Robert James Ritchie Sr. (born January 17, 1971), known professionally as Kid Rock, is an American singer-songwriter, rapper, musician, record producer, activist, minister and actor. In a career spanning over 20 years, Kid Rock has been known for his music encompassing rock, hip hop and country. A self-taught multi-instrumentalist who can play every instrument in his backing band, Twisted Brown Trucker, Kid Rock has overseen his own production on nine of his eleven studio albums.
Kid Rock started his professional music career as a self-taught rapper and DJ, releasing his debut album Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast in 1990 on the major record label Jive; his subsequent independent releases The Polyfuze Method and Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp saw him developing a more distinctive style which was fully realized on his 1998 album Devil Without a Cause; this and his subsequent album Cocky were noted for blending elements of hip hop, country and hard rock; his song "Cowboy" has been credited as being instrumental in the development of country rap.
Kid Rock was born Robert James Ritchie on January 17, 1971, in Romeo, Michigan, to father William Ritchie, owner of multiple car dealerships, and mother Susan Ritchie. Ritchie's father owned a six-acre estate with a 5,628-square-foot house where Ritchie grew up, regularly helping his family pick apples and caring for their horses. In the 1980s, Ritchie became interested in hip hop, began to breakdance and taught himself how to rap and DJ and participated in local talent shows in Detroit; he also formed a breakdancing crew called the Furious Funksters, and began to DJ and rap in local clubs. Before deciding to enter the music industry professionally, Ritchie sold crack cocaine and pumped gas for money.
Early career, signing with Jive Records and Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast (1988–1990)
Kid Rock began his professional music career as a member of the hip hop music group The Beast Crew in the late 1980s. During this time, Kid Rock met rapper D-Nice, which led to Kid Rock opening at local shows for Boogie Down Productions. Kid Rock also began his professional association with producer Mike E. Clark, who was initially skeptical of the idea of a white rapper, but was impressed by Kid Rock's performance; Kid Rock had prepared his own beats and used his own turntables to demonstrate his skills for Clark. In 1988, Clark produced a series of demos with Kid Rock, which led to offers from six major record labels, including Atlantic and CBS Records. With the help of D-Nice, Kid Rock signed with Jive Records at the age of 17, releasing his debut studio album, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast in 1990. According to Kid Rock, the contract with Jive resulted in animosity from fellow rapper Vanilla Ice, who Kid Rock claimed felt that he should have been signed with Jive instead of Kid Rock.
To promote the album, Kid Rock performed on the national Straight from the Underground Tour with Ice Cube, D-Nice, Yo-Yo and Too Short; Detroit artist Champtown served as Kid Rock's DJ on this tour. During instore promotions for the album, Kid Rock met and developed a friendship with local rapper Eminem, who frequently challenged Kid Rock to rap battles. The album made Kid Rock one of the two biggest rap stars in Detroit in 1990, along with local independent rapper Esham. Ultimately, unfavorable comparisons to Vanilla Ice led to Jive dropping Kid Rock, according to Mike E. Clark.
Signing with Continuum Records, The Polyfuze Method and Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp (1992–1996)
In 1992, Kid Rock signed with local independent record label Continuum. Around this time, Kid Rock met local hip hop duo Insane Clown Posse through Mike E. Clark, who was producing the duo; ICP member Violent J disliked Kid Rock's music, he wanted the rapper to appear on ICP's debut album, Carnival of Carnage, believing the appearance would gain ICP notice, since Kid Rock was a nationally successful artist. Noting that local rapper Esham was paid $500 to appear on ICP's album, Violent J claims that Kid Rock demanded $600 to record his guest appearance, alleging that Esham and Kid Rock had a feud over who was the bigger rapper. Kid Rock showed up to record the song "Is That You?" intoxicated, but re-recorded his vocals and record scratching the following day. In 1993, Kid Rock recorded his second studio album, The Polyfuze Method, with producer Mike E. Clark, who worked with Kid Rock to help give the album more of a rock-oriented sound than his debut. Kid Rock also began releasing his "Bootleg" cassette series to keep local interest in his music. Later in the year, Kid Rock recorded the EP Fire It Up at White Room Studios in downtown Detroit; the EP featured the song "I Am the Bullgod" and a cover of Hank Williams Jr.'s country song "A Country Boy Can Survive".
