Uncle Kracker

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Born: Matthew Lynford Shafer; Detroit, Michigan, 6 June 1974

Genre: Rock

Best-selling album since 1990: Double Wide (2000)

Hit songs since 1990: "Follow Me," "Yeah, Yeah, Yeah"

Ever since there have been rock bands, there have been side projects. Lead singers, guitarists, bassists, even drummers have launched their own solo careers over the years, but Matthew Shafer,
known as Uncle Kracker, was one of the first disc jockeys (DJs) in a rock band to spin off a solo career that spawned a hit album. Kracker's solo debut, Double Wide (2000), melds country and classic rock, hip-hop and folk for a fresh sound that made the Detroit native a star alongside his boss, Kid Rock.

The careers of Kracker and Rock have been intertwined since their youth. Kracker began writing songs at age eleven, cementing his creative partnership with Rock at age thirteen, after the two met at Daytona's, a popular Clawson, Michigan, bar where Rock was taking part in an all-ages DJ contest. Rock was competing against Kracker's brother in the contest, but the two became fast friends, sharing a love for classic soul, hip-hop, southern rock, and country music. Kracker joined Rock's band, Twisted Brown Trucker, in 1990 and, despite not knowing how to work the turntables, he contributed to Rock's albums as his DJ and co-songwriter, beginning with Rock's 1991 debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast.

Thanks to his high-profile work on Rock's multimil-lion-selling breakthrough album, Devil without a Cause (1998), and with audiences primed to hear a mix of folky rock and rapping thanks to former House of Pain leader Everlast's smash "What It's Like" (1998), the stage was set in 2000 for Kracker to go it alone on his solo debut, Double Wide. Rock gave Kracker an opportunity to perform during his 2000 tour dates, giving his audiences a taste of his DJ's style.

Double Wide, produced by Rock, was the first album on Rock's Top Dog imprint not to feature his name above the title. (Kracker was forced to add "Uncle" to his name prior to the album's release due to a conflict with a 1970s rock band of the same name.) It was recorded over the course of a year in the back of Rock's tour bus and features eight tracks co-written by the old friends.

Double Wide bears all the hallmarks of the pair's musical influences: Motown soul, country outlaws such as George Jones, the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd, and mellow rapping built around strong pop choruses. Fellow Twisted Brown Trucker members Jimmie Bones (keyboards), Kenny Olson (guitar), Jason Krause (guitar), and Stefanie Eulinberg (drums) all contribute to the album, as does Rock, rapping on the country blues rapping ode to Detroit, "Heaven" ("If heaven ain't a lot like Detroit / I don't want to go"). In a nod to Kracker's influences, the song samples the 1982 Hank Williams Jr. track "If Heaven Ain't a Lot Like Dixie" (1982).

Success Comes Slowly, but Surely

Given the context in which they were conceived, it is not surprising that the Bob Segerinspired classic rock song "You Can't Take Me" and the swamp boogie funk of "Better Days" contain litanies detailing the harshness of life on the road, recited in Kracker's trademark gravelly, soulful voice. Like Rock's Devil without a Cause, Double Wide was not an immediate best-seller. Despite the ubiquity of Rock's name in the music press, Kracker's album languished for more than eight months before the acoustic folk-rap song "Follow Me" began to catch fire and drive the album's sales. In the fall of 2001, Kracker appeared as a guest on the popular Drew Carey Show sitcom and lent his voice to the animated film Osmosis Jones. His songs also appeared on the soundtracks to the films Shanghai Noon (2000) and Mission: Impossible 2 (2000).

After contributing to Rock's album Cocky (2001), Kracker worked on his own second solo album, No Stranger to Shame (2002). Stepping further outside the shadow of Rock, No Stranger to Shame was co-produced and co-written by Kracker and longtime collaborator Mike Bradford. The album again indulges in Kracker's love of classic early 1980s hip-hop ("Keep It Comin'") and 1970s soul ("Drift Away"), but more often than not finds Kracker crooning country soul songs in a Memphis-via-Detroit drawl. "Drift Away" features a cameo from soft rocker Dobie Gray, on whose 1973 song it is based.

Though their rapping cadence and delivery on fast tracks is similar, Kracker distinguishes himself from his benefactor Rock on his midtempo songs by incorporating elements of Creedence Clearwater Revivalinspired swamp blues ("Thunderhead Hawkins"), psychedelic rock ("Baby Don't Cry"), and brassy Motown soul ("I Do"). The album did not fare as well commercially as Kracker's debut, however.

Uncle Kracker achieved the rare feat of establishing his own identity outside the outsized shadow of his patron, rap-rocker Kid Rock. Matching Rock's bluster with a humble, blue-collar aesthetic, Kracker produced a pair of soulful solo albums that introduced rap fans to everything from southern rock to country blues.


Double Wide (Top Dog/Lava/Atlantic, 2000); No Stranger to Shame (Top Dog/Lava/Atlantic, 2002). Soundtracks: Shanghai Noon (Varese, 2000); Mission: Impossible 2 (Hollywood, 2000).



gil kaufman