Last week we experimented with the scream-sing technique. In the process of putting that list together a couple of bands came up in the mix that utilized elements of rap, hip hop, preaching, spoken word, monotone rhythmic barking and other rhythmic anomalies in their vocals. The result was often-times mis-represented by being solely categorized somewhere in rap-metal or nu-metal or whatever was the hip marketing term at the time to blend the (black) urban-inspired rebellion with it’s (white) working-class suburban counterpart.
Rap-rock’s roots are probably much older than you realize. For argument’s sake we can overlook the attempts at rhythmic poetry that happened in the swing era. We’ll forget that scat was the precursor to beat-box. We’ll really try to ignore their carry over into the crooner era when spoken passages and rhythmic whispers replaced warbling from time to time. We’ll decide not to focus on the beatnick influence on the hippie generation’s music and the rhythmic spoken word set to music there (see: the Doors) as well on songs like “Year of the Guru” by Eric Burdon and the Animals during the 60s phase of psychedelic enlightenment. We’ll turn a deaf ear to experimental aspects like Frank Zappa or Lou Reed/Velvet Underground or Brian Ferry/Roxy Music etc. We’ll try to forget in this conversation late punk and early hardcore band’s assumed laziness by pulpit barking monotone lyrics in a militant rhythmic delivery and the weirdness that would eventually become and Black Flag or Gorilla Biscuits. We’ll also fast forward over Blondie’s post-punk pop anthem “Rapture.” We’ll even overlook the Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rappers Delight” and it’s blending of styles and “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” for it’s turntablism in blurring the sonic pallet. Listen, I love all that stuff, I do, but, it’s more-or-less fodder for making purists pissed off and I really, really hate having to whip my music degree out and slap people in the face like it’s a 100,000$ flaccid penis. Wait, did I just say that?
Anyway. The hybrid we know as rap-rock really developed in the early-to-mid 80s with the clash of the two anti-establishment urbanized genres collapsing onto one another. It was a deliberate attempt by both genres to capture something out of the other. For some rappers who grew up with the pounding beats and deafening guitars of rock (in some form or another) there was a familiarity with the sound and an interest in placing their own rebellion on an equal level to that which they aspired. Rock music has always borrowed heavily from the world around it and for the new era of guitar slingers who were musically rebellious it was an opportunity to express a divergent creativity and ensure a special place in a new musical rebellion. The marriages were sometimes as much of combined musical interests as they were of necessity in a world that for both genres was built on crossing over. The results were somewhere between petty novelty and pure brilliance depending on your perspective.
As always, I obviously won’t hit every song. I’m apt to miss something (usually obviously) but what I have tried to do here is set up some kind of framework that both provides an education and promotes discussion, so please, do have fun in the responses and we’ll see where the beat takes us next
Suicidal Tendencies “Institutionalized” ST 1983 – Generally speaking just randomly narrating into a mic rhythmically might not be rap and whatever dysfunctional idea of guitar wanking might not be rock but somehow there’s something about how this came together that inadvertently influenced so much of what came after it. It might not be rap-metal the way we traditionally think of it but for it’s time it had no classification. Poor Mike, all he really wanted was that goddammed pepsi. The boys would revisit the song in a more successful rerecording nearly a decade later when rap-rock itself actually was booming which makes the early version notable.
KISS “All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose” Lick It Up 1983 – Paul Stanley’s attempt at rap might not be the most memorable experience but it exists, for some reason. Then again, eleven albums into their short career they decided to take off the makeup so at that point anything was possible. The song’s sonic chaos is likely the result of it being one of the very few songs all four members were collaborators, but somehow it was hooky and kitchy enough to be a single.
Run DMC “King of Rock” KoR 1985 – a short half-a-year earlier the Queens NY outfit dropped their debut and hinted at this but it here is where it really all takes shape. They drive the beat with a pummeling, yet simple AC/DC-style drum beat followed up with a repeating staccato guitar riff. After a verse they allow some guitar wanking before rounding back into the song. It’s awkward and artificially cliche since it helped develop the stye but endearing and enduring nonetheless. They’d perfect it by covering “Walk this Way” on their next album, 1996’s Raising Hell by inviting Aerosmith to a guest appearance helping to also create the rap-rock duet.
LL Cool J “Rock the Bells” Radio 1985 – It’s more rap and much less rock and often given way too much credit for the guitar drops than it deserves (especially when somehow several major sources misdocument reality and perpetuate the myth it somehow came before Run DMC). But it’s also a hybrid that received popular success in-part because those guitar drops help float it to a wider audience.
Beastie Boys “No Sleep Till (Brooklyn)” License to Ill 1986 – Despite the underground success of “Cooky Puss” by their formerly “hardcore punk” incarnation it really was Rick Rubin and the Def Jam venture that created who they were and set the state for the influence they would become. Borrowing guitar riffs was one thing, but inviting the almighty Slayer’s Kerry Fucking King to perform on the album basically supercharged Run-DMC’s duet with Aerosmith and kicked in the door to what would become rap-metal circumventing what would normally be years of awkward “progress.” Yes, despite “Fight For Your Right (to Party)”‘s success, it’s definitely the duet factor/Slayer’s influence on the genre later that places this here.
