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white rap

White People in Rap: A History

Clockwise from top left: Eminem, Asher Roth, Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin.

These are heady times for white people in rap: This month has seen both the return of Eminem, the greatest white rapper of all time, and the debut of Asher Roth, the most commercially viable white rapper since Eminem. But that doesn’t mean hip-hop has gone post-racial in the ten years since Em broke out — just as always, the points of intersection between white people and rap music have been a head-swirling mix of the good, the bad, and the ugly. And it’s all here, in Vulture’s Condensed History of White People in Rap.

1981: Blondie releases “Rapture,” a pop song featuring one rap-style verse, in which Debbie Harry makes references to Fab Five Freddy, eating cars, and execution-style murder. It is one of the first hit songs to incorporate elements of hip-hop.

1983: The Beastie Boys, a trio of downtown hard-core kids, have an underground hit with sort-of-rap song “Cooky Puss,” a prank call to Carvel set to a hip-hop beat.

1984: Rick Rubin, then a student at NYU, meets Russell Simmons, then a fledgling artist manager, and the two create the hip-hop label Def Jam. They initially run the operations out of Rubin’s dorm room.

1986: Inspired by freestyle sessions done over Aerosmith’s 1975 album Toys in the Attic, Run-DMC releases a cover of “Walk This Way” done in collaboration with the band. It is arguably the first-ever crossover rap hit.

Def Jam releases the Beastie Boys' proper debut, License to Ill. It is a runaway smash, becoming the first No. 1 album in hip-hop history. “Cooky Puss” is not on it.

1988: Rubin splits from Def Jam acrimoniously, and Lyor Cohen, who had been Simmons’s partner at management group Rush Entertainment, takes over as president of the label. He would have a hand in signing a whole bunch of acts, including Slick Rick, EPMD, and Eric B. & Rakim.

Dave Mays and Jon Schecter, two white Harvard students, create rap magazine The Source, running it at first out of their dorm rooms. It would become the industry’s top publication; at its peak, landing a perfect five-mike review in The Source was one of the greatest accomplishments in hip-hop.

1989: 3rd Bass (a.k.a. Pete Nice and MC Serch), the first critically respected white hip-hop group since the Beastie Boys, debuts with The Cactus Album.

Atrocious misrepresentations of rap music in cinema, part one: A teen witch helps a girl in an unfortunate bonnet win a rap battle for love. No, we don’t think we could ever top that.

1990: Vanilla Ice, a Miami rapper with a fabricated hard-knocks background, strikes gold with “Ice Ice Baby” … and, almost immediately, becomes a punch line. Regardless, every breathing man or woman between the ages of 18 and 35 still knows every word to this song.

1991: Public Enemy rerecords “Bring the Noise” with Anthrax.

Marky Mark (né Mark Wahlberg) leads the Funky Bunch to chart domination with “Good Vibrations.” Later, he would throw away his talent in pursuit of an acting career.

1992: Irish-American hip-hop group House of Pain, fronted by Everlast, releases “Jump Around.”

Insane Clown Posse, a Detroit duo known for painting their faces and spraying their extremely loyal fans — a.k.a. Juggalos — with low-grade Midwestern soda Faygo, debuts with Carnival of Carnage. They would later feud with Eminem.

Los Angeles rabble-rousers Rage Against the Machine release their self-titled debut, marking themselves as the first (only?) critically successful rap-rock hybrid act.

A stereotypical “big-butt-hating white girl” provides the seminal intro to Sir Mix-A-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.”

1993: Canadian MC Snow gets the “Stop Snitching” movement started early with “Informer.”

The soundtrack to Emilio Estevez thriller Judgment Night features a bunch of collaborations between rockers and rappers, including Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul’s “Fallin” and Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill’s “I Love You Mary Jane.”

1996: Lauryn Hill is supposedly quoted as saying some version of “I would rather have my children starve than have white people buy my albums.” This never actually happened.

David Silver raps! After first exhibiting his skills on Beverly Hills 90210, Brian Austin Green drops his solo album, One Stop Carnival.

1997: Queens rap group Company Flow releases the classic Funcrusher Plus on Rawkus Records, the seminal hip-hop label — founded by Horace Mann grads Brian Brater and Jarret Meyer, with initial funding by Ruper Murdoch’s son James — that would launch the careers of Mos Def and Talib Kweli. Company Flow emcee and producer El-P would eventually form Def Jux records, the other definitive indie-rap label; it’s currently home to legendary white rappers Cage (whom Shia LaBeouf is rumored to be playing in a biopic) and Aesop Rock.

