In between 1993 and '94, 23-year-old Beck Hansen went from a coffeeshop singer, cassette tape hustler, and self-described leaf-blower guy to an unlikely pop star with a Top 10 single. "Loser" was recorded on an 8-track recorder in producer Karl Stephenson's living room and featured slurred gibberish-rap, a funky acoustic guitar loop, sitar, and an instantly indelible chorus that was catnip in the age of angst. "Loser" snowballed from 500-edition indie release to college radio to modern rock radio to major-label bidding war to Geffen deal to MTV to its eventual enshrining in the bronze of a Weird Al polka medley. It was quite the introduction to postmodern folkie b-boy—where the b could stand for beat poetry, Bob Dylan, Beastie Boys, Beat Happening, or Boredoms.
His major-label debut, Mellow Gold, spread that genre-melding junk-shop art-rock across 13 tracks: offbeat poetry that drew the line between Highway 61 Revisited and Ultramagnetic MC's, fuzz-grunge bluster, a blues song about washing dishes, junkyard percussion, a kazoo solo, a Care Bears sample, Velvet Underground-y drone ragas, and a hidden noise suite called "Analog Odyssey." It's an album of both protest ("Give the finger to the rock 'n' roll singer/As he's dancing upon your paycheck") and inscrutable turns of phrase ("Touch me on the inside with a finger full of gravy" or the immortal “Like a giant dildo crushing the sun”) taking a warped prism to his job, his neighbors, and—in his most iconic chorus—his own rapping abilities.
The ripple effect of this unique moment was quick: an Alternative Nation juiced on slack-hop funk-pop like Eels, Cornershop, Cibo Matto, Forest for the Trees, Primitive Radio Gods, Bran Van 3000, Soul Coughing, and Len. His deal let Beck release two far stranger records on indie labels that same year, producing troubadour fodder for artists no less iconic than Johnny Cash (Stereopathetic Soulmanure's "Rowboat") and Tom Petty (One Foot in the Grave's "Asshole"). But Mellow Gold's genre-agnostic way of getting crazy with the Cheez Whiz was the breakthrough, providing a stepping stone for future beatwise art-rockers like Gorillaz, Animal Collective, Beta Band, Superorganism, and the more experimental side of Jack White.