Rapping While White: The Celebrity Edition

The future of hip-hop? Three budding white rappers ride high on family fame.

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For decades now, rap has been the vehicle for driving a decidedly urban American dream narrative -- a Horatio Alger-esque tale of rags to riches. And according to Jay-Z, you can be "right next to De Niro" and still be "hood forever."

But instead of the hood, what if you spent your life "down in TriBeCa" or up on the West Side or out in Greenwich? What can you possibly rap about if you've summered  in the Hamptons and not Harlem?

Your father may be an Academy Award-nominated actor (Chet Haze's Tom Hanks) or the founder of a billion-dollar fashion empire (Rich Hil's Tommy Hilfiger); or, quite possibly, your grandfather ushered in an era of rock music (Pablo Dylan's Bob Dylan), and now you want to be a rapper. Seriously?  

Questions aside about their impetus or inspiration, this odd lot of celebrity-progeny rappers has become a phenomenon worthy of mention in the New York Observer, the Huffington Post and the United Kingdom's the Guardian, among other news outlets.

The humor of the situation abounds: amateur rappers of celeb paternal origin comparing themselves in grandiose fashion to cultural heavyweights like Motown founder Berry Gordy or bona fide billionaires, like Virgin's Richard Branson. And of course, there are the illustrative tales of a tumultuous Connecticut life.

It would be careless to presume that there's some unspoken prerequisite to being a rapper today, as if the rap contagion floats only in the skies over Bedford-Stuyvesant in New York City or the South Side of Chicago. I spent afternoons watching Aubrey Graham's wheelchair-ridden Jimmy Brooks character zip across my screen on Degrassi well before drowning out to Drizzy on the Red Line. Drake's snappy bars and hypnotic pseudo-rap crooning probably didn't come from attending day school. And for that matter, Kanye's comfy suburban-Chicago upbringing is not considered the petri dish of rap superstardom.

While there may not be a surefire formula to becoming a successful rap artist, one thing seems constant: talent. I'll avoid a pedantic spiel on race and wealth, but it's not unreasonable to scrutinize when the offspring of white affluence adapt a genre of music previously appropriated by blacks as a means of civil protest.

But I digress. Here are three rappers with quite the unconventional pedigrees. Spoiler alert: No matter the paternity or bank account, Hil is worth the listen, Haze is wonderfully amusing and Dylan, well, you just have to see for yourself.

Who: Chet Haze, 21
Child of Actor Tom Hanks

Behind the music: Tom Hanks' budding lyricist of a son doesn't feign some hood life, so there's little grit to his rap. In his Wiz Khalifa remix "White and Purple," he reps his school, Northwestern University, while rapping about a cushy student life in Evanston, Ill. Haze's "West Side L.A." plays like a contemporary hip-hop take on something straight out of the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds, with lofty descriptions of the good life in sunny Santa Monica, Calif. -- Pacific Palisades, to be exact.

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