Red Hot Chili Peppers “Fight Like a Brave” The Uplift Mofo Party Plan 1987 – Yes, seriously, Anthony Kiedis brought the ultimate awkwardness to white funk in what would become an unexplainable career of blowing out pretty much every expectation and doing things no human should ever do behind a mic in a way that made us all feel comfortable in the way we would feel having slept on a concrete floor every night during an 80-hour work week.
Anthrax “I’m the Man” EP 1987 – I’m so bad, I should be in detention. Oh the irony, oh the satire, oh the apocalyptic horror, or um, humor. Thank you Sam Kinneson, and well everyone else they sampled. Shits thoroughly fucked up on the original version, the 91 re-visit at least tried not to be as juvenile and awkward, but then again, that was the point. It’s supposed to be a dirty metal version of mic battle.
Public Enemy “She Watched Channel Zero” It Takes a Nation of Millions (To Hold Us Down) 1988 – Chuck D rapping over a riff from the Slayer song Angel of Death? Sure, notable, however seemingly inadvertent and notoriously buried both on the seminal record and in the context of PE’s contributions. By 1991 another track from the album, “Bring the Noise” would have a new life as a duet with the venerable Anthrax as discussed later.
Tone Loc “Wild Thing” Lōc-ed After Dark 1989 – Cheezy as fuck and mired in guitar laden redundancy it achieved huge chart success by exploiting exactly what it’s predecessors already had done in overplaying rock’s bad-boy image of sex, drugs & rock n’ roll against an ever so suburban appealing riff. Not that it’s bad, but it’s certainly not original at this point.
Faith No More “Epic” the Real Thing 1989 – While the Beastie Boys initially looked like rap-rock’s crossover saviors by’89 they’d gone on an exploratory tale and left the door open for the revamped Faith No More fronted by the enigmatic Mike Patton. He brought a unique rhythmic sensibility to the band’s off-center groove and produced the hit “Epic” which eventually became the unfortunate template to the future of nu-metal. There’s so much right about this song (and the album) but much of it’s legacy is in Mike’s poorly executed white-rap.
24-7 Spyz “Jungle Boogie” Harder than You 1989 – Kool & the Gang could never have imaged their funk would be pillaged by a rap-metal band but the funk-metal-rap-alternative crossover experiment of 24-7 Spyz was just that. It was in the fact the band themselves were influenced by everything that the music took on the shape of nearly everything around it which included a lot of guitar distortion and a lot of hip hop.
Biohazard “Urban Discipline” UD 1990 – It’s likely rather accidental the overtly rhythmic barking, monotone gang vocals and starkly off-center delivery over what were ultimately pretty groovy drum parts somehow produced hardcore punk’s actual first actual attempt at rap metal but what else would you expect from a bunch of misfits from the outer boroughs of New York trudging into the new decade. It’s gritty and apocalyptic street not unlike what rap itself was becoming which makes the parallel even more, well, gum gnashing.
Primus “Tommy the Cat” Sailing the Seas of Cheese 1991 – Sure, Primus is weird to see in here. So was mentioning Zappa earlier. Technically, so was Suicidal. and FNM. But, if you want follow that lineage, to have an open mind and are willing to use your imagination (as well as a little music theory), it’s impossible to ignore the approach. White and whippersnappery as it might be Les Claypool and co. not only don’t fuck around despite their comedic ways and are able to out rap-rock even some real rap rockers, if only incidentally.
Tourniquet “Spineless” Psycho Surgery 1991 – Prog’s most confounding product took their infinite experimentation to rap metal. If that’s a concoction you didn’t think you’d run into you aren’t the only one, but somehow beyond the overtly complex composition and almost goofy approach that had come to define they LA outfit it made sense they’d break rank and employ a bit of urbanism (including scratching) to their repertoire and like everything else they attempt somehow it came out making some kind of sense sonically.
Rush “Roll the Bones” RTB 1991 – Pretty high on the list of “never thought you’d hear this happen” Canadian prog-rockers took their musical experiment into the world of rhythmic spoken word. It was a hybrid that somehow survived the test of time (at least by the band’s fans) rather than being filed in the novelty section. As you’d expect from Peart penned lyrics it’s not your typical approach rhyming or the type of bed music you’d come to expect from the genre or Lee’s altered execution they kind of mic manipulation rap’s known for which is kind of what makes the quirkiness work so well for Rush, as they explained it: “We couldn’t make up our minds really if we wanted to be influenced by rap or satirize it, so I think that song kind of falls between the cracks and in the end I think it came out to be neither, it came out to be something that is very much us.”
Infectious Grooves “Therapy” The Plague That Makes Your Booty Move… 1991 – Psycho Mike might not have gotten a Pepsi yet but he reminds you with the help of Ozzy Osbourne on the supergroup’s second single why he probably deserved the fictional trip to the insane asylum. There are perhaps better demonstration’s of rapping through IG’s three records it’s the fact that this party song embodied a lot of where rap-metal had come from in blending styles and attitudes and ways to sex, drugs and rock n’ roll it up.
