Robert James Ritchie was probably 15 when he saw the members of Aerosmith burst through the wall separating them from Run-DMC in the "Walk This Way" video. As Kid Rock, Ritchie is reaping the profits from that hip-hop/rock & roll crossover. His debut, Devil Without a Cause, sold some 15 million copies, mostly on the strength of the spectacular single "Bawitdaba." Stringing together shouts of love and respect for various members of the lower class, from gangstas to hookers to punk-rock moshers, "Bawitdaba" was a blast of solidarity set to a monstrous rock beat and a perfectly nonsensical rap hook, a celebration of all the joys imaginable to someone who wallowed in the seamier sides of pop culture.
On the follow-up, Cocky, Kid Rock sings about all the reasons he's got it made: the cash, the weed, the famous friends, the number of women he's banged. The music is still big-hearted enough to combine heavy-metal crunch, Southern-rock bounce and hip-hop density, but he's not looking to embrace life's losers as he did before; instead, he's expecting them to worship him as one who has escaped their fate. It's entirely possible that Kid Rock has peaked, both artistically and commercially. If so, he drops some hints that his next move may be to Nashville; he seems to put his heart into a couple of country-tinged cuts that would have stood out if George Jones had recorded them on his latest album (which is, perhaps coincidentally, titled The Rock). "Picture," sung as a duet with Sheryl Crow, is an old-fashioned weeper with room for a happy ending; "Midnight Train to Memphis" is another sad ballad, suddenly interrupted in the middle by David Spade, of all people, complaining that the Kid isn't sticking to his roots.
Neither as smart as his fellow Detroit native Eminem nor as full of hatred and pain, Kid Rock sounds way out of place on the purposely offensive "WCSR," a misogynistic game of one-upsmanship played with Snoop Dogg. Even there, however, he comes out with one of the funniest verses of the year, a tale of tag-team debauchery with Bill Clinton on an airplane that has to be heard to be believed. Here he is, full of empathy for one who's been treated unfairly by life, ready to accept our fallen former president as a winner on the same scale as Kid Rock himself. What a guy!