Long Live Rock N' Rap: Rock Isn't Dead, It's Just Moving to a Hip-Hop Beat. So Are Its Mostly White Fans, Who Face Questions about Racial Identity as Old as Elvis

Newsweek, July 19, 1999 | Go to article overview

Long Live Rock N' Rap: Rock Isn't Dead, It's Just Moving to a Hip-Hop Beat. So Are Its Mostly White Fans, Who Face Questions about Racial Identity as Old as Elvis


The blazing Albuquerque sun has finally set over the New Mexico State Fairground, and Limp Bizkit is making a point: this is not your older brother's Pearl Jam. True, there's a hyperactive lead singer backed by two guitarists and an assaultive drummer. But front man Fred Durst, 28, raps more than he sings, striding from one side of the stage to the other with a hip-hop strut. The band's equally frenetic secret weapon, D. J. Lethal, scratches frantically on his two turntables. As the band fuses metal and rap, the crowd of 16,000--many of them teenage boys in baggy jeans and I KILLED KENNY T shirts--mosh and bodysurf, rapping along with Durst's sendup of white wanna-be hip-hoppers: "Hate what God gave ya, fakin' all the flava... You're sick of yourself/Well I'm sick of you too--fake!" The jab may be lost on the resoundingly white crowd, but one thing is crystal clear. Rock 'n' roll is dead. Long live rock 'n' rap.

Two generations after Elvis Presley tamed Big Mama Thornton's "Hound Dog," the King's heirs are making their move on rap. Part geeky homage, part artful collage, the new hybrid is exploding onto the charts. Limp Bizkit's sophomore album, "Significant Other," sold 971,000 copies in just two weeks. Kindred acts like Kid Rock, Everlast and the gleefully pathological white rapper Eminem have all topped the million mark. While veteran rock bands like Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins and R.E.M. have slumped, alienated white kids across the country have latched onto the themes in rap music that resonate with them. And like the current retro-fetish for all things Rat Pack, rock 'n' rap offers anxious white males a chance to act out their top-dog fantasies without having to take full responsibility for them. The women seem to play along. As skateboarder Jerimiah Odom, 28, who caught Limp Bizkit and Kid Rock in Dallas last week, described the experience, "It's a mecca for girlies. The ones that come here take their shirts off." Sure does beat going to Lilith Fair.

In the back of Limp Bizkit's tidy tour bus, Durst lounges in an Adidas sweat suit. He has a reputation for being willing to do anything for a hit--the band paid a radio station in Portland, Ore., to play its music--but in conversation he is endearingly sincere. There were times, he admits, when he was this close to being one of the copycat hip-hop fans he raps about. "I [was] really self-conscious about being a white guy who's so addicted to rapping and DJing." Growing up middle-class in Gastonia, N.C., he attended a predominantly black high school, where some students with New York relatives turned him on to break-dancing and rap. Durst's black friends accepted his b-boy look ("They were like, 'Dude, you're the coolest white guy'"). His white classmates, though, taunted him with racial slurs. "But when the Beastie Boys came out, then it was cool. They didn't get [hip-hop] but they were singing 'Brass Monkey'."

In Del Mar, Calif., Marshall Mathers, better known as Eminem, waits to go onstage. The four white boys (ages 9 to 11) lucky enough to score backstage passes are too busy staring at their new hero to notice the busty blonde peeling off her skintight white halter top to get the star's attention. With his angelic features, Eminem, 24, could be the sixth Backstreet Boy--except for that shirt that says drugfree on the front and liar on the back. Then he hits the stage and spits out a flurry of hilariously depraved and affecting rhymes about being raised by a single mother on welfare in Detroit, being beaten up repeatedly in school and trying to numb his emotional pain with liquor and drugs. In one song, he raps nonchalantly about taking a drive with his daughter, his girlfriend's dead body in the trunk. "I never expected to be anything more than an underground artist," he explains. …

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