Part old school rap, part metal rock, and likened to rap artist Eminem for both his often profane lyrics and his roots near Detroit, Michigan, Kid Rock proved that he stood apart from the hip-hop crowd with his wild and diverse music. In fact, Rock (born Robert Ritchie), with his skillful heavy metal guitar playing, shares more in common musically with metal assault groups such as Rage Against the Machine and Limp Bizkit. For example, as described by Mark Seliger in Rolling Stone magazine, the single "Bawitdaba" from 1998's Devil Without a Cause, "mixes cries of 'up jump the boogie' with guitar aggression, coming off like a White Zombie [rock metal band] cover of a Grandmaster Flash [funk group] song." And the Atlantic Records website concluded, "Kid Rock unleashes the full-on motherlode: a rambunctious cocktail shaker of blue-eyed hip-hop, freestyle rap, spaced-out funk, psychedelic rock, jazz, blues and everything else under the sun up to and including the proverbial kitchen sink."
When the rap/rock star boasted "I'm going platinum" in the title track of Devil Without a Cause (a phrase that record company executives tried to persuade him to remove), he must have known that this confident statement would become a reality. Moreover, the success of Devil Without a Cause eventually surpassed this prediction, going triple platinum following his crowd-pleasing show at the music festival Woodstock and headlining with Limp Bizkit for a worldwide tour in 1999. Prior to the success of the album, "My big feat before that had been selling 14,000 records out of my basement," he admitted to Seliger. Furthermore, Rock became the first white hip-hop artist to embrace and glorify "white trash" culture, while also gaining the respect of several African American rap artists, namely Sean "Puffy" Combs and Ice Cube, as well as heavy metal bands like Metallica.
While Kid Rock seemed to personify the so-called white trash culture, his true background proved otherwise. In truth, he grew up in an affluent environment, far away from the trailer park world he glorified in his songs. Rock spent his childhood in the rural town of Romeo, Michigan, near Detroit, in a lakefront home with six acres of land. Rock's chores at home included mowing the lawn, picking apples from the family orchard, and feeding the horses. His mother, Susan Ritchie, stayed at home with her three children: Rock, older brother Billy, and older sister Carol. And his gregarious father, Bill Ritchie, owned a successful business.
Nonetheless, Rock's childhood was not as happy as one might expect. Throughout his upbringing until the time he succeeded as a musician, Rock had a troubled past with his father, as documented in his song "My Oedipus Complex" from the EP Fire It Up. He described his father as a workaholic and an often distant and demanding parent who never approved of Rock's lifestyle and musical pursuits. When his father sold his profitable Lincoln-Mercury car dealership in 1999, he tried one last time to persuade Rock to take over the business and leave music for the weekends. However, Rock and his father, who became less judgmental after Rock's success, finally made peace sometime later that year. With their relationship more or less amended, Rock's father proudly wears a Devil Without a Cause t-shirt and calls himself "Daddy Rock."
As Rock grew older, he started to develop more urban interests, like break dancing and listening to hip-hop records, and often backed out of his duties around the family home. "How can I say it? He was original," sister Carol, who manages Rock's finances, told Seliger. "He always did what he wanted to do. When Michael Jackson was on TV with his white socks up to here, Bob was upstairs the next day having my mom hem his pants. Music was all he cared about." In addition to hip-hop and dance music, Rock also enjoyed rockers such as Bob Seger, Ted Nugent, and Lynyrd Skynyrd, as well as the music of country legends Dwight Yokam and Hank Williams, Jr. At around the age of 13 or 14, Rock received his first set of turntables for Christmas from his mother, and soon thereafter, he went to his first party in Detroit with some African American girls from Romeo High School.
Rap Skills Lead to Acceptance
At the party, the DJ took notice of Rock, the only white kid at the party, and let him join in. Consequently, Rock's self-taught scratching so impressed an amateur promoter that he offered Rock a gig to DJ in the Detroit suburb of Mt. Clemens, and before Rock knew it, he was spinning records for all-black crowds around the Detroit area. "At first people would be like, 'Who is this white guy?'" Rock's friend Chris Pouncy recalled to Seliger. "But once they heard him scratch, he always got love in the neighborhood." Inspired by the overwhelming acceptance, Rock earned enough money picking apples at home to upgrade his equipment, and also added rapping to his DJ shows.
