Published on March 27th, 2015 | by Andy Sedlak
‘Devil Without a Cause’ – Kid Rock 
Summary: The King of Crass becomes a spokesman for the kids in detention. There was always more to Rock than he let on, though he has trouble laying off of the low-hanging fruit on his breakthrough.
Released: Aug. 18, 1998
Producers: Kid Rock and John Travis
Peak Position on Billboard Album Chart: 4
Top 40 U.S. singles: 1
I recently realized that I still get that cumbersome lump in my throat when I hear the opening chords of “Only God Knows Why.”
The song – the only monster ballad universally claimed by Millennials – was played at every junior high dance I ever went to. Once it started, the pressure was on. You had exactly 15 seconds to separate yourself from the herd and find a girl. You had to be slow dancing by the time the first verse began. Although I thought I had emerged from that social crossfire relatively unscathed, the song came across my XM radio a few weeks back and the state of mind somehow returned. Chalk it up to the power (or curse) of music.
“Only God Knows Why” is a late-’90s monster ballad masterpiece.
Kid Rock’s Devil Without A Cause has been pegged as one of the seminal albums of my generation. It’s sold 9.3 million copies in the United States, so it’s been certified platinum like a dozen times. It’s also given us a fascinating portrait to reflect on.
Picture Rock next to the Britneys, Christinas and ‘NSYNCs of the era. Kind of awkward, no? I suppose it’s less of a stretch to imagine him next to fellow Detroit native Eminem (who’s featured on Devil Without A Cause). What doesn’t seem like a stretch, however, is picturing him next to Korn, a band who had a semi-reluctant influence over the 27-year-old artist.
Let me tell you what I mean by “semi-reluctant influence.” By 1998, Rock had three failed records under his belt. The most memorable thing about 1996’s Early Morning Stoned Pimp was its title. To say Rock needed a hit album is a sordid understatement. We’re talking about a new father with no sustainable source of income. Rock, who was born Robert James Ritchie, was this close to pouring concrete for a living.
“I was like, what’s popular? Korn,” he recently told Rolling Stone. “I knew I could do that shit in my sleep.”
But give Rock credit for his foresight.
“(I said) let me throw in a ‘Cowboy’ and ‘Only God Knows Why’ so I can have a career,” he said.
Kid Rock talks with David Letterman in 2001.
So out came Devil Without A Cause. What followed were anti-everything anthems (“Bawitdaba,” “Devil Without A Cause”) and various incarnations of crass. That included back porch crass (“I Got One For Ya”), epic crass (“Wasting Time,” “Welcome 2 The Party”) and heroic crass (“I Am the Bullgod,” “Fuck Off,” “Fist of Rage,” “Somebody’s Gotta Feel This”).
Most of the time, however, all this crass blended together. That was Rock’s M.O.
“I’m so crass that I’m the last of my kind,” he raps on “Welcome 2 the Party.”
Rock used vulgarity like Stephen Strasburg uses a 98 mph fastball. But Strasburg has other pitches in his arsenal, right? So did Rock. A little research will show you his inspiration was always rooted in classic rock & roll. “Bawitdaba” stuffs samples of Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath and Edgar Winter into one song. Samples elsewhere on Devil Without A Cause include The Allman Brothers (“Cowboy”), U2 (“Devil Without A Cause”), Fleetwood Mac (“Wasting Time”), Led Zeppelin (“Somebody’s Gotta Feel This”) and Pearl Jam (“Only God Knows Why”).
Start listening to the album from the top and it’s easy to understand why Devil’s one-two punch of “Bawitdaba” and “Cowboy” are now considered legendary. Rock’s approach to just about everything is laid out in the former.
You can look for answers but that ain’t fun
Now get in the pit and try to love someone
The music video for Devil’s head-banging opening track, “Bawitdaba.”
Florida Georgia Line can thank him for handing them a career blueprint in “Cowboy.” The song samples the Doors’ “LA Woman” and Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider.” It also adds the whistle from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly theme song. That’s the collective backdrop against lines that underscore Rock’s, uh, crassmanship.
