Before Nickelback became the most hated band in music, Limp Bizkit sat atop the throne and passionately fought off everyone gunning for it.
Before Nickelback became the most hated band in music, Limp Bizkit sat atop the throne and passionately fought off everyone gunning for it. But there was a time before that when LB was just another band from Jacksonville, Florida. Yet even from the beginning, it was clear what they were destined to become. Vocalist Fred Durst picked the band’s name as a way to turn away listeners who would only judge a band by that standard. He also wanted a name that would be memorable: Durst admitted in a Reddit AMA other names that were considered included “Gimp Disco, Split Dickslit, Bitch Piglet, and somehow…Blood Fart.” By comparison, Limp Bizkit ain’t so bad. The same logic was applied to the band’s debut LP, Three Dollar Bill, Y’all: The title is derived from the phrase “queer as a three dollar bill.”
But that teenage antisocial posturing obfuscates just how odd they were when they became part of pop culture. Released in July 1997, TDBY was as angry as it was strange. It was rap metal, sure, but it was also contained elements of hardcore (“Pollution,” “Counterfeit”), alternative rock (“Sour,” “Nobody Loves Me”), ‘90s alt-metal weirdness (“Stalemate,” “Stinkfinger”), occasional prog tendencies and some questionable electronic experimentation (the on-the-nose-titled “Clunk”). Oh, and there’s the closing song, “Everything,” which is 16 minutes of free-form nonsense including noodling indie rock wandering. The only evidence here that they even paid attention to pop music was their embarrassing aggro-cover of George Michael’s “Faith.”
Otherwise, producer Ross Robinson – whom you can thank or blame for nu metal, depending on your taste – gave the band great leeway to make the record they wanted. And apparently that record included several occasions where Durst is screaming to the point of sounding unhinged. This is the only time in the band’s history where his rage feels at least partially real; every attempt since comes off as manufactured. When Durst screams the titular word in “Pollution,” it’s more akin to the the noise a tortured animal would make. On “Nobody Loves Me,” Durst’s vocal turns what would otherwise be whiny nihilism (“Nobody loves me/ Nobody cares/ Nobody loves me/ Nobody owes me a thing”) into a cry for help from a man who’s on the verge of a complete breakdown. The band matches his intensity – particularly Wes Borland, whose paranoid guitar shrieks to match Durst’s freakout.
None of this, however, can hide or erase the simple fact that Durst is the weak link of Limp Bizkit. Over the course of their career, his rapping has climbed above mediocre (although, here it’s as bad as it would ever be), and it doesn’t help that he can’t see it. He fully commits to hogwash like, “Man, I’d really love to take you out like Chuck Norris/ Instead I’d kick him with a vocal, slap him with a chorus,” as if he’s as gifted an emcee as there was at the time. As evidenced by the aforementioned cover of “Faith,” he can’t sing, either. TDBY argues, maybe more so than any other record of theirs, that the rest of the band is underrated because they share a stage with this jackass. Without him, the album offers a possible alternate reality where Limp Bizkit were some marginally interesting amalgamation of Faith No More and Primus.
The hook-filled pop stars they’d become wouldn’t actually be revealed until their sophomore effort, 1999’s Significant Other. With the help of producer Terry Date and mixer Brendan O’Brien, Limp Bizkit began their global takeover. To start, SO sold 640,000 copies in its first week and solidified the band as the voice of the suburban Angry White Male. Just 16 months later, they became among the biggest acts in the world when Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water was released and went platinum in its debut week. In the wake of their success, they spawned countless rap-metal impersonators that were somehow worse than them. So blame Limp Bizkit for angry white dudes rapping over nu metal schlock if you want. But know this: despite all his idiocy, it’s something that Durst was strangely prescient about in 1997. “I wonder what it’s like to be a clone/ Doing nothing, nothing on my own,” he raps on “Counterfeit.” “Alone in your misery, you’re biting on my new style/ Filed as a counterfeit, going down in history as nothing but a copycat.”