Kid Rock’s musical journey is one that has encompassed underground Detroit rap, heavy metal and country rock, and by finding the perfect blend of all three, he turned an underwhelming career into a huge success. From early controversy over sexualized lyrics to selling 35 million records worldwide and marrying (and divorcing) Pamela Anderson, it’s been a wild ride for one of the wild men of rap.
Detroit, D-Nice and a Debut
Kid Rock was born Robert James Ritchie on January 17, 1971, in Romeo, Michigan, a small rural town north of the Detroit metro area. His father was a car dealer who owned a six-acre orchard where the young Ritchie would work along with his three siblings. He became interested in hip hop in the 1980s, joining a breakdance crew and teaching himself to rap and DJ. From there he began performing at local parties as part of a rap group called The Beast Crew and met D-Nice, a member of KRS-One’s Boogie Down Productions. This led to an opening slot at a BDP concert, and D-Nice, who was signed to Jive Records, helped Kid Rock land a deal with the same label.
Heavily influenced by the Beastie Boys and their classic Licensed to Ill, Kid Rock’s debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast, was released in 1990. Rolling Stone would later include it in a list of "20 terrible debut albums by great artists," criticizing it for being “so insistently generic it’s like he tossed everything current about hip hop in 1990 into a giant colander and sifted out all the individuality.” With production from Too Short and D-Nice, it achieved notoriety when an uncensored version of the album’s single "Yo-Da-Lin in the Valley" — a paean to oral sex — was played on a college radio station, leading to an FCC fine. Rock was released from his contract by Jive shortly afterwards.
'Devil Without a Cause' Goes Multi-Platinum, 'Bawitdaba' Helps
His next two albums The Polyfuze Method (1993) and Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp (1996) contained lyrics too filthy to play on the radio, but relentless touring and a gift for self-promotion earned Kid Rock a cult following. He’d also started to lean more heavily on country and rock in his samples, and decided to form his own band, Twisted Brown Trucker. He then signed to Atlantic Records, and in 1998 his fourth album, Devil Without a Cause, sold over 14 million copies in the wake of his breakthrough single, "Bawitdaba." “We got such a diverse record,” Rock told an interviewer on its release. “I’m kicking old school rap songs and then I do a metal thing.” He started to open tours, and his Woodstock 1999 performance gave him even more exposure. Despite his 10 years as an artist, he was nominated for the best new artist award at the Grammys in 2000 — one of two nominations he failed to win that year.
His band member Joseph "Joe C" Calleja died in his sleep in 2000 — he had suffered most of his life from celiac disease — but Rock was able to keep the momentum going after a slow start on 2001's Cocky, thanks in large part to the crossover country ballad "Picture," which featured Sheryl Crow. The album featured more ballads than Devil Without a Cause, signaling another slight shift in sound. It sold more than 5 million copies, with Entertainment Weekly’s Rob Brunner calling it a “blend of low-rider hip-hop and strip-mall heavy metal.”
'Rock n Roll Jesus' Tops the Charts
His self-titled Kid Rock album in 2003 was Ritchie’s last long-player that was recognizably hip hop. By early 2004 he was embroiled in controversy when he performed at the Super Bowl XXXVIII wearing a poncho made from the American flag. He was criticized by some groups for desecrating the flag, but much of the furor was ignored because of the bigger clamor around Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction" during the same show.
Rock n Roll Jesus (2007) said goodbye to hip hop and hello to Kid Rock’s first ever No. 1 album on the Billboard 200, selling over 5 million copies. He went even more country on 2010’s Born Free, produced by Rick Rubin and featuring Sheryl Crow and Bob Seger. Rebel Soul in 2012 was a reunion with the Twisted Brown Truckers band and his last album for Atlantic Records. His most recent release, First Kiss, came out on Warner Bros. Records in February 2015.
Pamela Anderson, Legal Troubles, & Politics
Kid Rock's personal life has overshadowed his career at times. He began dating the former Baywatch actress Pamela Anderson in 2001. They became engaged in April 2002, ended their relationship in 2003, then reunited and married in July of 2006. Four months later both he and Anderson filed for divorce.
As for Kid rock's legal troubles, he had been charged with assaulting a DJ in a strip club in 2005. Two years later, he was arrested with five members of his entourage outside a Waffle House in Atlanta after getting into a scuffle with a male customer. Rock was taken into custody on a misdemeanor charge of simple battery and was released that afternoon. This came only a month after he had brawled with the Motley Crue drummer Tommy Lee — Pamela Anderson's other ex-husband — at the 2007 Video Music Awards (Lee later referred to Rock as a "jealous country bumpkin").
Rock has also clashed with animal rights activists over his love of hunting and was a vocal supporter of Donald Trump in the 2017 presidential election.
He still lives in Michigan, and is now a grandfather. His grown-up son, Robert James Ritchie Jr. — whose mother is Rock's ex-girlfriend Kelley South Russell — has a daughter, Skye, born in 2014.
(Profile photo of Kid Rock by VALERIE MACON/AFP/Getty Images)
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