The idea of rock star as rebel dates at least as far back as Elvis and his girl-baiting hips on the Ed Sullivan Show. As pervasive as the rock and roll badass is, even more prevalent is the rock star decline from badass to mild-mannered musician.
Today, we look back on five musicians who once typified everything that was dangerous and threatening about music but eventually went on to be a sad, soft, shell of their former selves. Hey hey, my my.
Who He Was: As a founding member of the seminal west coast gangster rap group N.W.A., Ice Cube reached certified bad ass status at an age when most of us are still trying to have sex for the first time. By the time he left N.W.A. over a contract dispute in 1989, he had penned lyrics controversial enough to generate a letter from the FBI.
You would think it couldn’t get much more awesome than that. You’d be wrong. His solo debut, Amerikkka’s Most Wanted, while hailed as a groundbreaking classic within the rap media, was widely reviled by the rock media and general public for its blatantly misogynist and homophobic lyrics. The controversy clearly got to him and he toned things down on his second album, Death Certificate, which included songs about sexually assaulting his former N.W.A. bandmates, burning down Korean owned grocery stores and filling in unknowing fathers about the sordid details of their daughter’s exploits.
Most Badass Moment: “No Vaseline” from the Death Certificate album, in which Cube spends five minutes singlehandedly destroying N.W.A., arguably the biggest rap group in the world at the time. They never released another album after this. I’m surprised they even left the house.
Who He Is Now: Oh boy. Somewhere along the line, Ice Cube started making movies: badass movies. His acting debut in John Singleton’s Boyz In the Hood was a surprisingly impressive performance in a gritty tale about growing up in the gang infested streets of South Central Los Angeles. Naturally, Cuba Gooding Jr. plays the pussy in the movie.
Once he was bitten by the acting bug, there was no turning back. With a renewed focus on thesbianism, his music suffered to the point that he eventually stopped making solo records altogether for awhile.
At the same time, his movie roles went from playing the gangster with a heart to the conflicted hustler to the jovial barber that’s still not to be f—ed with to…basically the black Tim Allen. Except, you know, Tim Allen actually spent some time in prison and whatnot.
2005′s Are We There Yet? was the final nail in the coffin for badass Ice Cube. He could put 50 Cent in a coma with a pair of nunchucks and it would not be enough to erase the fact that “the ni**a ya love to hate” is now trying to topple Will Smith as the most loveable black guy in America.
Least Badass Moment:
LL Cool J
Who He Was Then: The name means “Ladies Love Cool James.” But there was a time, long long ago, when the fellas also thought LL Cool J was pretty damn awesome. With the release of his first album Radio way back in 1985 (how old do you feel right now?) LL came out of the gates swinging. The hits “Radio” and “I Need a Beat” established LL as one of the fiercest up-and-coming MC’s of his day. With the follow up album, Bigger and Deffer, LL not only further cemented his status as a top-notch lyricist, but he also revealed himself to be a battle rapper of the highest order.
Following the album’s release, “Uncle L” found himself in the midst of a beef with old school rapper Kool Moe Dee. Over the next couple of years, LL would out-rhyme, out-wit and out-ab his older adversary. This scenario would be repeated time and again with everyone from MC Hammer to Ice-T to Canibus. Challenge as they may, LL slayed them all.
Most Badass Moment: “To Da Break of Dawn,” an ungodly harsh diss track that took about four minutes to make Kool Moe Dee, MC Hammer and Ice-T all wish they had just stuck to their day jobs.
Who He Is Now: These days, LL might as well be an R&B singer. As the years have gone by, he’s taken the “Ladies Love” part of his name way too seriously. Granted, as the dude who basically invented the rap ballad, it’s expected that his albums would incorporate some sort of ode to the ladies at some point. But somewhere around the mid-90′s, LL took the 90% hard rhymes, 10% songs about chicks ratio and put that in reverse. These days, you’re hard pressed to come across an LL single that doesn’t feature some random R&B crooner singing the hook while LL rubs hot oil on his abs and licks his lips.
Least Badass Moment: “Hey Lover” featuring, of all people, Boyz II Men.
Who He Was Then:Back in the 80′s, some things just went without saying. Parachute pants were awesome. Bob Saget was the best dad ever. Another thing that everyone knew…James Hetfield was the baddest dude on earth.
For the better part of the 80′s, nobody rocked harder than Metallica. Beginning with their debut album Kill ‘Em All, the band put together a string of albums that stand even today as some of the greatest metal ever committed to tape. And within Metallica, nobody lived harder than James Hetfield. When not busy slamming booze onstage and doubling Kirk Hammett on face melting guitar solos, Hetfield could be found pursuing some of his favorite leisure activities such as customizing cars, watching the Oakland Raiders and fencing Sabre. That last one isn’t quite as awesome as it may seem, but damn if it doesn’t sound pretty cool.
