Awl pal Rob Walker looks back at the lives they lived, epic poetically. Yeah, sure "epic poetically" is a description. Well, it is now. Jesus, what's up with you today?
“I’m bad, bad, bad, bad, bad/I’m nationwide.” — ZZ Top, “I’m Bad, I’m Nationwide,” 1979 Robert Johnson met the devil at the crossroads, and sold his soul so he could master blues guitar. "“We are not old men," said Keith Richards, sneering at 1967 jury. "We are not worried about petty morals.” Nas used to relax by settling down to "watch a flick, illin’/And root for the villain." The iconography of the antihero has long held a prime spot in the history of American music.
Gangsta rap has exploited this phenomenon more fully than any other genre. And no gangsta rapper ever realized the antihero iconography more fully [...]