By now a well-known name around Detroit, some local dealers helped Rock finance a demo tape on the condition that he mention their names in his songs. Subsequently, he signed a deal with Jive Records and released his first album in 1990, Grit Sandwiches for Breakfast, a Beastie Boys-sounding record with explicit lyrics. The exposure also landed him spots to perform with rap artist Ice Cube and the rap group Too $hort. Although Rock thought he had broken into the music industry, the release failed to sell, and Jive dropped the young rapper from the label.
But Rock was undeterred by the loss of his recording contract, releasing The Polyfuze Method, Fire It Up, and Early Mornin' Stoned on the independent labels Continuum and Top Dog before he was picked up by Atlantic Records in 1997. Enthusiastic about his major label contract, Rock then set out to write and record his next release. But from the start, Rock experienced problems both with writers block, and in working with Atlantic, who wanted him to focus more on rock rather than rap. "Even though they were tellin' me I could do anything I wanted, they still wanted it a certain way," he revealed to Hobey Echlin in Alternative Press. "The first time I turned in 'Cowboy,' I said, 'This is the best song I've ever written.' I sent it in, and they [Atlantic] told me they didn't hear it." As a result of Atlantic's lack of support, Rock's writer's block worsened. After traveling with pal DJ Kracker (who later started a career of his own as Uncle Kracker) to Memphis and New Orleans in search of musical inspiration and arriving back in Detroit with nothing, Rock was left with just one more week to complete the album.
For the Record …
Born Robert (Bob) Ritchie c. 1972, in Romeo, MI; son of Bill and Susan Ritchie; two siblings: older brother Billy and older sister Carol; children: son Robert Ritchie, Jr. (known as Junior).
Started out as a DJ at parties and clubs throughout high school in and around Detroit, MI; made demo tape, signed with Jive Records, released first album, Grit Sandwiches for Breakfast, 1990; toured with Ice Cube and Too $hort, 1990; debut record failed in sales and Jive dropped Rock from label, c. 1991; released two albums and one EP on independent labels, including The Polyfuze Method, 1992; Fire It Up EP, 1994; Early Mornin' Stoned, 1996; signed with Atlantic Records, c. 1997; released Devil Without a Cause, which later reached triple-platinum status, 1998; performed at music festival Woodstock, toured worldwide with Limp Bizkit, 1999; released compilation The History of Rock, 2000; released new album Cocky, 2001; split with the Lava division of Atlantic and released Kid Rock on Atlantic Records, 2003.
Addresses: Record company—Atlantic Records, 9229 Sunset Blvd., Ste. 900, Los Angeles, CA 90069; 1290 Ave. of the Americas, New York City, NY 10104, website: http://www.atlanticrecords.com. Website—Kid Rock Official Website: http://www.kidrock.com.
In spite of the battle with Atlantic, Rock finally determined to make the music he wanted, as he told Echlin. "I thought about everything I'd been through in the last 10 years; all the music I'd made. And I thought, 'Well, what the label wants is something I can do.' But I made what I wanted to." Therefore, with his intentions set, he completed the music in the remaining week, complete with a sample from classic rock group Fleetwood Mac for the track "Wastin' Time." And although his label again thought the finished product seemed too "all-over-the-place," and pleaded with him to cut out the line "I'm going platinum" from the title track, "Devil Without a Cause," Rock stood by his former decision, and the album reached record stores in the late summer of 1998.
"Devil" Appeared at Woodstock
Devil Without a Cause received heavy rotation on both the radio and MTV, including singles, "Bawitdaba" and the country-rap influenced "Cowboy," earning Rock instant fans among pop music's legion of teenagers. Soon, Rock saw his platinum dream come true, followed by sales reaching double platinum, then triple platinum levels after his notable performance at Woodstock in the summer of 1999. Many agreed that Rock stole the show at Woodstock as he took the stage in a fur coat, covered Creedance Clearwater Revival's "Fortunate Son," and played guitar riffs from Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" during "Cowboy." Rock told Seliger, "Everyone's trying to do something special for Woodstock. I covered every base I thought I was good at. It solidified 10 years of hard work for me." During Rock's worldwide tour with rock group Limp Bizkit beginning in the late summer of 1999, his flamboyant shows would continue to turn heads and promote further sales of Devil Without a Cause.
