When Kid Rock released Grits, Sandwiches for Breakfast in 1990, it was clear the Detroit native was smitten with the early innovators of rap. His debut album is riddled with the sampling, scratching and potty-mouthed boasting that defined hip-hop in the '80s, with a definite nod to early genre pioneers such as the Beastie Boys and Run-D.M.C.. But the result was more backward- than forward-looking, and his label, Jive, dropped him.
So while it's easy to dismiss the album, it's equally interesting to look at it as an early indicator of where Kid Rock wanted to go -- and where he would eventually land. In between expected samples from the likes of Funkadelic, Bootsy Collins and The O'Jays are riffs from The Rolling Stones, James Gang, The Doobie Brothers and other rock artists. From there, it's a short leap to, say, 2007's "All Summer Long," which combined Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" to create one of the year's freshest, most genre-defying hits.
When Kid Rock signed to Atlantic in 1998, Korn and Limp Bizkit had already married hard rock and rap with varying degrees of success. His swaggering "Bawitdaba" hit the airwaves that year, the cocky self-assuredness heard on his debut shining through the hard rock din; Devil Without a Cause went multiplatinum, and a star was born. Very few artists can successfully re-invent themselves and sound as at home in their new musical genre as Kid Rock does. Does Rod Stewart sound "right" singing pop standards? Did Garth Brooks sound at home as rocker Chris Gaines? Yeah -- not so much.
Let's face it: Even while Kid Rock has been rapping or rocking his way through various genres, he has always played to the cowboy aesthetic. It doesn't matter if he surrounds his lyrics with grungy guitars and the kind of metallic beats that drive the ladies to stripper poles, or with the gentle sway of a twanging slide guitar. Either way, his cut-to-the-chase, blue-collar roots shine through.
These days, Kid has found success in a sound that bubbles up from Southern rock, adding his riffs to an irreverent outlaw-country compound. Where he once was looking to the rhymers and schemers of New York and Cali, he now finds inspiration in country rebels, not to mention his own backyard of Detroit, where classic rock icon Bob Seger makes his night moves.
The release of his latest album, Rebel Soul, is as good a reason as any to take a deep dive into Kid Rock's lively catalog, and trace Bob Ritchie's path to becoming the redneck, white-trash, blue-collar king.