By 1994, Kid Rock's live performances had mostly been backed by DJs Blackman and Uncle Kracker, but Kid Rock soon began to utilize more and more live instrumentation into his performances, and formed the rock band Twisted Brown Trucker. After breaking up with his girlfriend, Kid Rock moved engineer Bob Ebeling into his apartment. During a recording session with Mike E. Clark, the producer discovered that Kid Rock could sing when he recorded a reworked cover of Billy Joel's "It's Still Rock and Roll to Me", entitled "It's Still East Detroit to Me", which Clark claims led the producer to encourage Kid Rock to sing more. During this time, Kid Rock developed animosity towards other Detroit artists, including Insane Clown Posse; according to Mike E. Clark, who worked with both artists, Kid Rock was frustrated with ICP's local success, as Kid Rock disliked ICP's music, and wanted to become more successful than ICP. Through extensive promoting, including distributing tapes on consignment to local stores and giving away free samplers of his music, Kid Rock developed a following among an audience which DJ Uncle Kracker described as "white kids who dropped acid and liked listening to gangsta rap"; this following included local rapper Joe C, who had been attending Kid Rock concerts as a fan, but upon meeting Kid Rock, was invited to perform on stage as Kid Rock's hype man. 1996 saw the release of his most rock-oriented album to date, Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp; the album's title came from Bob Eberling, who told a sleepless, alcoholic, drug-using Kid Rock, "Dude, you are the early-morning, stoned pimp." According to Kid Rock, who distributed the album himself, Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp sold 14,000 copies. Though Kid Rock had become known for frequent partying, and using drugs and alcohol, he was predominately focused on increasing his success and fame, placing himself as a businessman first; the result of this drive led to increased success locally.
Signing with Atlantic Records, Devil Without a Cause and national success (1997–1998)
Kid Rock's attorney, Tommy Valentino, increased his stature by helping him get articles written about Kid Rock and Twisted Brown Trucker in major publications, including the Beastie Boys' Grand Royal magazine, but though his management tried to interest local record labels in his music, they told his management team that they were not interested in signing a white rapper, to which Valentino told them, "He's not a white rapper. He's a rock star and everything in between." In 1997, Jason Flom, head of Lava Records, attended one of Kid Rock's performances, and met with Kid Rock, who later gave him a demo containing the songs "Somebody's Gotta Feel This" and "I Got One for Ya", which led to Kid Rock signing with Atlantic Records. As part of his recording deal, Kid Rock received $150,000 from the label. By this time, Kid Rock had fully developed his stage persona and musical style and wanted to make a "redneck, shit-kicking rock 'n' roll rap" album, resulting in his fourth studio album, Devil Without a Cause, recorded at the White Room in Detroit and mixed at the Mix Room in Los Angeles. Through extensive promoting, including appearances on MTV (including a performance alongside Aerosmith and Run-DMC) and performing at Woodstock 1999, Devil Without a Cause sold 14 million copies, the album's success spurred by Kid Rock's breakthrough hit single "Bawitdaba". In 2000, Kid Rock was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best New Artist, despite having been active in the music industry for over 10 years. Kid Rock's success, however, was marked by tragedy, with the death of friend and collaborator Joe C. in November of that year.
Continued success and shift away from hip hop (2001–2008)
In April 2001, Kid Rock made his acting debut in the comedy film Joe Dirt, starring David Spade. August also saw Kid Rock making his voice acting debut in the live-action/animated film Osmosis Jones, voicing a white blood cell; Kid Rock and Joe C had also recorded the song "Cool Daddy Cool" for the film's soundtrack album before Joe C's death. In November, Kid Rock released his fifth studio album, Cocky. The album became a hit, spurred by the crossover success of the single "Picture", a country ballad featuring Sheryl Crow which introduced Kid Rock to a wider audience and was ultimately the most successful single on the album. In support of the album, Kid Rock performed on the American Bad Ass Tour in 2001, supported by country singer David Allan Coe as an opening act; Coe's participation was criticized by journalist Neil Strauss: noting Kid Rock's hip hop background, Strauss alleged that Coe's songs were racist, and suggested that Coe's participation conflicted with Kid Rock's musical lineage. During this period, Uncle Kracker began his solo career.