In 2000, Rock received two Grammy nominations for his work—Best New Artist and Best Hard Rock Performance for "Bawitdaba." At an after party for the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards, Rock met singer Sheryl Crow whom he invited to Michigan to sing in his home studio. Later that year, perhaps to capitalize on his success, Atlantic Records released the compilation album The History of Rock. With odds and ends remixes, hard-to-find singles, and unreleased songs, the hits album scored big, thanks in part to the in-your-face single "American Bad Ass." In April, Rock and his diminutive sidekick Joe C. lent their voices and likenesses to an episode of the long-running animated series The Simpsons. That summer, Rock teamed up with metal veterans Metallica for the "Summer Sanitarium" tour across the country before embarking on his own headlining tour to promote The History of Rock.
2000 was a successful year for Kid Rock and his bandmates, but the year closed on a sad note. On November 17, at the age of 26, Joe C. (born Joseph Calleja) died in his sleep from complications from his life-long struggle with Celiac disease.
Rap, Rock, and … Country?
Despite his personal loss, with Rock's increasing celebrity, there was no time to keep quiet. Stumbling into the Hollywood crowd in early 2001, Rock soon began a high-profile romantic relationship with actress Pamela Anderson. He also took a small acting role in the David Spade movie Joe Dirt. But soon it was time to begin recording an album of all new material. Work soon began at Rock's Clarkston Chophouse studio near his home, and in November, America was introduced to Cocky. The record was filled with Rock's usual middle-finger boasting anthems, such as the name-checking "Forever," but it also included, "Picture," a country-ish ballad with Sheryl Crow. Rock had flirted with his love of country music before, but with "Picture," Rock was showed a more a vulnerable and mature side. Country music was often hinted at during Rock's live shows, but he now seemed adamant about proving his love for country outlaws like Hank Williams Jr. (who later became a great friend). "Initially I had to do the rap-rock thing and all that because I had to get over the hump. I knew I had to play the game," Kid Rock told the Detroit Free Press' Brian McCollum. "On Cocky, I was thinking, 'All right, I've got to start moving in this other direction.' But I knew that to make that move, I'd have to take a fall."
Indeed, the male-dominated followers of Rock's music were taken aback by "Picture," which began to air on Country Music Television (CMT) and even played on both rock and country radio stations. But that didn't stop his fans from following him—the record quickly sold over four million copies. Near the end of the year, Rock appeared with Hank Williams Jr. on the CMT program Crossroads, playing each other's songs. In the spring of 2002, Rock and Pamela Anderson announced their engagement to the press. Not long after, the couple broke up and began an on and off relationship that continued for over a year. Meanwhile, Rock was asked to take another acting role, this time in Biker Boyz, a new film about rebel motorcycle racers. Shortly after the film was released, Rock and his band played shows with Lynyrd Skynyrd and Aerosmith, firmly displaying his subtle forward move into classic and country rock. Between numerous shows and special appearances that summer, Rock performed at the Farm Aid fundraiser in Burgettstown, Pennsylvania where country singer Alison Moorer joined Rock for a pure country version of "Picture."
There was no rest for one of the most successful pop stars. Recorded at the Allen Roadhouse in Michigan, Rock's new album would contain more classic rock, country influences and actual heart than any of Rock's previous albums. Hank Williams Jr., Sheryl Crow, Kenny Wayne Shepard, and ZZ Top's Billy Gibbons all joined in on late 2003's Kid Rock. While Rock's trademark attitude was still heard on tracks like "Cadillac Pussy," it was with an old Bob Seger tune and the closing track, "Single Father," where Rock bewildered old fans and drew in new ones. For the first time, instead of shouting, Rock was actually singing, and singing well. In a review for Kid Rock, Entertainment Weekly's David Browne praised Rock for taking the chance, "He's a natural next-generation classic rocker with an appealing, humble singing voice." While the no-authority, white trash sentiments were still there, the album illustrated a marked improvement in both a more mature music side and the man himself. "I'm 32 years old," Kid Rock told McCollum. "People running around acting tough in bulletproof vests, putting out vendettas—I don't want to live like that. I enjoy being out in the country, being at peace with myself and my family."
But Rock couldn't stay quiet for long. In February 2005, after dodging the spotlight for a while, Rock was arrested at a Nashville strip club for an alleged assault. After smiling for the camera crews, Rock was let out on bail.
