Whitey on the Mike
The white rapper is the new black quarterback. Even after the Beastie Boys' License to Ill became the first rap album to top the charts, and even after Vanilla Ice sold as many albums as a mere mortal can, pundits still argued whether a white boy (or girl) could have the skills and smarts to seriously compete in a game dominated by players with a different skin tone.
Though Eminem's string of multiplatinum discs proves that a Caucasian can rhyme as effectively as anybody, the white MC who emulates mainstream hip-hop instantly becomes one of the millennium's new comedic stock characters, like Jamie Kennedy's wannabe B-Rad in Malibu's Most Wanted. Most successful white rap takes a punklike approach to hip-hop, eschewing bling and braggadocio to cut to the hard core of the music.
Few white MCs do a better job mining hip-hop's depths than Sage Francis, the Michael Vick of indie rap. An emerging contender from a new tradition, the Rhode Island native has a journalism degree, and when it's time to rhyme, he isn't just a lot of talk -- he writes.
In honor of his upcoming stop at Mary Jane's, we thought we'd run down the all-time greatest white-boy rhymes.
Artist: Beastie Boys
Key rhyme: "I've got more rhymes than J.D.'s got Salinger / I hold the title and you are the challenger." ("Shadrach," Paul's Boutique, 1989)
Background: Even at the peak of their powers, nobody would have confused the Beasties with a verbal acrobat like Kool Keith, but "Shadrach" showed that ingenuity can be as important as mike skills.
Artist: 3rd Bass
Key rhyme: "Played-out hardcore floors, step to the stage / Your biggest fan nine years of age / Broke out 'cause the swindler took your ducat / No talent on the tool / You might as well suck it." ("Sons of Third Bass," The Cactus Album, 1989)
Background: When the Beasties bolted Def Jam, the label hired Brooklyn tag team 3rd Bass to piss on their memory -- which they did while borrowing a horn section from Lovin' Spoonful's "Spinnin' Wheel." The duo came close to proving that white guys could hang in urban hip-hop. And then Vanilla Ice came along...
Artist: House of Pain
Key rhyme: "I got rhymes for ya / Excuse me señora / Are you a whore or / Are you a lady? / Is it Erica Boyer or Marcia Brady?" ("Shamrocks and Shenanigans," House of Pain, 1992)
Background: Everlast's rhyme provides insight into the psyche of the white guy: We want to go to bed with a porn star, but wake up with a Brady girl. Nirvana producer Butch Vig's guitar remix of "Shamrocks and Shenanigans" helped make rap-rock possible (hey, it seemed like a good idea at the time).
Artist: Buck 65
Key rhyme: "Most people are curious / Some want to get dirt on / A centaur, I'm famous / I walk around with no shirt on." ("The Centaur" 12-inch, 1999)
Background: Serious artists tap mythology to give their work weight, whereas rappers tend to just brag about their cocks. Canadian rhymer-producer Buck 65 does both on "Centaur," ominously backed by a live cello.
Key rhyme: "Extortin,' snortin,' supportin' abortion / Pathological liar, blowin' shit out of proportion." ("Just Don't Give a Fuck," The Slim Shady LP, 1999)
Background: Eminem's jabs at Michael Jackson are much funnier, but our lawyers insisted that we not quote them. This line from the Detroit phenom's landmark debut shows how the notebook-toting rhymer straddles the line between writing and freestyling, connecting random images to compose a vivid picture.
Key rhyme: "Some people are cool / And some are less intellectual / I like having a girlfriend / And like it more when they're bisexual" ("Sole Has Issues," Bottle of Humans, 2000)
Background: Sole is the heavyweight champion of San Francisco's arty Anticon crew, and Bottle of Humans is the sound of him working the heavy bag for an hour. It's the closest indie-rap has come to an LL Cool J album.
Key rhyme: "I play tennis to make my cash / I said my rhyme / Can I touch that ass?" ("Guttenberg," It Wasn't Not Funny, 2001)
Background: California has hosted the vanguard of gay rap since the Yeastie Girlz rhymed for Lookout! Records in the late '80s. And it gets no gayer than L.A.'s Trilambs, who twist a Madonna hook into an explicit reference to anal sex.
Key rhyme: "Now I'm too fucked up to dance / So I'm a' sit with my hand down the front of my pants / You can't reach your goals if you don't take that chance / So pry open the trunk and get those amps." ("Trying to Find a Balance," Seven's Travels, 2003)
Background: If Tupac lived the thug life, Atmosphere's self-deprecating Slug lives the hug life, impressing art girls with his sensitivity and good looks. More important, though, his rhymes tell a story and have a message.
Artist: Sage Francis
Key rhyme: "Sage Francis manages bandages on cancerous mannequins standing in pajamas with bananas and candid cameras." ("Any Port," Non-Prophets' Hope, 2003)
Background: Where Eminem's angular rhymes pivot on dimes, former Scribble Jam champion Sage Francis flows like water. His finest outing is Hope, the white equivalent of Boogie Down Productions' Any Means Necessary, a sonically distinct presentation of a fully formed (albeit evolving) worldview. On his new solo LP, A Healthy Distrust, Francis rhymes long paragraphs in a single breath, eulogizes Johnny Cash, ponders God, muses on magic and reminds us that rap is about using words as a martial art.
Sage Francis appears with Sol.ILL.aquists of Sound and Jared, Sunday, March 13, at Mary Jane's Fat Cat, 4216 Washington Avenue, 713-869-5263.
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