In 2002, Kid Rock covered ZZ Top's "Legs" to serve as WWE Diva Stacy Keibler's theme song; it also appeared on the album WWF Forceable Entry. 2003 saw the release of Kid Rock's self-titled sixth album, which shifted his music further away from hip hop; the lead single was a cover of Bad Company's "Feel Like Makin' Love". The same year, Kid Rock contributed to the tribute album I've Always Been Crazy: A Tribute to Waylon Jennings, honoring the late country singer by covering the song "Luckenbach, Texas" in collaboration with country singer Kenny Chesney. In 2007, Kid Rock released his seventh studio album, Rock N Roll Jesus, which was his first release to chart at #1 on the Billboard 200, selling 172,000 copies in its first week and going on to sell over 5 million copies. In July 2007, Kid Rock was featured in the cover of Rolling Stone magazine for the second time. The album's third single, "All Summer Long", became a global hit, utilizing a mash up of Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama" and Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London".
Continued recording and controversies (2010 onward)
In 2010, Kid Rock released his country-oriented eighth studio album, Born Free, produced by Rick Rubin, and featuring guest appearances by Sheryl Crow and Bob Seger. In January 2011, Kid Rock performed a special concert for his 40th birthday which featured guests Sheryl Crow, Peter Wolf, Martina McBride, Joseph Simmons, Uncle Kracker and Anita Baker, as well as prerecorded video tributes by T.I., Conan O'Brien, Jay Leno, Jon Stewart, Jimmy Kimmel and NASCAR racer Jimmie Johnson. 2012 saw the release of Kid Rock's ninth studio album, Rebel Soul; he said that he wanted the album to feel like a greatest hits album, but with new songs. In 2013, Kid Rock performed on the "Best Night Ever" tour, where he motioned to charge no more than $20 for his tickets. The following year, he made a cameo appearance in "Minimum Viable Product", the pilot episode of Mike Judge's comedy series, Silicon Valley, as a favor to Judge. He moved to Warner Bros. Records, releasing his only album on the label, First Kiss, which he self-produced. Subsequently after leaving Warner Bros., Kid Rock signed with the country label Broken Bow Records. Also in July, he released two singles from his next album, "Po-Dunk" and "Greatest Show on Earth", both released on the same day. In November of that year, he released his eleventh studio album, Sweet Southern Sugar. On December 22, 2017, Kid Rock was sued by the Ringling Bros. circus company for the use of the slogan "The Greatest Show on Earth" as the name of his 2018 tour; however, a judge later ruled Kid Rock was not infringing on Ringling Bros.' trademark. Following the lawsuit, Rock decided to change the tour's name to "American Rock N Roll".
In January 2018, the National Hockey League announced Kid Rock as the headlining entertainer for their January 28 All-Star Game, sparking negative online responses from hockey fans. Hockey player Jeremy Roenick praised the choice and condemned Kid Rock's critics, saying, "Kid Rock is the most talented musician, I think ever, on the planet, because you can put any instrument in your hand or on your mouth and you can play anything and rock a house and sing any kind of genre." In March 2018, Kid Rock performed on Lynyrd Skynyrd's final tour, alongside Hank Williams Jr., Bad Company, the Marshall Tucker Band and 38 Special.
Kid Rock's music is noted for its eclectic sound, which draws from genres such as hip hop, rap rock, heavy metal, rock and roll, Southern rock, country, blues, funk and soul. Kid Rock's lyricism ranges from the braggadocio to the introspective; many of his raps consist of broad, humorous boasting, while other songs in his catalog have dealt with more serious topics, including poverty, war, race relations, interracial dating, abortion and patriotism. Kid Rock's influences include Bob Seger and the Beastie Boys. A self-taught musician, Kid Rock is reported to play every instrument in his backing band, according to CBS.
Kid Rock's music has been described by Pitchfork as a cross between Run-DMC, Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC. MTV compared Kid Rock's songs "I Am the Bullgod" and "Roving Gangster (Rollin')" to a cross between Alice in Chains and Public Enemy. Cowboys & Indians claims that Kid Rock's song "Cowboy" had a major impact on the country music scene; the magazine alleges that artists Jason Aldean and Big & Rich, among others, were influenced by the song's country rap style. AXS claimed it was the first country rap song.
Kid Rock's debut album Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast featured a straightforward hip hop sound. With the recording of his follow-up album, The Polyfuze Method, Kid Rock began to feature more of a rap rock sound; the album served as a crossroads between his hip hop and rock career, still maintaining a strong hip hop sound, while beginning Kid Rock's use of rock and roll and country music influences. His third album, Early Morning Stoned Pimp, featured what MTV described as "a more eclectic collection of funk, rap, soul and rock". Beginning with The Polyfuze Method and Early Morning Stoned Pimp, Kid Rock began to utilize sampling of country and rock music to shape his sound. Devil Without A Cause saw Kid Rock's sound shift; the album was categorized as hard rock and rap metal; it also drew musically from country and heartland rock. Cocky shifted his sound yet again, featuring more ballads. Entertainment Weekly described the album's sound as a "blend of low-rider hip-hop and strip-mall heavy metal". This album also drew from country and classic rock. His 2003 self-titled album saw his sound shift once again, being described by critics as hard rock, swamp rock and outlaw country. Rock n Roll Jesus and Born Free were described as heartland rock. Born Free, First Kiss and Sweet Southern Sugar were also noted for having a predominantly country sound.
