"Hey, there's a concept that works/ 20 million other white rappers
— Eminem, "Without Me"
It's true. Hollywood loves an idea that works: whether it's boy bands,
volcano flicks, "Friends" rip-offs, reality shows or this year's model
— girl surfing movies.
And while Eminem's got a good point, where, exactly, are those other
19,999,999 white rappers?
It's not enough to keep blaming Vanilla Ice. Yeah, he and Marky Mark ruined
things for a while. But Em's success, along with Kid Rock, Bubba Sparxxx,
the rock-rap crossover of Linkin Park and such underground sensations as
El-P, Necro and Non-Phixion, have renewed and mainstreamed the credibility
of a new generation of white MCs.
While it's hard to pin down why the bottle hasn't yet been uncorked on a raft of Eminem wannabes, a number of promising white rappers are
bubbling under, hoping to finally blur the racial lines in hip-hop and, once
and for all, well, avoid the need for articles like this one.
"Hip-hop is about the unknown grabbing the mic and setting the world on fire," said Gary Harris, executive vice president of urban A&R for ArtistDirect Records, which will release the debut from Portland, Maine, rapper Poverty in January.
"What prepared me to hear Poverty is that I'm a child of the '60s and the
civil rights movement, where the important lesson that black and white
Americans hopefully learned was that color doesn't matter. Like Martin
Luther King said, we should all be judged by the content of our character,
not the color of our skin."
Harris, who was the head of promotion at Def Jam when the Beastie Boys were
signed, said they taught him that it doesn't matter where you come from as
long as you're dope. "And Poverty is dope," he said of the MC, whose
grimy rhymes deal with his destitute upbringing by a drug-addicted mother
and his struggle to beat the street.
The other rappers you can expect to hear from in the near future range from
New York slick to Southern grit and underground gonzo.
On the flashier end of the spectrum is Kain, who appears on P. Diddy's
The Saga Continues (2001). While the MC was given plenty of shine in
Diddy's videos, a Bad Boy spokesperson said there is no information on when
Kain's debut album might drop.
The Wu-Tang Clan invited Remedy (a.k.a. Ross Filler, a.k.a. Reuven Ben
Menachem) into their extended Killa Beez family by giving him a track on
their 1998 Wu-affiliated release The Swarm. Last year Remedy —
like the Wu, a Staten Island native — released a self-produced debut,
The Genuine Article, mixed by RZA. He is slated to release his latest
independent album, Code Red, on August 20.
Big Apple Italian-American Jojo Pellegrino has been rhyming for years, most
recently as part of the Violator crew. A veteran of New York mixtapes with a
number of white label singles under his belt, "The Rap Tony Soprano" was
slated to have his full-length debut, Pellegrino Story —
featuring Busta Rhymes, Method Man and Kurupt — released last year.
Since recently splitting with Violator/Loud Records, a spokesperson said the
goodfella rapper has been shopping for a new deal and is hoping to release
his debut soon.
One rapper you can hear now is 6'4", 320-pound Nashville native Haystak, who
shares a hick-hop vibe with new pal Bubba Sparxxx. Whereas things were
lovely for Sparxxx, veteran rapper 'Stak has a dimmer, more introspective
outlook on life than the pigsty-loving Timbaland protégé.
Haystak's third album, The Natural, is full of tales of poverty,
struggle and strife delivered in a raw but catchy style that wouldn't be out
of place on a DMX record.
While many white MCs try to deflate the race question by ignoring it,
gravely voiced Haystak tackles it head-on in the lead track from the album,
"White Boy," a litany of derogatory names for white people. The 27-year-old
rapper said he purposely front-loaded the album with the song as a means of
deflating his media detractors.
"I get hit with that so often that I figured, 'Let's get this white boy sh--
out of the way, because I'm one of the coldest rappers out there today,
period,' " said 'Stack, who duets with honorary Crazy White Boys member
Sparxxx on the track "Oh My God."
Haystak knows acceptance isn't always easy, but even he's at a loss to
explain why more white rappers haven't broken through. He copped to the fact
that being white has definitely made it much harder for him to gain
acceptance from his peers, which has always been his #1 goal. "It's like a
blind man being a professional bowler," he said of being a white MC. "He has
to practice so hard and try much harder for people to think he can do it."
So, why does it matter that these rappers are white? Frankly, it doesn't.
They're all talented MCs with original flows, regardless of race. All that
matters, as Harris said, is that they bring the goods. But, like watching
Tiger Woods on the golf links, NHL forward Anson Carter on the ice or
Sevendust singer Lajon Witherspoon on the stage, the issue is there because,
for now, in the rap game they are still a visible minority.
One explanation for the dearth of white MCs, according to Harris, could be
the way the contemporary hip-hop business works. "Artists are normally not
introduced to a label by a manager or lawyer, but by another artist," he
said. "The latest kid in a neighborhood to get a deal brings on his crew.
But I just don't know that white folks, to this point, are plugged into that
An example of an artist who has gained that juice and already used it to his
advantage is Kid Rock. His DJ, Uncle Kracker, is about to release his second
solo album, which would not likely have seen the light of day if not for the
breakthrough success and sponsorship of his boss.
If nothing else, the slow rise of this new generation of white rappers
reflects the pervasiveness of hip-hop in our culture over the past 20 years.
The same dirty white boys who used to bang around on guitars in their rec
rooms trying to be Kurt Cobain are just as likely to be sampling beats and
writing rhymes, hoping to be the next Ja Rule or Tupac. Some of them, such
as the members of Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit and the like, have gone platinum
many times over combining the best of both worlds.
But, as controversial as Eminem is and as proud of being a redneck as Bubba
and Kid Rock are, there remains a line that white rappers seem reluctant to
cross: the use of the N-word.
Almost everyone, that is, except Long Island's RA the Rugged Man. The
X-rated MC, a 28-year-old whose been rapping on street corners since well
before he could drive, dropped the by-now-obligatory hip-hop epithet in his
raw 2001 single "What the F---?," though he doesn't remember doing it.
"I say what I want to say, and other people play politics," said RA, who
swore he wasn't trying to be controversial when he let slip. "I honestly
don't remember saying that, but I don't even listen to my records. The fact
is, all this foul sh-- people are saying now — killing their
girlfriends and whatnot — I was doing 10 years ago."
Known for his wild stage show and dirty mind, like Jojo, RA is in limbo as
he waits to get out of his contract with the defunct Priority Records and
release an album later this year.
Though he too was mystified as to why there isn't a sea of white mic
controllers out there yet, RA — who recently completed vocals for an
album he's recording with legendary hardcore punk outfit Bad Brains under
the name White Mandingo — said it's only a matter of time before
hip-hop is as black and white as a zebra.
"There may not be [a lot of white rappers] now, but there will be," RA said
wearily. "Back in the day, if you was a dope-ass rapper, black people gave
you respect faster than white people, who didn't think white boys should be
rhyming. But hip-hop is being drained by white people. It's becoming a white
culture, and eventually black people will move on to some other sh--."