Following up on the release of two wildly successful records -- the most recent of which, Devil Without a Cause, sold many millions of units -- Kid Rock has released what has to be considered an educational disc. Cynics might deride History of Rock as a crass retread; after all, the disc features a passel of songs from Rock's not-very-popular early releases, along with some revamped demos.
But I prefer to think of History of Rock as an opportunity to explore the Detroit rapper's formative years -- an edifying journey that is also full of surprises. For instance it turns out that Rock (or Mr. Rock, if you like) likes having sexual relations a great deal. In fact, on the extremely thought-provoking "F**k You Blind," Rock reveals his intention to have sexual relations with a woman until she is rendered sightless. While this is certainly an interesting ambition from the vantage point of the New England Journal of Medicine, one gets the feeling Rock is perhaps unaware of the lurking implication: namely that he's afflicted with syphilis.
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What's more, Rock enjoys consuming alcohol ("3 Sheets to the Wind") and marijuana ("EMSP" -- an acronym for "Early-Mornin' Stoned Pimp"). Who'da thunk it? He is also scrupulous in his attention to his finances ("Paid"). And perhaps inevitably he has some thorny family issues to work through ("My Oedipus Complex").
As a musical document, History manages to demonstrate that Rock is a bit more talented than his commercial hits would heretofore indicate. On cuts such as "Prodigal Son" and "Dark & Grey," he proves capable of crafting rich, R&B-influenced originals, replete with bubbling keyboards, gospel-style backing singers, and playful, squalling guitar hooks. His voice, when he is singing, is far lovelier than one would expect from a man who enjoys infecting loved ones with VD. His ability to rap, however, remains suspect. His couplets are, to be blunt, predictable and are often repeated several dozen times in the course of a four-minute song.
"Born 2 Be a Hick" is perhaps the most personal of Rock's compositions. This 1992 demo sounds something like the Charlie Daniels Band as channeled through Yo! MTV Raps and provides the listener with a final, invaluable nugget of wisdom: Rock has always been a Caucasian. Furthermore he has always enjoyed being a Caucasian.
I too enjoy being a Caucasian, though perhaps not quite as much as Mr. Rock. Fortunately he has released this record, which allows me vicariously to enjoy his enjoyment of being Caucasian while also learning more about him as an artist.