I ain’t no G, I’m just a regular failure
I ain’t straight outta Compton, I’m straight out the trailer
The clip for “Cowboy,” featuring cameos from Ron Jeremy and Gary Coleman.
Devil Without A Cause is full-speed-ahead. “I Am the Bullgod” – marvelously unruly and sinister – may technically be midtempo, but the record really doesn’t slow down until “I Got One For Ya,” which is my favorite non-single on the album. It’s chill and it’s disgusting, which is to say it’s Rock at his most supreme.
From “I Got One For Ya:”
People always talkin’ — what they gonna do?
They must want their face to maybe taste my shoe
I can’t understand all the push and shove
And what the fuck’s happened to the peace and love?
Unfortunately there are holes all over this thing. If you think of Kid Rock as a Johnny One-Note, that’s because he often can be. Rock’s rhymes flatline too often, reverting back to the same old bullet points. Recycled themes and predictable attitude – that’s Devil Without A Cause.
That’s harsh. Let me back up. Rock’s entire appeal in 1998 was a bit of a double edged sword – a common factor when you’re talking about artists who put relentlessness first. Take a group like the Sex Pistols, who were always coming from a particularly relentless place. They hammered it again and again and again. They hammered it, probably, better than anyone else. But relentlessness can mutate into one-dimensional. And repetitive. Same goes for Rock.
When Rock misses, he misses spectacularly. Part of me says that’s what makes Devil Without A Cause fun. But I can’t kid myself. Lame is lame.
From “Wasting Time:”
I don’t bring much, ain’t got a lot to say
But I got more time than Morris Day
Morris Day was the vocalist of a 1980s funk band called The Time. So… get it?
There’s more spectacular weaksauce on the Sugarhill Gang inspired “Welcome 2 The Party:”
From “Welcome 2 The Party:”
Well my name’s Kid Rock I’m a Capricorn
And Detroit city’s where I was born
When I was young I knew I’d always be
A super live body rockin’ MC
I’m TNT, I’m dynamite
And I’m gonna rock this party all damn night
I suppose the song does include one LOL moment…
I don’t like small cars or real big women
But somehow I always find myself in ’em
Eminem makes an off-kilter cameo in “Fuck Off,” but it’s still a thrill to hear from Eminem when he had the underdog’s punch.
From “Fuck Off:”
All I do is curse and fuck
So when I do shrooms you all better give me two rooms
‘Cause I’m fucking the first one up
Rock dials it back on the rambling confession that is “Black Chick, White Guy.” I’d hate to sound like your dad, but it’s a nice break from non-stop confrontation and schoolboy vulgarity. There’s something to be said about a guy on a barstool telling his story. And its sentiment is fairly progressive after a collection of songs that celebrate self-satisfaction after the rebuke of cultural norms.
From “Black Chick, White Guy:”
She was born in the front seat of his car
It was amazing
Kinda like a shooting star
He was happy told his family and friends
Only to realize later his little girl wasn’t his
And that crushed him quick
Suicidal thoughts were in his head real thick
But before he found all that out
From the same chick, another kid popped out
Almost 20 years on, what can we take away from Kid Rock’s Devil Without A Cause?
The success of Devil may have earned Rock a spot on tour with Limp Bizkit, but the tide was already turning. Read Rock’s Wikipedia page and it’ll tell you this album was the last of his hip hop records. That’s only half true because a similar flavor pops up in 2001’s Cocky. But when people moan that Devils’ rhymes rang shallow and his beats got lost in distortion, they’re kind of right. It’s also true that Rock’s charm comes from his Midwestern candor.
I think Devil has some interesting moments. But I ultimately remember them for the memories I made when I first heard them. I don’t get a lot of mileage out of them now. I’m guessing the same will go for you should you choose to revisit this disc.
Nevertheless, we’ll always have “Only God Knows Why.” And I’ll always remember that if you were feeling really confident you pulled your baby closer during the crescendo at the end. It was the ultimate showman’s move.
Kid Rock quickly moved on after Devil Without A Cause. He started to seriously steer his sound toward southern rock and began to sharpen his lyrical pen. He started to grow up. At least as much as he could. And we mostly did the same.