Most Badass Moment: On stage in 1992, Hetfield stepped in the path of a chemical flame set to shoot from the stage. The heat was so intense that it melted his guitar strings. Hetfield received second and third degree burns…and then got right back to rocking 17 days later.
Who He Is Now: While their music started to lose some of its edge in the mid-90′s, it seemed like our vision of Hetfield as badass would never go anywhere. Enter the 2004 documentary Some Kind of Monster. While holed up to record their St. Anger album, someone within the Metallica camp decided it would be a good idea to bring in a Cosby sweater wearing “therapist” to help the band get in touch with the feelings they have for each other. That Hetfield stood by and let this happen without eating that dude or something is bad enough. But to make matters worse, Het’ at one point leaves to go to rehab and comes back, like, eight years later as an Alcoholics Anonymous mantra spouting softy who can only record during banker’s hours and thinks getting screamed at by Lars Ulrich isn’t reason enough to unleash a savage beating.
Least Badass Moment: How far away from his Satan-baiting lyric writing days has James Hetfield come? Check this line from the St. Anger album…”I don’t want my anger to be me.” Well, guess what James, we do.
Who She Was:Sinead O’Connor? A badass? You bet, once upon a time anyway. There was a time when Sinead couldn’t go to the store for cigarettes without coming home with a brand new controversy to be embroiled in. Take her performance at the Garden State Arts Center in 1990. Upon learning that the venue had a policy of playing the “Star Spangled Banner” prior to all performances, O’Connor advised she would not go on if the anthem was played. The arena eventually gave in, but later banned her for life. When explaining the incident later, O’Connor stated that going on after the playing of a nation anthem of a country that imposes censorship on artists would be “hypocritical and racist.” Huh? How that qualifies as racist, I’m not sure. But to her credit, she probably had no idea either. Sinead O’Connor just didn’t give a damn.
Most Badass Moment: On an episode of Saturday Night Live, O’Connor performed an a capella version of “War” by Bob Marley. At the end of the performance, she held up a picture of the Pope John Paul II, ripped it into pieces, said “fight the real enemy” and threw the pieces at the camera. Naturally, most everyone watching at the time went ape shit.
Who She Is Now: A Catholic priest! Well, sort of. She was actually ordained by a splinter group called the Independent Catholic group. But still, coming from a woman whose career was pretty much defined by opposing the Catholic church, it seems like a bit of a sell-out. And by “a bit” I mean “a huge friggin’ sell out.” But who am I to judge? That’s her job now.
Least Badass Moment: Um, did I mention she was is now an ordained priest?
Who He Was Then:He bit the head off a bat. He bit the head off a live dove in a meeting with record executives. He pissed on the Alamo while wearing a dress. He snorted a line of ants. He was trampled by a pack of rabid elephants and lived to tell the tale. Alright, I totally made that last one up, but anyone who knows anything about music knows that there was a time when Ozzy Osbourne was the scariest thing on two legs.
When I was a kid I once got caught watching an Ozzy Osbourne video on MTV (back when they played those) and was grounded for two weeks. Why? Because it was Ozzy Osbourne, and listening to him was a surefire path to Satan worship. In the most surefire proof that badassedness was afoot, Ozzy was sued not once, but twice, by families who claimed his song directly led to suicides. Both cases were eventually overturned. Ozzy was probably too high to notice.
Most Badass Moment: After releasing a pair of doves into the air at a meeting with record execs, Ozzy was unimpressed with their reaction. To remedy the situation, he grabbed one of the doves, bit its head off and spit the head onto the floor. People noticed.
Who He Is Now: A damn clown, that’s what he is now. Thanks to his late career reinvention as a reality television pioneer on MTV’s The Osbournes, we now know more than we ever would have hoped about “The Prince of Darkness.” Before the show, most of us probably imagined that Ozzy lived in some sort of lair built into the side of a dark, remote mountain. But as it turned out, he lives in a mansion in California overrun with cats and the type of dogs that chicks carry around in purses. Granted, The Osbournes introduced Ozzy to a whole new legion of fans. Unfortunately, those fans didn’t fall in love with “Bark At the Moon,” they fell in love with Ozzy Osbourne: drunken, word-slurring buffoon.
Least Badass Moment: As if the reality show wasn’t sad enough, Ozzy and his brood are set to star in a “variety type show” that will feature a mix of stunts, competition and performances. The working title is “The Osbournes: Loud and Dangerous, but execs are reportedly floating the idea of calling it The Osbournes’ Super-Terrific Happy Hour. I only wish I was lying.
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