This Saturday, the Motor City’s favorite cowboy Kid Rock plays New Jersey’s PNC Bank Arts Center. He first Bawitdaba’ed into our hearts in the Spring of ’99 during an impressive career-making performance during “MTV’s Wanna Be a VJ Too” competition, and since then he’s since gone 11 times platinum off of one album, stolen the show at Woodstock ’99, briefly married Pamela Anderson, crossed over to a country audience and publicly endorsed both George W. Bush and Mitt Romney. The “Devil Without a Cause” contains multitudes, and while he’s understandably raised the ire of a wide-spectrum of listeners for one comment or another, his larger-than-life persona tends to overshadow his surprising longevity and proficient musicianship. In honor of this weekend’s show, we decided to spotlight five examples of Rock’s finer works so that, yes, even you might find something you legitimately enjoy in his catalog.
“Wax The Booty” 1990
A full decade before he was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy, Kid Rock released his debut album Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast on Jive Records. Rock, then with a flattop and opening for the likes of Ice Cube and Poor Righteous Teachers, was purely hip-hop in his earliest incarnation. His filthy mouth and penchant for storytelling made him a favorite of Too $hort, who took him on the road and produced a few songs for him, most memorably “Wax The Booty.” More smooth and sinister than the record’s other single “Yo-Da-Lin the Valley,” it’s a worthwhile tale of fornication from the era where sex in storytelling was king.
“Prodigal Son” 1993
After things didn’t pan out for Rock on Jive, he went back to the drawing board and landed a deal with independent Detroit imprint Continuum Records. Still wildly popular in his hometown, Rock adopted a love and mastery of Paul’s Boutique-esque sample-collage based production, beginning his approach’s metamorphosis into painting with broad strokes of other genres in his work. While the record has some classic Detroit smack-talking like “Balls in Your Mouth” (a staple of Rock’s live show for years to come) and invigorating sound collages on “Back From the Dead,” you can hear the moment where Rock finally begins to find his voice on “Prodigal Son.” Over a Zeppelin sample, Rock autobiographically describes the beginning of his quest to leave home to pursue music. In retrospect, the song today almost sounds like his outlaw manifesto.
“Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp” 1996
Detroit music has a long proud history of cross-genre influence. Prior to Kid Rock, Detroit’s biggest rap artist was Esham the Unholy, whose entire career involved sampling from the darker and more aggressive areas of rock. By the mid-90s, a funk-blues-rock sound was spreading throughout the city, thanks to effortlessly cool groups like Howling Diablos. By now, Rock had become a multi-instrumentalist, and was incorporating all these elements and more into his third album Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp. The title track (which somehow wound up briefly in the movie Road Trip) captured the laid back pimp desperado persona that Rock had finally perfected. The reason the track works so well is because Rock’s own love and incorporation of his musical references isn’t rooted in a nostalgia or a “tribute,” but rather in his actively engaging the elements he finds compelling into a wholly new hodgepodge of his own invention. Rock later re-recorded this for his History of Rock compilation, but awkwardly removed the Billy Ray Cyrus diss.
“Ya Keep On” 2000
While the original version of “Ya Keep On” was also found on 1996’s Early Mornin’ Stoned Pimp, the re-recording for 2000’s History of Rock is Rock’s purely hip-hop endeavors at its absolute finest. The glossiness of the re-recording brings out how layered Rock’s compositions sounded, and his rapping never had a finer hour. To really get an idea for how much Rock grew as an artist in this time, it’s worth listening to “Ya Keep On’s” original demo version from 1994 for an interesting perspective on his ever-changing sound and resources.
It’s been 15 years since “Cowboy” was released, surely that’s enough time passed to admit how much fun this song really is, right? If you haven’t heard this song since Chris Rock hosted a Video Music Awards, trust us, it’s worth revisiting and has aged far better than it should have. There was a moment when Kid Rock was the cornerstone of cool, and both the “Cowboy” song and video are strong reminders why. Dressed loudly and unapologetically, there’s something to be said for Rock reaching the absolute pinnacle of popularity and success in the music industry and using that power to make obscure ’70s porn references. Yes, he looked like the coolest, richest meth dealer you’ve ever seen, but in the Clinton era when your most viable pop stars were pristine teen-pop sensations, raucous nu-metal antagonists or alternative-to-alternative-to-alternative rock weirdos, Rock stood alone. It’s been a surprising 15 years since, but “Cowboy” remains one track from this era that’s timeless without even trying to be.