What's feeding the Top 40 tastes of girls these days? Doughy teen-pop, of course. And the randy rap-metal recipe served up by LIMP BIZKIT.
by Tom Sinclair
July 9, 1999
You don't know from god-awful noise until you've heard a horde of teenage girls screeching in ecstasy at the sight of their favorite band. It's a piercing, undifferentiated wall of sound, white noise in falsetto, and it's been blaring nonstop for 10 minutes.
No, it isn't the Backstreet Boys or Ricky Martin inspiring the racket. The gals (and, it must be admitted, a few guys) assembled on the promenade outside the Jones Beach concert arena in Long Island, N.Y., are going gaga over Limp Bizkit, the scruffy rap-metal quintet whose thrash-and-burn cover of George Michael's "Faith" has been an MTV staple for months. The band members are hunkered around a table atop a raised platform, signing T-shirts, hats, and posters. In a few hours, they will deliver a pulverizing set at K-ROCK's Dysfunctional Family Picnic 3, the radio station's annual celebration of rock in all its permutations. But right now they've got their hands--not to mention their ears--full.
A girl who looks all of 14 jumps onto the dais and is summarily escorted off by security, hyperventilating and near tears. Oblivious, the group--frontman Fred Durst, 28, guitarist Wes Borland, 24, bassist Sam Rivers, 21, drummer John Otto, 22, and turntablist DJ Lethal, 26--continue scrawling signatures on anything that's thrust in front of them. And with each stroke of a pen, the caterwauling seems to get shriller (as Lethal will later say, "It was f---in' louder than Wes' guitar").
Suddenly, Durst leaps onto the table and throws his pen into the crowd, signaling the end of the proceedings. As his band mates beat their retreat, he grins gleefully, raises his arms, and extends the middle finger of each hand.
And a postmodern peace sign backatcha, pal.
That a band from Jacksonville, Fla., which plays raging, testosterone-soaked music that's the antithesis of Lilith limpidity is managing to attract any kind of female following is a mystery of Brobdingnagian proportions. But, to paraphrase blues legend Willie Dixon, the little girls obviously understand. At Limp Bizkit's June 22 appearance at a Seattle record store, girls outnumbered boys two to one, according to Kim Monroe, music director at modern-rock station KNDD. "As a woman, I loved seeing that," says Monroe. "These cute little 15-year-old girls who love Limp Bizkit and like to get in the mosh pit and jump around as much as the boys. It feels like a revolution."
It's certainly a phenomenon any marketing sharpie worth his or her expense account would welcome. To maximize profit, cherchez la femme, as the saying goes. Durst--who talks as enthusiastically as he raps, and with a few more pounds could pass for a WWF contender--is understandably pleased with the distaff attention: "Girls buy more records than guys."
Whatever their gender, plenty of folks are jumping on the Bizkit bandwagon. Significant Other, the band's just-released sophomore disc, debuted at No. 1, selling a head-spinning 635,000 copies and dislodging fellow Floridians Backstreet Boys from the pop chart's apex. It's a quantum leap forward from its predecessor, 1997's Three Dollar Bill Yall$. They've added vivid patches of melody and textured instrumental flourishes to their adrenalized sonic brutality, baiting the proceedings with cameos from Wu-Tang Clan's Method Man, Korn's Jonathan Davis, and Stone Temple Pilots' Scott Weiland. "This record is to Three Dollar Bill as [Nirvana's] Nevermind was to Bleach," says Flip Records prexy Jordan Schur, who signed Bizkit in '96 and enjoys a joint-venture deal with Interscope for the band's releases.
Schur's Nirvana comparison is apt. Already, some bizzers are contending that the noisy hip-metal (or is that heavy-hop?) played by groups like Limp Bizkit, Korn, and Kid Rock just may be the new grunge. "It is very similar to the whole Alice in Chains/Nirvana/Soundgarden axis of 10 years ago," says Dave Douglas, program director of Boston rock station WAAF. "It's a cyclical thing, rock coming back in a new way."
Indeed, much of this recombinant genre is predicated on another putative grunge truism: Life Stinks. You don't need to see Durst leaping maniacally about on stage while screaming at top volume to know he's got some serious angst in his pants--just cock an ear to his lyrics, which are full of bitterness, anger, and self-destructive urges. Don't mistake the chorus of Significant's first single, "Nookie"--"I did it all for the nookie.../So you can take that cookie/And stick it up your...yeah!"--for a boorish frat-boy gibe. The song's real theme is in its verses, where Durst labels himself a "reject" and a "chump" as he bemoans the sour ending of a long-term romance. "It's about this girl who did me wrong when I was on tour," he says. "I was supporting her. She was supporting some other dude."
