You can take the blue-collar boy out of the Midwest, but you can’t take the Midwest out of the blue-collar boy. Detroit-bred rap-rocker Kid Rock, nee Robert Ritchie, has gradually been returning to his working-class roots, beginning with his first No. 1 album, 2007’s Rock n Roll Jesus, and its retro hit single “All Summer Long,” a smart mash-up of Warren Zevon’s “Werewolves of London” and Lynyrd Skynrd’s “Sweet Home Alabama.”
Earlier this year, the Rick Rubin-produced, folk-country Born Free followed suit. The album features Zac Brown on “Flyin’ High,” Trace Adkins on “Rock Bottom Blues” and, on the standout track “Collide,” both Sheryl Crow and Rock’s childhood idol, Bob Seger.
And that’s just the musical side of things. Watching the economy of Detroit — and the nation as a whole — go bust, Kid Rock decided to get involved. First, he rescued, then reinvigorated, failing Michigan clothing company Made In Detroit, putting a whole new staff back to work with street-smart designs.
“We even have a Rosie the Riveter shirt on our site,” he says. “That was a company that was close to me when I was growing up, but it was going bankrupt and being sold. So I went and bought it, just because I didn’t want to see it die. And I’m not making a dime from it, not a penny, not that I don’t plan to one day. But right now I’m trying to show that there’s some good shit going on in Michigan, and there are ways that we can help out and actually have fun while we’re doing it.” Which was also the thinking behind Kid Rock launching his own signature beer, Badass American Lager, brewed locally with water from the Saginaw aquifer. In this case, he started the line out of spite. “I was angry that Budweiser, Coors and some of our greatest American companies sold out, at a time when this country needed them most,” he vents. “I don’t know about a lot of things, but I know about music, and I know about beer. So I came up with one with no aftertaste, no frills. You don’t need to put a lemon in it. Our ads feature a Badass bottle with this old rusted-out truck with no tires sitting on it, and it says ‘That’s the only way you’ll ever see a lemon on it!’”
Promotional pitches aside, Kid Rock says his mission stems from a serious concern. “I know lots of good, hard-working people who are losing their jobs, their houses,” he explains. “And I was raised to believe that you should help your neighbor out first. And if we all did that — helped the people that were closest to us, our neighbors — hopefully that would be heard around the world.”
And if not? At least Kid Rock’s music is, even as it crosses over into country.
“If you’re in a bad relationship, something went wrong? You might wanna listen to George Jones. You wanna party? Pull out the REO Speedwagon or old-school Fleetwood Mac. It’s all about escalating your mood. So it doesn’t matter if it’s a country-feeling song or a rocker or a rap-rock jam — I’m just making music that I like.”