Kid Rock's stage presence became honed in the late 1990s with the addition of a light show, pyrotechnics, dancers and a light-up backdrop bearing the name "Kid Rock". He also developed his stage persona, performing dressed in 1970s pimp clothing with a real, possibly loaded, gun down the front of his pants, and demonstrating his musical skill by performing every instrument on stage. In 2001, Kid Rock began displaying the Confederate flag during his live performances; in a 2002 interview with the Detroit Free Press, Kid Rock defended his use of the flag, saying that it was a symbol of Southern rock and rebellion; he stopped displaying the flag in 2006.
Kid Rock's later live performances have played up his political activism. As part of the concert, he adopts the persona "President Kid Rock" and delivers a political "rap" during his concerts, a speech which has included comments which some have perceived as being transphobic. The speech condemns racist hate groups, Neo-Nazis and the Ku Klux Klan, telling them to "stay the fuck away" from his concerts; this speech also criticized those who sit or kneel during the Star Spangled Banner. His later set lists program a group of his more country-oriented songs; since 2011, he has used an animated cartoon featuring Beavis and Butt-head criticizing the concert for its lack of rock music, as an introduction to "Bawitdaba".
In eighth grade, Robert James Ritchie began a ten-year off-and-on relationship with a classmate named Kelley South Russell. In summer 1993, Russell gave birth to Ritchie's son, Robert James Ritchie Jr. While living with her, the two raised three children, including her son from a previous relationship and a daughter, whom she told him was his; Ritchie later discovered that he wasn't the father of her daughter, which led to the couple splitting in late 1993; Ritchie raised his son as a single father. In both March 1991 and September 1997, Ritchie faced misdemeanor charges stemming from alcohol-related arrests in Michigan. In 2000, Rolling Stone reported that Ritchie was dating model Jaime King. Ritchie began dating Pamela Anderson in 2001; they became engaged in April 2002, but ended their relationship in 2003. In 2005, Ritchie was charged with assaulting a DJ in a strip club.
In July 2006, Ritchie married Anderson. On November 10, 2006, it was announced that Anderson, who had been pregnant with Ritchie's third child, had miscarried. Seventeen days later, on November 27, 2006, Anderson filed for divorce from Ritchie in Los Angeles County Superior Court, citing irreconcilable differences. Ritchie later claimed that the divorce was due to Anderson openly criticizing his mother and sister in front of his son. In 2006, California pornographic film company Red Light District attempted to distribute a 1999 sex tape in which Kid Rock and Scott Stapp, singer of the band Creed, are seen partying and receiving oral sex from groupies; both Rock and Stapp filed with the California courts to sue the pornographers to stop the tape's distribution. The following year, Ritchie physically fought with drummer Tommy Lee, another former spouse of Anderson's, at the 2007 Video Music Awards, and was charged with assault. A month later, Ritchie was arrested and charged with battery after fighting with a Waffle House customer. He pleaded nolo contendere ("no contest") to one count, was fined $1,000, required to perform 80 hours of community service and complete a six-hour course on anger management. In 2014, Ritchie became a grandfather when his son's girlfriend gave birth to a daughter, Skye. In November 2017, Ritchie became engaged to longtime girlfriend Audrey Berry.
A philanthropist, Ritchie oversees The Kid Rock Foundation, a charity which raises funds for multiple causes, including campaigns which sent “Kid Rock care packages” to U.S. military personnel stationed overseas. Ritchie is an advocate for affordable concert tickets, and makes an effort to try and sell tickets to his performances for as low as possible to encourage increased concert attendance for lower income consumers and discourage scalping. Instead of getting paid for the show, he gets a percentage of concession and ticket sales. Ritchie is an ordained minister, and collects guns. In 2002, Ritchie performed alongside Chuck D and Grandmaster Flash in tribute to slain DJ Jam Master Jay. In 2004, he performed at the Super Bowl, in a controversial appearance that spurred criticism from Veterans of Foreign Wars and Senator Zell Miller for wearing the American flag with one slit in the middle, as a poncho; Ritchie was accused of "desecrating" the flag. In January 2005, Ritchie performed at the inaugural address of reelected president George W. Bush, sparking criticism from conservative groups, due to Ritchie's lyrics. In September, Kid Rock filled in for Johnny Van Zant, the lead singer of Lynyrd Skynyrd, on the band's hit "Sweet Home Alabama" at the Hurricane Katrina benefit concert. In 2007 and 2008, Ritchie toured for the United Service Organizations. Also in 2008, Ritchie recorded and made a music video for the song "Warrior" for a National Guard advertising campaign.