According to Durst, the fallout from the breakup caused him to swear off casual sex at a time when most rock dudes would be shagging themselves silly. He's even written a celibacy anthem (Significant's "No Sex") to clarify his viewpoint. "I love women," he says. "I love meeting them. I'm a flirt. But I ain't f---ing. I can't take advantage of this position."
That sound you hear is the mothers of America breathing a massive sigh of relief.
It wasn't all that long ago that fusing rap and rock seemed a dubious career move. For every Rage Against the Machine that broke through, dozens of forgotten musical alchemists (Urban Dance Squad, the Hard Corps) were held at arm's length by headbangers and homies alike. Now, with Kid Rock and Insane Clown Posse stars and kids eating up Korn, even perennial underachievers like Shootyz Groove are back on a major label.
Flashback to 1994: Rap enthusiast Durst--a former breakdancer, professional skateboarder, and aspiring tattoo artist--decides to shake up the prevailing metal scene in Jacksonville by creating the ultimate genre-busting band. "I wanted the perfect balance between hip-hop, alternative rock, everything I was into," he says. His vision took tangible form as he recruited a group of disparate musicians--a jazz-schooled drummer, a funk-savvy bassist, and a guitarist with roots in punk and metal.
By 1996, with the eleventh-hour addition of ex-House of Pain member DJ Lethal, Limp Bizkit were perfecting their volatile crazy-quilt style through constant gigging. Serendipity stepped in when Durst and Co. met and bonded with the like-minded Korn, who were instrumental in helping Bizkit net their deal. The band became road warriors, playing the Warped, OZZfest, and Family Values tours, and generating buzz among the kids. (While the "Faith" video certainly helped, the band attributes Three Dollar Bill's impressive sales--1.7 million and counting--to their kamikaze live performances.)
In the end, of course, it's all about the kids. "I know there's not that many 28- or 30-year-olds buying Limp Bizkit records," says Durst. "But there are kids out there who are going to play this CD for six months straight, and they're going to listen to every word I say." What's the appeal to the collective teenage id? "I'd say for a lot of 18-year-olds, the first album to have an impact was Dr. Dre's The Chronic," says Durst. "That's roots to them, so a band with guitars, a rapper, and a DJ isn't strange. It's like the lines between different musics has collapsed."
That collapse has brought us to a juncture both strange and familiar. In a musical age when Dre protege Eminem's wiseass rape and murder fantasies coexist on MTV with the latest G-rated romantic trifle from 'N Sync, jaded adolescents remain, as ever, alert for fresh kicks. These days, rap-metal is the flavor du jour. Tom Calderone, MTV's senior VP of music and talent, reckons Limp Bizkit are on firm ground. "I think the rap/metal movement will have pretty long legs because hip-hop is still so strong," he says. "There are a lot of young [people] all around the country listening to hip-hop and rock, and when you meld the two together, that's where the popularity comes in."
To bring their power to the people, Limp Bizkit kicked off their summer tour this June with three "guerrilla" shows--announced on local radio stations an hour or so before--in the streets of Boston, Detroit, and Chicago, drawing huge crowds (and police attention). This fall, they'll headline the second Family Values tour. With Significant Other primed to be a blockbuster, Limp Bizkit seem to be living semi-charmed lives. Even the mini-scandal that erupted last year--when it was learned a Portland, Ore., radio station had been paid to play a Bizkit tune--did little to halt the band's momentum.
Interscope recently named Durst a senior VP and will reportedly give him his own vanity label. The move to the executive suite is unusual for an artist still at the peak of fame. "We're confident in his ability," says label president Tom Whalley. "Fred has great ears." Durst, who has directed two Bizkit videos, says he has written two film scripts and claims both have been greenlighted, adding, "I can't talk about it until I sign the papers." He recently moved to L.A. and wants to act. Isn't he worried about damaging his cred by going Hollywood?
"Music is Hollywood," he snorts. "It's not like I'm going to forget music; music is my life. But I don't want to fizzle away. I don't want to be Billy Corgan, make an amazing Smashing Pumpkins album, then make a s---ty one, then say, 'I'm gonna do movies now.' I want to do good in music, then, when they're on to the next flavor, go, 'Hey, man, I want to do this movie and run this record company.' Why not do it all if you can?"
Why not indeed. Right now, Durst and his band are hotter than a blast of undiluted Sterno. Better catch them before they turn into Pumpkins.