The White Emcee
As we approach the 20th anniversary of the Beastie Boys fourth album “Ill Communication,” I was motivated to share my thoughts on white rappers’ contribution to furthering hip-hop’s progress and boundaries. While being white in a predominantly African American dominated field may be viewed as a novelty and can contribute to positive record sells (see Eminem), being Caucasian in hip-hop will almost certainly cause negative reluctance of acceptance from their peers.
My first experience hearing a white emcee spit on the mic (not counting Debbie Harry) was probably the same as most others near my age. It was when I was first introduced to the aforementioned Beasties’ debut album “Licensed to Ill”. Only 13 yrs old at the time, my initial impression was “this is such a FUN album”! Very little tough guy bravado, just #whiteboywaisted tales of grandeur and indulgence. The beats were insane and the entire album was good. Transcendent good. The white emcee was ready for the front lines of rap, right? Well…
I remember thinking the Beasties were simply a passing fad much like many pundits in the rap community. Even the group itself contributed to this lore by taking a 3 year hiatus due to strife with their then label Def Jam. Other white rap acts were coming on the scene and some were enjoying success and garnering respect from their hip-hop colleagues (3rd Bass). And others not so much (Everlast). In 1989 industry validation awaited the Beasties’ with the release of their sophomore LP, the sample heavy classic “Paul’s Boutique”. The kings of “white boy rap” were here to stay. And then 1990 happened…
Robert Van Winkle emerged from south Florida via Dallas, TX with the very first rap song to climb to the top of the Billboard charts. You know this man as Vanilla Ice and his single “Ice Ice Baby,” fueled by a super familiar sample from Queen and David Bowie, ripped through the airwaves liked wild fire. Unlike his white rapping predecessors, Ice adopted a hybrid style that combined two of 1990’s hip-hop’s most prevalent themes: the tough guy image from the inner city (see Ice Cube) and the incendiary dance move master (see MC Hammer). It worked, albeit briefly. Once Mr. Winkle opened his mouth in interviews, the proverbial “jig” was up. He was quickly exposed as a fraud as conflicting background stories arose, and that was that. Still, his “Ice Ice Baby” remains popular today some 20 plus years after its release.
The 90’s saw better overall acceptance for the white emcee as the Beastie Boys and 3rd Bass continued to churn out quality product. Even Everlast saw his fortunes turn for the better founding the trio House Of Pain, an Irish alternative to Cypress Hill with a similar sound. The Pain’s first 2 albums were two of my faves in the early 90’s to be candid.
The late 90’s saw the emergence of Detroit emcee Eminem, who would eventually become even more popular than any white rapper before him. He’s the biggest selling artist of the 2000 decade and his skill set is as high of any emcee the genre has ever seen. The man has even won a frickn’ OSCAR! Now that’s juice.
I’ve only mentioned a few in this piece of many Caucasian emcees who have contributed to the culture of hip-hop. There are many, many others. Fast forward to now: Macklemore, Action Bronson and Mac Miller all have received both critical and industry acclaim. Open your lid to some of the albums and songs listed below. You’ll be pleasantly surprised.
MY favorite ‘WHITE EMCEE’ albums
1) ‘Check Your Head’-Beastie Boys
2) ‘Same As It Ever Was’- House Of Pain
3) ‘The Cactus Album’- 3rd Bass
4) ‘The Eminem Show’- Eminem
5) ‘Licensed To Ill’- Beastie Boys
6) ‘Journey To Anywhere’- Ugly Duckling
7) ‘Return Of The Product’- MC Serch
8) ‘Watching Movies With The Sound Off’- Mac miller
MY FAVORITE ‘WHITE EMCEE’ songs
1) ‘Paul Revere’ – Beastie Boys
2) ‘Superman’ – Eminem
3) ‘On Point’- House Of Pain
4) ‘Little Samba’ – Ugly Duckling
5) ‘Get Down’ Everlast
6) ‘Steppin’ To The AM’ 3rdBass
7) ‘Back To The Hotel’ N 2 deep
8) ‘S.D.S’- Mac Miller
-Jermaine Raetone Johnson
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