Pop & Hiss

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A pale history of white rap

May 14, 2009 |  2:08 pm

Who can really say who the first white rapper was? But certainly the Beastie Boys were the first to shoot to fame -- and fundamentally alter the genre -- with 1986's "Licensed to Ill," in which hip-hop was forced to confront questions of race, audience and inflatable phalluses.

In the wake of those original frat-rappers, music labels throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s sporadically attempted to cash in on melanin-light lyricists, with House of Pain, Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark earning equal parts success and scorn, and only the interracial 3rd Bass achieving modest critical respectability.

The rise of hard-core East Coast rap and Vanilla Ice's subsequent career meltdown sent white rappers into the wilderness for the majority of the Clinton years, an underground incubatory period that wound up producing some of the sub-genre's leading lights, including sizable percentages of talent on independent labels Rhymesayers, Def Jux and Anticon.

With the commercial success of one-time subterranean sensation Eminem and the concomitant rap-rock phenomenon -- think Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park -- white rappers saw newfound interest from major labels around the fin de siecle, with only Timbaland protégé Bubba Sparxxx, a Southern rapper, achieving notable success. But now with Eminem's ballyhooed return; the rise of Asher Roth and his hit "I Love College"; the re-issue of Company Flow's groundbreaking album, "Funcrusher Plus"; and even the Lonely Island's joke-rap parodies, 2009 is shaping up to be the year of the white rapper.

Here's a chronicle of the milestones that led us here -- bring your sunblock.

--Jeff Weiss

Photo: The Beastie Boys. Credit: Reuters