The buzz around professional party-circuit players LMFAO's second album, Sorry For Party Rocking, is still going strong. The group's success has largely involved cultivating a public image resembling an extreme version of the most ridiculous hipster archetype.
But it didn't always used to be that way, with one half of the group, the be-afroed Red Foo, having attempted a previous career as a learned, back-packerish underground rapper back in the mid-'90s.
As an image change, Red Foo's about-turn is an extreme one, but he's not alone in realizing that in hip-hop, sometimes breaking through and getting paid is more about your image than the music you make. Here then are five of the most drastic -- but successful -- hip-hop image changes. (NSFW: They often involve rappers wearing terrible suits.)
5. LMFAO's Red Foo
With a "party rock" agenda, a propensity for dressing up in leopard-skin-print spandex, and songs hooked around deep concepts like, "I'm in Miami, Bitch," the LMFAO duo of Red Foo and SkyBlu have successfully managed to turn the idea of novelty rap into a lucrative-enough career. But Red Foo's musical past contains an altogether more sobering chapter, as he cut his rap chops as part of Red Foo & Dre Kroon, an independent hip-hop duo who gained some underground repute with 1996's studious "Life Is A Game Of Chess" vinyl 12-inch. An album called Balance Beam followed the next year, with input from West Coast indie rap staples Evidence and DJ Revolution. It's a past the now-outlandish Red Foo seems happy to cop to -- when I interviewed him at the tail-end of 2009, he said he's still proud of "Life Is A Game Of Chess" -- although a more recent series of spoof spots attempting a search for Dre Kroon failed to go viral. With a nice nod towards continuity, Red Foo's afro was still in blooming effect back in the mid-'90s.
Donning a clean-cut, slicked-back look and a wardrobe that seemed to alternate between skin-hugging tracksuits and badly-fitting suits, a teenage Erik Schrody somehow found himself as a fixture in Ice-T's Rhyme Syndicate roster. Going by the rap name Everlast, "The Rhythm" outlined an oh so optimistic mission statement: "I'm Everlast, born to be a Caucasian/But it makes no difference what persuasion you are/As long as you know how to get up/Get on the floor, start working a sweat up." Alas, Everlast's 1990 debut album, Forever Everlasting, flopped -- a move which prompted the rapper to go back to his family roots and dig up some hitherto unacknowledged Irish history, shave off his locks, get an ill-advised tattoo appearing to back the IRA-supporting political group Sinn Fein, and forge a career as the leader of rowdy rap chaps House of Pain. But while House of Pain's "Jump Around" has endured as a hip-hop anthem, Everlast's Catholic years proved to be a fleeting commitment, as he converted to Islam a little later in the '90s.
3. Dr Dre
Dr Dre is a master at launching rap careers of artists with distinctive and well-defined images; Snoop's languid, weed-sozzled vibe, Eminem's trailer park schtick, and 50 Cent's walking bullet-magnet appeal have all benefitted from the good Doctor's not-so-unseen hand. But if Dre's own big break came as part of public menaces N.W.A., his prior persona as part of electro group the World Class Wreckin' Cru attempted a far more sophisticated trick, which involved wearing the type of shiny suit jackets and (allegedly) make-up that presumably ensured entry to only the swankiest of nightclubs back in the early-'80s. Oh, and don't forget how anti-chronic he used to be.
2. The GZA & The RZA
Silk suits! Describing themselves in three words: "handsome, charming and freaky"! Rapping about tenderly holding a young lady's hand while whispering "Come do me" in her ear! Yep, the first hip-hop forays of RZA and GZA, the Wu-Tang Clan's de facto head honcho and lyrical scholar respectively, were far removed from the grimy, mud-sodden styles that the Clan would later use to revolutionize the rap industry. For their solo singles in 1991, The Genius and Prince Rakeem (as they were then known) pitched themselves as a pair of rapping lotharios, with RZA even suited-up in a tux and top-hat for his "Oooh, We Love You Rakeem" video. Thankfully, both projects bombed, allowing the rappers to retreat, disgruntled, and return two years later with a whole new uncompromising style announced by the Wu's awesomely-raw debut "Protect Ya Neck."