In 2011, Ritchie was honored by the NAACP, which sparked protests stemming from his past display of the Confederate flag in his concerts. During the ceremony, Kid Rock elaborated on his display of the flag, stating, "[I] never flew the flag with hate in my heart [...] I love America, I love Detroit, and I love black people." Ritchie's publicist announced that 2011 was the year he officially distanced himself from the flag. In 2012, Kid Rock performed alongside Travie McCoy and The Roots in honor of the Beastie Boys, during the band's induction to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. In 2013, Ritchie criticized Republican lawmakers in New York for passing laws which made it difficult for him to keep concert ticket prices low. In January 2015, Ritchie was criticized by fans for appearing in a photograph holding up a dead cougar that was killed on a hunting trip with Ted Nugent. In 2015, following the Charleston church shooting, the Michigan chapter of the National Action Network protested outside of the Detroit Historical Museum which honored Ritchie; activists urged Ritchie to renounce the Confederate flag, which he had displayed in concerts from 2001 to 2006. Ritchie wrote an email to Fox News Channel host Megyn Kelly, stating, "Please tell the people who are protesting to kiss my ass". The same day, the National Action Network protested Chevrolet for sponsoring Ritchie's tour. In September 2016, Ritchie was criticized for allegedly saying "fuck Colin Kaepernick" during a live performance of his song "Born Free".
On July 12, 2017, Ritchie shared a photo of a "Kid Rock for US Senate" yard sign on Twitter. However, he denied that he was running, citing his upcoming album release and tour. He later clarified that the campaign was a hoax. He donated $122,000, raised by selling "Kid Rock for U.S. Senate" merchandise, to a voter registration group. In November, Ritchie fired his publicist, Kirt Webster, after Webster was accused of sexual misconduct. On April 6, 2018, Ritchie was inducted into the Celebrity Wing of the WWE Hall of Fame, during the weekend of Wrestlemania 34.
In 1989, Ritchie became a shareholder of the independent record label Top Dog Records, formed by Alvin Williams and Earl Blunt of EB-Bran Productions, in 1988; Ritchie's investment in the company gave him 25% ownership. In 2001, Ritchie filed a lawsuit to gain full control over the Top Dog record label, resulting in his receiving full ownership of the label in 2003. Ritchie also founded Kid Rock's Made in Detroit restaurant and bar, which specializes in Southern-style cuisine.
Politics and views
Regarding political issues, Ritchie has identified as libertarian, stating he has socially liberal views on abortion and gay marriage, but fiscally conservative views on economics. Ritchie has advocated legalizing and taxing marijuana, cocaine and heroin. Ritchie has also stated, "I don’t think crazy people should have guns." Ritchie was a vocal supporter of American military involvement in the Iraq War. Ritchie has met Presidents Bill Clinton, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump while in office. Regarding his political views, Ritchie said, "I have friends everywhere. Democrat, Republican, this that and the other. [...] We're all human beings first, Americans second, let's find some common ground and get along."
Ritchie supported Bill Clinton and George W. Bush during their presidencies. In 2008, Ritchie supported newly elected President Barack Obama, saying that the president's election was "a great thing for black people." In 2012, Ritchie campaigned for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney; the candidate used Ritchie's song "Born Free" as his campaign theme. In 2015, Ritchie publicly endorsed Ben Carson for the Republican nomination for President of the United States in the 2016 election. In February 2016, he voiced approval for Donald Trump's campaign for the same office. In December, Kid Rock sparked controversy for selling vulgar T-shirts supporting Trump at concerts.
- Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast (1990)
- The Polyfuze Method (1993)
- Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp (1996)
- Devil Without a Cause (1998)
- Cocky (2001)
- Kid Rock (2003)
- Rock n Roll Jesus (2007)
- Born Free (2010)
- Rebel Soul (2012)
- First Kiss (2015)
- Sweet Southern Sugar (2017)