the gold rush and the rise of white rap
it’s not fair to say that the virus of white rap swallowed black culture whole immediately, however. there were lots of piecemeal changes that enabled whiteness to root itself in hip-hop and then eat its way out from inside. in the early aughts, el-p, atmosphere, aesop rock, sage francis, brother ali and others pioneered an underground hip-hop scene that was fiercely entrenched in the lyric and content development of rap music. they spoke of their backgrounds, the ostracism of being white in black music and the need to shed those labels while respecting the sincerity of its racial origins. brother ali especially invoked this subject matter, never lamenting his status as a white albino except to explain how hard it was for him to gain acceptance rapping.
moreover, white acts had not been able to crack the mainstream after eminem claimed his dominion. his token place as the “best white guy” consumed so much space that artists like bubba sparxxx and fred durst were counter-positioned as novelties in comparison and shunned from the rap music world for all but a few era-confined collabos (method man and limp bizkit’s “n together now” being one such hit). atmosphere chose the tack that eminem had chosen but on the independent scene. he rapped about whiteness in the sense that the existence of a suburban malaise rap came to the fore with eminem’s popularity, and atmosphere could appeal to a large swath of that audience by merely staying in that lane. it was druggy, bluesy and, most importantly “real”, when hip-hop performers required some stamp of authenticity to be taken seriously. atmosphere laid autobiographical touches on his albums that gained him life-long diehards, rap and rock fans alike.
but that kind of rap music had a ceiling in the underground/independent scene. surely there were white acts who wanted more of the fame that had become pertinent to rap music, especially when the only rap artists making a large impact were luxury-fixated and “ballin.” it seemed white rap had been cornered, other than eminem’s prominence, so it needed yet another dramatic overhaul to reach platinum status.