Eminem's The Marshall Mathers LP came out on May 23, 2000, and you probably recall Chris Rock's famous joke: "You know the world is going crazy when the best rapper is a white guy, and the best golfer is a black guy," referring, of course, to the then-bleached-blond emcee and Tiger Woods. The general public has always been hesitant to accept seemingly oxymoronic artists and athletes (i.e., a white rapper or a black golfer) until their greatness reaches such a level that it transcends all racial stereotypes. If you're white and want to rap, you better be damn good at it.
"It's just something that's unavoidable," explains Chris Webby, 22, a rising rap star from Norwalk. "[Rap] is not a white-boy thing in essence. It didn't start that way. So whenever a white boy does it, people gotta make sure they really are certified and they know what they're doing."
Webby, if you haven't guessed, is white. And he's got a lot of Connecticut pride. In fact, he's got "Connecticut" tattooed across his chest, the area code 203 on his side, and a number of cartoon and videogame characters from his childhood (Mario, Ninja Turtles, Transformers, the Lion King, etc.) everywhere else. He didn't grow up in a housing project, but rather a condominium complex across the street from batting cages in Norwalk. He went to Greens Farms Academy, a prestigious private school in Westport. Letting all of this become public knowledge sounds a little like a suicide note from an aspiring rapper, but Webby, for better or for worse, takes pride in who he is. He's the product of the Eminem-era of rap, growing up believing there's a chance he could rhyme without being laughed at for the rest of his life.
"It's not like I came up from the hood, not like I came up from nothing, but, you know, just like any average fucking kid," he says. "There's always people who are like, 'What the fuck are you doing? You're a white kid, you're from Connecticut, you need to be realistic, and there's no way it'll ever happen.' I just tell those people to fuck off, you know?"
"Average" seems to be the operative word here. Along with Pittsburgh's Mac Miller and Boston's Sam Adams, Webby is part of an influx of new college-age white emcees that have enjoyed recent success thanks to a burgeoning online fanbase. Sometimes referred to as frat rap — a label I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy — the adoption of hip-hop by average college guys makes a strange sort of sense. On the surface, the music provides an easy platform to boast about drinking, smoking weed and sex — all things fairly stereotypical of, well, a frat house — but that's not enough to earn any semblance of longevity in a genre obsessed with what's fresh and new.
"I rap about partying and shit, so it's totally accessible to college kids, high-school kids," explains Webby, "but that's not the only thing I rap about, because I've been through some shit in my life. You gotta be able to really impress people on a lot of levels just to be accepted in hip-hop."
Webby was kicked out of Hofstra University his sophomore year after his friends decided to rob a drug dealer and the police got involved. "I drove the car and basically just got sucked into a shitty situation," he says. "Went through the legal system. Went to jail for a little bit." Whether it's the record, or the strength of his many freestyle videos on YouTube and mixtapes on DatPiff.com, Webby seems to have been able to overcome some of the stigma being white and from Connecticut surely carries. He and Mac Miller are generally considered to be the most lyrically skilled of this new wave, while Sam Adams is the softest but also the most marketable (after his Boston's Boy EP went No.1 on the iTunes Hip-Hop Chart, a rumor circulated that he had bought $75,000 worth of his own music).
"After Eminem came out the public was not trying to have another white rapper — he did it perfectly to a T," says Webby. "It's been like 10 years now and it's acceptable again, but I think it's only gonna be acceptable for so long, because there are so many white boys coming up right now that it's just gonna be overload and the general public will start to reject the concept."
There have always been respected white rappers in hip-hop — Slug of Atmosphere, Aesop Rock, Brother Ali, the Beastie Boys, more recently Yelawolf — but never before has there been such a surge of young Caucasian lyricists at one time, and we don't quite know what to make of it yet. Is it cool or ridiculous? "I think people should be skeptical of an artist, regardless," says Webby. "But if you really, really know how to rap, then nobody can tell you nothing."
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