Grit Sandwiches For Breakfast, Jive, 1990.
The Polyfuze Method, Continuum, 1992
Fire It Up (EP), Continuum, 1994.
Early Mornin' Stoned, Top Dog, 1996.
Devil Without a Cause, Lava/Atlantic, 1998.
The History of Rock, Lava/Atlantic, 2000.
Cocky, Lava/Atlantic, 2001.
Kid Rock, Atlantic, 2003.
Alternative Press, August 1999, pp. 51-58.
Detroit Free Press, November 7, 2003.
Entertainment Weekly, November 28, 2003, p. 123.
Rolling Stone, July 8-22, 1999, p. 98; September 2, 1999, pp. 69-72.
"Kid Rock," Atlantic Records, http://www.atlantic-records.com (June 27, 2005).
Kid Rock Official Website, http://www.kidrock.com (March 1, 2005).
Born: Robert James Ritchie; Romeo, Michigan, 15 January 1971
Genre: Rock, Rap
Best-selling album since 1990: Devil without a Cause (1998)
Hit songs since 1990: "Bawitdaba," "Cowboy," "Devil without a Cause"
It took Bob Ritchie nearly a decade to become an overnight sensation. But when the rapper known as Kid Rock finally hit the big time with his 1998 major-label debut, Devil without a Cause, the Hank Williams–loving hip-hop outlaw turned millions of heads with his utterly unique amalgam of profane sexual boasting, old school hip-hop bragging, country blues and rock, heavy metal, and Detroit funk. With a brash, bad-boy persona that shamelessly glorifies blue collar/white trash American culture, Kid Rock rivaled only fellow Detroit native Eminem for mainstream popularity and notoriety in the late 1990s, selling millions of records and gaining respect from his African-American rap peers for his prowess on the microphone and skills as a producer.
Born in rural Romeo, Michigan, unlike many rappers from the inner cities, Kid Rock grew up in a well-adjusted, middle-class household with his stay-at-home mother, Susan, and successful businessman father, Bill. Kid Rock often butted heads with his demanding dad—he later titled a song "My Oedipus Complex"—who had wanted his son to take over his car dealership. A fan of classic rocker Bob Seger, as well as country artists such as Hank Williams Jr., Kid Rock became enthralled with hip-hop upon receiving his first set of turntables at age thirteen. Shortly after, Kid Rock attended a dance party in Detroit and took his first shot at working two turntables in front of an audience. The spur-of-the-moment performance landed him a regular gig at a club in the Detroit suburb of Mt. Clemens, where he played to an all-black, urban crowd.
The notoriety led to a recording contract with New York–based Jive Records, which released his debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast (1990). The album, produced by Kid Rock and rapper Too $hort, features the ode to oral sex, "Yo-Da-Lin in the Valley," which drew the ire of the Federal Communications Commission and a $23,000 fine—later rescinded—after a college disc jockey played the song on the air. Though crudely produced, the album has a hint of the style that would make Kid Rock successful: a mixture of ceaseless boasting, swatches of funk and classic rock, and an obvious love and respect for classic hip-hop music.
Jive Can't Jibe with Rock
The still relatively unknown eighteen-year-old white rapper—who had already begun honing his Beastie Boys–inspired combination of hard rock and rap—managed to get an opening slot on a twenty-city tour with rap legends Ice Cube and Too $hort. The controversy over the song resulted in some national press for Kid Rock, but Jive had had enough of the rapper's antics and dropped him from their roster.
Kid Rock then signed a deal with the small Continuum label and explored an even harder combination of rock, rap, and a touch of country on his second album, The Polyfuse Method (1993). A short, more rock/rap-oriented album, Fire It Up followed a year later on Kid Rock's own Top Dog imprint, but neither album gained Kid Rock the national audience he sought.
Despondent, he returned to Detroit and began recording his third album, Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp (1996), which he produced and released on Top Dog. The album is the finest example of the rapper's signature sound: thick, funk-inspired bass and guitar ("Paid"), 1960s soul ("Detroit Thang"), and plenty of Kid Rock's shouted/rapped bragging over a mix of programmed beats and squealing guitar solos ("My Name Is Rock"). Also contributing to the album are Black Crowes keyboard player Eddie Harsch and Detroit soul singer Thornetta Davis.
