Some Americans remember where they were when President Kennedy was shot, while others remember the first time they saw the Beatles. I remember the first time I heard Rapper's Delight by the Sugar Hill Gang. Eric AKA The Fish Martin was the big man on campus and in the pre-Walkman age he carried a big, bad AIWA boombox around school and one day he was blasting a strange sound that was something I'd never heard before. It was soon christened rap, and eventually, because one of the lines in Rapper's Delight, became known as hip-hop.
Unfortunately for the rest of us, white kids across America decided to do more than just listen to hip-hop, but tried to make it and the result has been the embarrassment to us all that was Vanilla Ice and is Eminem.
Rock and rap collided when Aerosmith and Run DMC hooked up for Walk This Way, and there were various artists along the way who capably mixed the two, but I've been most impressed recently by the work of an up-and-coming artist named Mat Kearney who un-selfconsciously incorporates elements of hip-hop stylings into his otherwise straightforward pop rock music. There's nothing embarrassing or inauthentic about Kearney and you never get the feeling that he's trying to pretend to be something he's not. And most importantly you can tell that he's not using hip-hop to cover for a lack of talent but rather incorporating it into his music as one of many musical influences that he likely grew up listening to.
Last night I caught Kearney live, opening for the British band Keane. Kearney doesn't dominate the stage like Keane's buoyant frontman but he doesn't have to. He's a journeyman singer, occasionally reminiscent of The Boss in his ability to connect with his audience and on this night his music surged in particular on two songs: Nothing Left To Lose and Undeniable.
Kearney didn't perform another brilliant song from his last album called Girl America, but there was plenty in his set to leave fans singing, thinking and feeling
If this is the future of rock in America, it's a bright one.