After spending a decade toiling in obscurity and releasing a handful of albums that went nowhere, Kid Rock—Detroit's self-proclaimed "American Bad Ass" — spiked the title track of his forth album, 1998's Devil without a Cause, with a bold declaration: "I'm going platinum!" With the white trash rap/rock anthem "Bawitdaba" and a star-making performance at Woodstock '99, he delivered on his promise. But within a decade, Rock had made the total transformation into a classic rock singer when his 2007 album Rock N Roll Jesus debuted at Number One.
He was born Robert James Ritchie on Jan. 15, 1971, in Romeo, Michigan, a small, rural town north of the Detroit metro area, where his father owned a Lincoln-Mercury dealership. While growing up, he frequently clashed with his father, resulting in Ritchie's leaving home on multiple occasions as a teenager. He experimented with drugs and occasionally sold crack for spending money, but his primary focus was music. Though raised on his parents' classic rock & roll albums (Creedence Clearwater Revival, Bob Seger, etc.), Ritchie was equally interested in hip-hop. He formed his own break-dance crew, the Furious Funksters, and refined his scratching skills. Before long, he was DJ'ing and rapping at clubs and parties throughout the Detroit area, slowly building a reputation that led to a deal with Jive Records.
His 1990 debut, Grits Sandwiches for Breakfast, netted Kid Rock an opening spot on an Ice Cube tour and sparked controversy when the FCC threatened to fine a college radio station $23,750 for playing the album's homage to oral sex, "Yo-Da-Lin in the Valley." The fine was eventually dropped and so was Kid Rock—Grits Sandwiches had failed to sell enough to keep Jive's interest. He then signed to indie label Continuum, which released 1993's The Polyfuze Method and the 1994 heavy metal-leaning EP Fire It Up. Both failed to reach an audience beyond Rock's local Detroit following. Undaunted, Kid Rock borrowed $8,500 from his father to set up his own label, Top Dog, and self-released his third full-length album, Early Mornin' Stoned Pimp, in 1996. The album sold enough for Kid Rock to attract the attention of Atlantic Records, who signed him.
Rock's Atlantic debut Devil without a Cause (Number Four, 1999) was slow out of the gate but began a steady climb up the Billboard 200 as rock radio and MTV picked up on the album's hybrid rap/metal singles "I Am the Bullgod" (Number 31 Mainstream Rock) and "Bawitdaba" (Number 10 Modern Rock). A third single, "Cowboy" (which threw dirty Southern rock and country elements into the mix), went to Number Five on the Modern Rock chart and Number 82 on the Hot 100. In 1999—ten years after his debut album—Kid Rock was nominated for a Best New Artist Grammy. (He lost to Christina Aguilera.)
The History of Rock (Number Two, 2000) featured remixed and rerecorded versions of tracks culled from his pre-Atlantic career and a couple of new tracks. He also announced plans to issue various projects by members of his Twisted Brown Trucker Band on his Atlantic-distributed Top Dog label, beginning with Double Wide (2000) by his DJ, Uncle Kracker. An album was also planned for his sidekick, Joe C. (born Joseph Calleja), but the diminutive, 26-year-old rapper, who suffered from the digestive disorder celiac disease, died in his sleep on November 16, 2000.
The following year Rock released Cocky (Number Three, 2001), his official follow-up to Devil Without a Cause, which featured a mix of rap/rock, Southern rock and country-tinged material. That year, he began talking up his love of country music and Southern rock, and appeared with Hank Williams Jr. on an episode of CMT's Crossroads show. Like Devil Without a Cause, though, Cocky's sales were sluggish at first. But by the time he released its biggest single—a duet with Sheryl Crow on the country-rock ballad "Picture" (Number Four, 2003)—the album went on to sell more than four million copies. "Picture," which also reached Number 21 on the Hot Country singles chart, signaled a major change in style for the rap/rocker. When he returned with the self-titled Kid Rock (Number Eight, 2004), his transformation into a classic rocker was complete. The album spawned three Top Forty Mainstream Rock hits—a cover of Bad Company's mid-Seventies rock hit "Feel Like Makin' Love" (Number 33, 2004), "I Am" (Number 28, 2004) and "Jackson, Mississippi" (Number 14, 2004)—as well as the Number 50 Hot Country single "Single Father."
After much touring, his rock band Kid Rock & the Twisted Brown Trucker Band released Live Trucker (Number 12, 2006), a performance set whose cover paid homage to Detroit rock legend Bob Seger's 1976 album, Live Bullet. Kid Rock returned the following year with Rock N Roll Jesus (Number One, 2007), which yielded the singles "Amen" (Number 11 Mainstream Rock, Number 27 Modern Rock, 2007) and "So Hott" (Number Two Mainstream Rock, Number 13 Modern Rock, 2007), but really took off when the sunny third single "All Summer Long"—which interpolates Warren Zevon's "Werewolves of London" and Lynyrd Skynyrd's "Sweet Home Alabama"—became a smash on MTV and radio, hitting Number 14 on the pop chart.
Kid Rock's extramusical affairs have often eclipsed his music. In 2001, he began an on-again-off-again relationship with Pamela Anderson, whom he married in 2006 and then promptly divorced five months later. He's been arrested a number of times on assault and battery charges, including a 2005 incident in which he punched a DJ at a strip club, and a pair of 2007 incidents in which he was in a fight in an Atlanta Waffle House. Rock was involved in a more public dust-up when he and Motley Crue drummer (and former Anderson husband) Tommy Lee got into a scuffle at the MTV Video Music Awards ceremony.
Rock has said he will return to his hip-hop roots on his next album, and in an interview in late 2009 indicated that he's working on it with produced Rock Rubin and guests T.I. and Lil Wayne. He also sings on the self-titled solo album by Slash, out in April, 2010.
Portions of this biography appeared in The Rolling Stone Encyclopedia of Rock & Roll (Simon & Schuster, 2001). Evan Serpick contributed to this story.