Around the same time, Kid Rock put together a live band consisting of Detroit musicians to help perform the album's more elaborate songs live. The group, Twisted Brown Trucker, featured diminutive rapper Joe C., guitarists Kenny Olson and Jason Krause, keyboardist Jimmie Bones, drummer Stefanie Eulinberg, DJ/turntablist Uncle Kracker (who had been with Kid Rock since the early 1990s), and backing vocalists Misty Love and Shirley Hayden. The album—financed with a loan from Kid Rock's father—caught the attention of Atlantic Records, which signed him to a recording deal.
Under Intense Pressure, Kid Rock Produces a Classic
Crippled by a bout of writer's block and pressure from his new label to produce an album with more rock and less rap, Kid Rock foundered in his initial attempts to record Devil without a Cause (1998). Recorded in just one week, the album shows no sign of a difficult birth, however. In fact, against the wishes of his label, Kid Rock boasts "I'm going platinum" on the album's title track, a presumptuous statement given that he had never sold more than several thousand copies of his previous records.
The boast would prove prophetic, however, as the unique combination of soulful southern rock/rap ("Wasting Time," "Cowboy"), metal-infused hip-hop ("Bawitdaba," "Roving Gangster"), and classic hip-hop ("Welcome 2 the Party") reached stores just as the combination of rock and rap was beginning to explode on the charts thanks to bands such as Limp Bizkit. Few were using the vast resources employed by Kid Rock, which ranged from a live band to samples of groups such as Fleetwood Mac ("Wastin' Time") and hip-hop classics from Whodini and his early benefactor, Too $hort. Kid Rock also revived an older song, "Black Chic, White Guy," a true story of interracial dating from his past, which includes the lyrics, "He came from a family of middle class / Where everything he did he always had to ask / She came from a place that was so alone / You know the same old tale of a broken home."
The album sold slowly at first, but with the help of flashy videos for songs such as "Bawitdaba" and "Devil without a Cause," Kid Rock became a staple on MTV and the album eventually sold 10 million copies. In his signature felt hat, white undershirt, baggy pants, and white fur coat, Kid Rock was one of the star attractions at the ill-fated Woodstock '99 concert in July. In September, Kid Rock took the stage with hip-hop legends Run-D.M.C. and classic rockers Aerosmith at the MTV Video Music Awards, uniting the old friends for a version of the hit 1980s Aerosmith/Run-D.M.C. collaboration, "Walk This Way."
A bona fide star, Kid Rock indulged in his penchant for partying in the company of adult film stars, but also spent 2000 producing the debut from Uncle Kracker and collaborating with artists such as Sheryl Crow and Run-D.M.C., releasing a career retrospective, The History of Rock and touring with Metallica all summer. November 16 brought the death of sidekick Joe C. from a chronic intestinal disorder.
Kid Rock returned to the studio, amidst the distracting din of attention paid to his high-profile relationship with actress Pamela Anderson, and emerged with the new studio album Cocky (2001). With cameos from Crow and rapper Snoop Dogg, Cocky has even more of a rock and country edge than Kid Rock's previous albums, especially on songs such as the first single, the heavy metal/rap anthem "Forever." Over wailing guitars, Kid Rock rhymes "I make punk rock / And I mix it with the hip-hop." Never at a loss for swaggering words of self-confidence, the album features a number of paeans to Kid Rock's newfound riches and trophy girlfriend, but fans did not connect with the songs as they did with his smash breakthrough.
Kid Rock took to the road with his heroes in Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith for a summer 2002 tour and followed it up with a role in the film Biker Boyz. Even after selling millions of albums with his rock/rap/country hybrid, Kid Rock maintained a home in a Detroit suburb, expressed his love for recreational vehicles and alcohol, and dressed like an extra in a circa 1975 country music video. Rock reached the pinnacle of pop success in the late 1990s by sticking to his guns and creating an outsized outlaw style and image that was unique, and, perhaps more importantly, believable.
Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast (Jive/Novus, 1990); The Polyfuze Method (Continuum, 1993); Fire It Up (Continuum, 1994); Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp (Top Dog, 1996); Devil without a Cause (Lava/Atlantic, 1998); The History of Rock (Lava/Atlantic, 2000); Cocky (Atlantic, 2001).
Biker Boyz (2003).