Rap has a decent history at this point but arguably it didn’t really come to prominence until the 90’s. That’s when it really blew up into the mainstream in a way that really wasn’t to the benefit of anyone . Don’t understand? Let me rephrase: Vanilla Ice. Vanilla Ice and MC Hammer brought rap to suburban school yards all over the globe along with parachute pants and preposterous haircuts. It was the most insane thing white kids, who had previously been racking out to the dulcet tones of Poison and Guns n Roses, had ever seen. And because girls could dance to it, people paid attention. Gripe as much as you like, you just can’t dance to Welcome to the Jungle.
The face of “white” rap, Vanilla Ice managed to get famous by stealing a David Bowie song and then adding a single beat into it. Plus he had angular hair. Vanilla Ice was to rap what watching a porno with a buddy is to gay sex. It’s not, but it could lead there. And, yes, try to avoid it unless you’re sure it’s what you want.
While in retrospect Vanilla Ice’s entire career is one of the most stunning jokes ever, at the time his spangly clothes and ability to quickly say shit that sort of rhymed was like a drug to suburban seventh graders. Plus he appeared in Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles 2 (just in case you weren’t sure he was only being marketed to children), cementing his status as the coolest thing since sliced bread for those who don’t know better. Think of Vanilla Ice like a Furby – that’s a dumb piece of shit too, right? They sold 40 million in 3 years.
Once Vanilla Ice introduced the idea of rap to kids in Keds who ate a lot of mayonnaise, MC Hammer was there to color their world wonderful. He was like Vanilla Ice with untold credibility, because he appeared to be from Detroit or Atlanta or some other city Connecticut kids had heard about from low ranking employees of their fathers’ company.
Dressed like a friendly genie, MC, or Hammer as he liked to be called, also starred in a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles film, or the soundtrack anyway, and had his own cartoon featuring talking shoes. Talking shoes and genie pants? MC Hammer was the most huggable black person since Bill Cosby. Too Legit indeed, good buddy.
DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince
It’s time for all of rap to become too legit to quit and the best way to do that is give Will Smith a Grammy. The Grammy’s, the awards show equivalent of masturbating with the other hand, gave DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince the first ever Grammy for rap back in 1989, putting the entire musical genre into the living rooms of middle America, and what better Ambassadors than Will Smith who is, and remains, as intimidating as a puppy covered in whipped cream. Oh my God, he’s adorable! Let’s buy his albums!
Smith and Jazzy rapped about parents not understanding and their odds on defeating Mike Tyson in a fight. They were basically sucking your mom’s dick with their complete and total innocence and charm by being in no way offensive, urban or edgy. And, oddly, that was such an insanely popular formula that Will Smith now gets paid $1 bazillion a year just to exist. DJ Jazzy Jeff may or may not even be alive any more. Doesn’t matter.
Knowing how the childlike innocence of Will Smith was so appealing to the masses, it seemed reasonable that actual children would be equally, if not more appealing. But how to hook the kids in the suburbs? What’s your approach? Your gimmick, if you will? Oh yeah, put your pants on backwards.
In a move that couldn’t have made less sense if they added propeller beanies and an obese lady who just shouted “Marlins!” at the end of every verse, the boys in Kriss Kross wore their pants and shirts backwards in an effort to do God knows what. Start a trend? Who cares, people ate it up, maybe not so much for the fashion statement as for the fact it presented kids living the MC Hammer dream. If those guys who can’t even dress themselves properly can become rappers, than maybe a kid in Vermont whose most ghetto experience was using a public toilet could be too!
Children are the way to build an empire, ask any fast food chain, but you need to get older people, trend setters, accustomed to what you’re selling first, before you can prey on their little brothers and sisters. Ton Loc was the tool by which this was accomplished. You may not have heard of this man in literally 20 years, but you knew who he was if you existed in 1990 because Funky Cold Medina was awesome, even if those words don’t mean anything.
Tone Loc showed the party kids at the cutting edge of Levi’s fashion and aviator glasses what was cool with Wild Thing and the aforementioned Medina-related tune, two songs that have been on every party compilation album sold on infomercials since that time.
LL Cool J
Mr. Cool J may have actually been releasing albums since the mid 80’s,but he hit the big time with Momma Said Knock You Out, a song that took the suburbs to an intense new awesome zone in rap – a song that didn’t sound like it was written by or for toddlers. It was still tame by today’s standards but compare that song to U Can’t Touch This and marvel at the way in which you don’t feel like eating cotton candy or playing Yahtzee.
To kids at the time, LL was the rough, gritty underbelly of the inner city that we had only previously seen in Clint Eastwood movies and occasionally suspected existed a block or two way from Sesame Street.
Sealing the deal for aspiring suburban rappers everywhere, Marky Mark and his funky bunch melded the seemingly “real” image of LL Cool J with the whiteness of Vanilla Ice to create the perfect mashup of potential rap dreams housed in all the corners of country clubs and private schools around the country. He was attainable and believable and, like his future movie the Happening, awful. But that didn’t matter because he took his shirt off a lot and ladies liked that, plus his skills were questionable at best, and that was good enough for the rest of us.