White-boy rockers enter hip-hop heaven

By Andrew Essex
Updated December 24, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

”People used to tell me, ‘White guys don’t rap,”’ says Vanilla Ice. ”Were they wrong or what?”

When Vanilla Ice turns out to be a prophet, you know things have changed. Nearly a decade after To the Extreme sold nearly 3 million copies in the U.S. and — with help from the Beastie Boys — turned white rappers into a reality, the music biz is flush with pale faces in puffy jackets and a distinctive sound driving multiplatinum sales. Artists like Korn, Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, and Rage Against the Machine, all weaned on N.W.A and GN’R, created an angry new sound: a heavy-duty, high-speed snarl that poured the rhymes of rap onto shredding gears of electric guitar. If you didn’t have this formula (and you weren’t a teenybopper or a hot Latino), you didn’t have a hit.

This year, hip-hop culture, already a dominant influence, finally jacked the world of rock. ”It’s the defining cultural factor of this generation,” says Danny Hoch, star of the recent indie film Whiteboys.”It was only a matter of time before it swallowed dead ol’ rock & roll.”

Mind you, the old school is still selling strong: Dr. Dre’s 2001 moved more than 500,000 discs as of early December, but the consumers have changed. ”Rap sells mostly to white boys in my stores,” says John Grandoni, purchasing VP for National Record Mart. ”This rock-rap hybrid is the hottest-selling music out there.” At a time when rock was said to be on life support — ’98 sales dipped 6.8 percent from ’97 — the current hip-hop injection has provided a dose of smelling salts: As of November, Bizkit’s five-month-old Significant Other was still moving nearly 100,000 discs a week, slightly more than Kid Rock’s Devil Without a Cause, and both were trouncing rock acts like Counting Crows and Foo Fighters.

At MTV, the rap & roll cavalry is reviving something grunge lost when Kurt Cobain died: angry white stars. ”Hip-hop and rock have come together with such dominant personalities,” says MTV senior VP Tom Calderone. ”Kid Rock fit on TRL, Jams…. He was one of the first artists heavily requested across the board.”

The question is, how long will this embrace of hip-hop flava last? As long as teens long for youthful insurrection. ”Hip-hop is the last voice of rebellion,” says Hoch. ”Kids wanna rebel.”