLANGLER: Continuum went out of business after that, obviously, but I have no regrets. I believed in that album then and I believe in that album now.
MIKE E. CLARK: Yeah, it was a shame, but I blame all of human civilization for not being able to grasp it. Fuckin’ idiots.
BOB “KID ROCK” RITCHIE: Don’t get me wrong, it was tough. Disappointing. I mean, you make the best record mankind has ever known and only a hundred-some people buy it? It’s gonna make you doubt yourself a little bit, for a split-second. But I’m still here. I’m a survivor. And maybe with this 20th anniversary thing, people are finally ready for it and they’ll rediscover it and give it the credit it deserves. And not for just me, but for Mike, for Dono, for Peg Leg — for all the people who helped make it a reality. And in my heart, I know that thousands of years from now, no matter what happens, even if the planet gets hit by an asteroid and explodes, somebody or something, somewhere, will still be listening to The Polyfuze Method and will be as inspired by hearing it as I was making it.