Limp Bizkit debuts with Three Dollar Bill, Ya’ll, becoming the undisputed champs of the rap-metal movement. And, for a while there, one of the biggest bands in America. Later, they would name an album Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.

1998: Minneapolis rap group Atmosphere debuts with Overcast! Both the group and its label, Rhymesayers (now home to albino Muslim Brother Ali plus plain old white guys Mac Lethal and producer Jake One), would become underground staples.

Kid Rock does the rap-rock thing, too, as “Bawitdaba” owns the airwaves.

Joe Pesci raps, in character as Cousin Vinny.

To the eternal gratitude of pregame sorority mixers everywhere, the Gourds do a mean country version of “Gin and Juice.”

Rolling Stone gives the Beastie BoysHello Nasty five stars. Says Touré, “See all those stars up there? That means I can't walk down my block for a whole month. For a black man, championing the Beasties is like being down with Madonna or rooting for the Utah Jazz.”

1999: On the Roots’ “Act Too … the Love of My Life,” Common lets it be known that “when we perform, it’s just coffee shop chicks and white dudes.”

The Offspring strike out against Bizkit, rock, and their acolytes with the hit "Pretty Fly (For a White Guy)." Later the song would turn out to not age so well.

Bearing Dr. Dre's stamp of approval, Eminem makes his mainstream debut with “My Name Is.” On The Slim Shady LP, he nods to his white-rap predecessors in “I Just Don’t Give a Fuck,” (“I'm nicer than Pete, but I'm on a Serch to crush a Milkbone / I'm Everlasting, I melt Vanilla Ice like silicone”) and “Role Model” (“I bought Cage's tape, opened it, and dubbed over it”). He would eventually become, for a time, the biggest (and best) rapper alive and one of the biggest (and best) rappers of all time, selling more albums than any rapper other than Tupac, and rewriting the rules for white hip-hop. Footnote: It was actually (white) Interscope exec Jimmy Iovine who first discovered Eminem.

Atrocious misrepresentations of rap music in cinema, part two: Warren Beatty raps!

2000: Brown graduate MC Paul Barman’s debut EP, It’s Very Stimulating, gets called “the whitest hip-hop record ever made” by the Times. “Nerdcore” rappers like mc chris and MC Lars would follow in his footsteps.

Spike Lee’s satire Bamboozled features the Mau Maus, a rap crew led by Big Blak Africa (played by Mos Def) and featuring a token white rapper, 1/16th Blak (played by 3rd Bass’s MC Serch).

Profane Brooklyn rapper Necro releases his official full-length debut, I Need Drugs.

2001: Everlast engages Eminem in the first-ever mainstream all-white beef. He is promptly destroyed.

Timbaland gets his own down-South Eminem, Bubba Sparxxx.

2002: Eminem signs 50 Cent.


Early Aughts: Former Roots keyboardist and Dr. Dre protégé Scott Storch, a Canadian Jew, becomes one of the most consistent hit-makers in the biz. He's spent the years since blowing through $30 million in cocaine and cars.

Token white guys begin popping up in legitimate rap crews: Sean Wigs (Ghostface’s Theodore Unit), Lil Wyte (Three Six Mafia), Remedy (Wu-Tang’s Killa Beez).

2003: Eminem’s “Lose Yourself,” from the 8 Mile soundtrack, becomes the first rap song to win Best Song Oscar.

Da Ali G Show comes Stateside.

Bling Bling dies.

2004: The Streets, a.k.a. lily-white Brit Mike Skinner, releases A Grand Don’t Come for Free, one of the best-ever white-rap albums.

2005: Sign of the times: Houston rapper Paul Wall releases his major-label debut, The People’s Champ, and for the most part reviewers gloss over the fact that he is white in favor of the fact that his album is not very good.

On his MTV2 show, Andy Milonakis raps, eats cereal with Lil Jon.

WWE superstar John Cena releases his debut album, You Can’t See Me.

"Mr. Pibbs and Red Vines equals crazy delicious."

2006: Hasidic Jewish dancehall-reggae rapper Matisyahu crosses over with Youth.

“PopoZao”! K-Fed raps.

2007: With Eminem’s self-imposed exile putting the sting partially back into the white-rapper punch line, VH1 airs reality contest The (White) Rapper Show, hosted by MC Serch.

2009: Asher Roth, the inevitable result of hip-hop’s long-ago invasion of the suburbs, breaks out with “I Love College.” While displaying traces of early Beastie Boys, Roth is more or less a unique case: the first mainstream rapper to successfully flaunt his well-adjusted, traditionally white upbringing. Also, Eminem returns, and the world waits with bated breath for Joaquin Phoenix’s debut.

Okay, now who’d we forget?

Photo: Getty Images