By Benjamin Leatherman
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Troy Farah
By Roger Calamaio
By Mark Deming
By Glenn BurnSilver
By Brian Palmer
Kamron will soon put the incident on record in the song "Daddy Called Me Nigger 'Cause I Liketed to Rhyme." The public probably won't be able to hear the tune before February, when Kamron's hip-hop quintet releases its debut album. But until then, the group is certain to create controversy wherever it goes. That's because Kamron and his white homeboys have chosen to call themselves Young Black Teenagers.
Even the group's official biography asks rhetorically if the rappers and deejays of Young Black Teenagers are looking for a fight.
Several years after the Beastie Boys formed a rock 'n' roll/hip-hop hybrid and rhymed their way onto the turntables of millions, white rappers are here to stay. Like their predecessors who latched onto blues, jazz and rock 'n' roll, they've embraced--and made a living from--an African-American music form. And there are signs that whites can take over the music the way they have with older genres. Today, whites have a foothold in the hip-hop industry they're not likely to give up. Almost all the major labels feature white rappers on their rosters: Joining Young Black Teenagers on the white scene are Def Jam group 3rd Bass (the first white hip-hop group since the Beastie Boys to have reached superstar status among the music's underground fans), pop rapper Vanilla Ice, woman MC Tairrie B, Ice-T protege Everlast, and the two-tone group Unity 2's Sean Dinsmore. And the success of these rappers--3rd Bass' debut album went gold, Vanilla Ice's first single and album were No. 1 hits, and even Tairrie B has cracked the hip-hop chart--makes it likely that more are in the development stages.
But the flow of whites into hip-hop is marked by racial tension and intense scrutiny, something that white rappers have routinely experienced almost from the moment they begin rapping. The ascent, even if it's inevitable, is proving to be somewhat uneasy, highly public. And, at least for now, the controversy shows no signs of going away.
Fifteen years after its generally acknowledged conception on the streets of New York, hip-hop remains fiercely roots-conscious. And that probably explains why the record industry wasn't immediately able to turn hip-hop white after the Beastie Boys showed up. Virtually any white hip-hop act worth mentioning today has discovered the music not through MTV or on the CD player at home, but by immersing itself in the music firsthand. Doing time in the streets and receiving a nod of approval from the black community have been virtual requirements to ensure credibility and record deals. Today's top white rappers freely drop names of the hip-hop superstars who've nurtured and signed them. But they usually haven't gotten a free pass into the culture. Kamron, for instance, grew up with Public Enemy in racially mixed Freeport, New York. He remembers listening to rappers Chuck D and Flavor Flav and his current record-company boss Bill Stephney on a Strong Island college hip-hop radio show back in the early Eighties. And he reminisces fondly over seeing PE's first concert. While still in grade school, Kamron broke into hip-hop culture through breakdancing. Later, he deejayed and then stepped in front of the turntables to rap.
"It's always a hassle from both sides," says Kamron in a recent interview. "White people will be, like, `Are you trying to be black?' And then black people see you walking down the street, and they pass judgment, thinking that you're a wanna-be and trying to steal the culture, when it's not like that at all. A culture ain't something you're born with. It's something that you adapt to."
Or fabricate. Before his suburban Dallas past was uncovered, Vanilla Ice routinely bragged that he'd grown up a block away from housing projects in Miami. The rapper who's already been dubbed hip-hop's Elvis even went so far as to say he'd attended the same high school as the 2 Live Crew's Luther Campbell.
Tairrie B, arguably the first legitimate white woman rapper, discovered breakdancing before rapping. "People were, like, `What is she doing here, coming into this club?'" she remembers in a phone interview from her home in Los Angeles. "It was just kind of like, `Well, I wanna dance, and this is how I like to dance.'" Later, encouraged by Philly gangsta-rapper Schoolly D, she decided to pursue a career in hip-hop.
3rd Bass rapper Prime Minister Pete Nice, meanwhile, journeyed to Bedford-Stuyvesant and other black areas of Brooklyn to get his education. "I used to receive resistance from people who would see me walk the streets. They weren't used to seeing a white kid walk their streets," he says during an interview from a New York studio. "At first, there's always a scrutinization of what you're all about. And then when your actual mindset can be expressed, the resistance went by the wayside."