Hive Five: The White Rapper Follies

Mac Miller performs in Paris, September 2011. Photo: David Wolff-Patrick/Redferns

This week Pennsylvania rapper Mac Miller releases his debut album, Blue Slide Park. Miller looks like the latest line in what you could unkindly call Zack Morris rap: Preppy, white and privileged, with one-time Beverly Hills 90210 actor Brian Austin-Green setting the antecedent back in 1996 via his One Stop Carnival album. It’s a vibe that has seen Miller catch a batch of critical flack.

Still, helped by an endorsement from Wiz Khalifa, Miller has set about amassing an impressive online following, recruiting a one-million-strong Twitter army and witnessing his “Kool Aid And Frozen Pizza” and “Donald Trump” songs topping 50 million YouTube views between them. But despite Miller’s online numbers, as a white rapper, he still has reason to be cautious about the next stage in his career — as these five classic white rapper follies show.

1. 3rd Bass, White Guilt

Emerging during hip-hop’s golden era, 3rd Bass was the Def Jam label’s attempt to tap into the white rapper market after the Beastie Boys had ditched the label; the group fused white MCs Pete Nice and MC Serch with black DJ Daddy Rich. Except while Pete Nice in his pomp was content to pose with a cane and brag how “I chill in Bed-Stuy and drive a Maserati,” his rhyming partner MC Serch seemed to feel the need to personally right centuries of institutionalized racism. So on “The Gas Face” he copped, “Black cat is bad luck, bad guys wear black/ Must have been a white guy who started all that.” It was a sentiment that sounded cringe-inducing when you saw Serch also doing the running man in every 3rd Bass video ever.

Adding a kicker to the 3rd Bass story, it transpired that Serch and Nice weren’t exactly on the best of personal terms; disses ensued as they disbanded. Then it turned out the whole 3rd Bass concept was largely inspired by Russell Simmons being unable to resist the dream of profiting from the white-rapper market. Serch would probably call it due reparations.

2. Cage, Psycho White Boy Schtick

As an antidote to the Puffy-helmed jiggy rap era of the mid-to-late-’90s, a group of underground rappers began to release defiantly independent and uncompromising music. One of those was Cage, a white rapper who embraced a love of the flick Clockwork Orange with the song “Agent Orange.” Dropping deliberately vulgar lyrics like, “Fucked the first two bitches like dogs and I jacked off on the third,” and uber-violent threats to “rip off all your flesh and make a[n] outfit,” the song was anti-social, edgy, and, well, pretty much a precursor to the sort of shock schtick Tyler, The Creator and his Odd Future gang would ride to success nearly 15 years later. Back in Cage’s day, however, he quickly found himself written off as just another clichéd sick (and possibly depressed) white rapper.

3. MC Paul Barman, Academic Smarts

Styling himself as some sort of privileged post-grad nerd, Brown University attendee MC Paul Barman rapped like a brainiac, even writing rhymes that took the form of palindromes. Barman’s whole package was wrapped up in smarmy irony; listening to his voice alone — all high-strung and whiney, not too unlike hearing Woody Allen attempt to rap — was insufferable. Thankfully, despite releasing an album in the not too distant past of 2009, Barman has since been musically muted — a period of radio silence much appreciated by the wider hip-hop community. Street smarts trump academic smarts in the rap world, after all.

4. Bubba Sparxxx, Country Rock Roots

Portly Georgia-born rapper Bubba Sparxxx emerged under Timbaland‘s production wing and scored a club hit with 2001′s “Ugly.” His debut album, Dark Days, Bright Nights, quickly went Gold, shifting over half a million copies. For Sparxxx’s follow up project though, he took the creative decision to openly embrace his country roots by sampling bluegrass acts like the Yonder Mountain String Band (“Comin’ Round”) and titling a song “Johnny Mathis.” The net result of Sparxxx tapping into his heritage? An album that failed to replicate the success of his debut. With Yelawolf about to air out his southern-rock roots later on this month for his Shady Records debut, he’ll be hoping the Eminem factor can shield him from falling foul of Sparxxx’s guitar-laden pitfall.

5. Asher Roth, College Humor

Another Pennsylvania white-bred rapper, Asher Roth presented himself to the rap world in 2008 as a proudly suburban kid who loved both rap music and the carefree college lifestyle. With twee songs like “Lark On My Go-Kart” and “I Love College,” he mined this image, often while even wearing a sweater emblazoned with the slogan “College!” But Roth’s cheesy collegiate vibe took a major blow when his insular campus lifestyle got the better of him and he took to tweeting, “Been a day of rest and relaxation, sorry Twitter — hanging out with some nappy headed hoes.” It was a racial gaff he then apologized for by, er, conducting an interview about “What’s going on in Africa right now.” These days, Roth is rumored to be something of a beer pong champ while on tour. Go figure.

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