Anthrax & Public Enemy “Bring the Noise” 1991 single – Attack of the Killer B’s // Apocalypse 91…The Enemy Strikes Black – Turn it up! Cynical proto-thrashers who already where firing off-kilter to begin with managed to find that oddball point of inspiration by teaming up with political rappers already adept at manipulating the influence of rock. Like many of it’s cover predecessors, it’s actually a lot like the original – but this time in reverse flow, with the rockers covering rap instead of vice versa. It was a natural match between two New York legends that produced one of the more memorable interpretations of the hybrid.
Ice T “Body Count” OG: Original Gangster 1991 – featuring Ernie C, Beatmaster V, Moose Man & D Rock the song became the actual template for the side-project band of the same name that debuted on the first annual Lollapalooza concert tour that same year. The metal version of Ice T’s barking was just as harsh and unrefined as his gangsta rap vocals and the project’s status is solidified in the annals of both genres – especially when the following year BC’s “Cop Killer” hit the airwaves.
Rage Against the Machine “Bombtrack” RATM 1992 – Like Beastie Boys, RATM’s roots where somehow in hardcore punk but by the time Zack de la Rocha wrapped his fists around a mic for the demos leading into the debut LP he’d turned himself into an aggressive assimilation of cultural rebellion and Tom Morello was destroying the Edge’s non-conformist idealistic re-description of guitar (both channeling their own inner Jimi Hendrix). The result was something blowing out Suicidal’s approach a decade earlier proved rap-metal could be done from an artist level rather than as one-off experiments and duets.
311 “Freak out” Music 1993 – The 1992 pre-release single the band’s major label debut showcases what the Omaha alt-rockers were trying to achieve on their three independent releases. The hip hop, funk, post-punk and college rock vibe that flowed through the music was intriguing in that it managed to smooth out the awkwardness of RHCP, FNM and other’s who were experimenting with it in the past into something that resembled coherent compositions by stringing together the different genres into phrases rather than separate parts of the song that compete with one another.
Biohazard & Onyx – “Slam” & “Judgement Night” – 1993 – twice in the same year the New York outfits synced up to combine their talents. There was the re-rendering in an even more aggressive and obtuse interpretation of the Onyx single combined with the caustic collab that resulted in the title track to rap-metal’s ultimate breakthrough for the Judgement Night soundtrack.
Slayer & Ice-T “Disorder” Judgement Night Soundtrack 1993- Soon-to-be-Gangsta rap icon and Body Count kingpin Ict-T teamed up with speed metal legends Slayer to pay tribute to Exploited (it’s a medley of “War”, “UK ’82”, and “Disorder”). One might argue it was one of the most relevant pairings of artists on the album and it created one of the most grating and extreme versions of rap-metal produced.
Helmet & House of Pain “Just Another Victim” Judgement Nigh Soundtrack 1993 – Page Hamilton’s militantly monotoned, staccato delivery on early Helmet might not be rap but it sure wasn’t singing either. House of Pain might not rely on aggressive guitars for their songs but they certainly weren’t painting with the same brush as their fellow rappers. The intersection was this collab that feels about as disjointed as you’d expect and yet the song-in-two-parts makes total sense in how it does come together to tell the overarching plot story.
Kid Rock “I am the Bullgod” Fire it Up 1993 – It took six years and the genre itself to begin imploding on itself before a slick-as-shit-on a-summertime-sidewalk re-recording of the song would actually become a radio hit of any kind but the raw version gives an interesting peek at what’s to come. KR’s indie “rap” success was mostly on fortunate timing and a lot of hype so it’s no surprise that his rap-rock (and subsequent embellishment of “southern rock”) would be christened in much the same way.
koRn “Clown” koRn 1994 – Egnatmatic frontman Jon Davis is accused of attempting to rap / helping formulate rap-metal’s template so much it was tough to leave them off. However, on the Epic debut which really helped define nu-metal (there was a difference) there really aren’t many cases of actual rapping, per se, just little jaunts like on “Shoots & Ladders” or “Faget” or the bridge on this, the final single. Actually, the most legit (legit in the most tongue-in-cheek way possible) “rap”-like thing to be vocalized by Jon doesn’t even happen till a few years later in a confrontational duet between koRn and Limp Bizkit. By then, it was almost cliche because of both band’s reputations.
downset. “Ritual” downset. 1994 – Anger. Hostility towards the opposition. Molded in a similar cast to RATM the post-hardcore thrashiness was a formula borrowed from their previous incarnation, Social Justice which was known in the early 90s for pushing the genre into fits of funk, hip hop and alt-rock. They consolidated their effort and accentuated the urban hardcore vocals after the death of Rey Oropeza’s father on Our Suffocation EP before subsequently signing to Mercury. Although they never achieved the same chart success as their contemporaries their cross-over influence was notable.
Stuck Mojo “FOD” Snappin’ Necks 1995 – The oft-undercredited outfit struggled to figure out their balance internally and sonically and it, along with label choice, probably cost them greater notoriety. However, despite struggling on the sales side they earned the respect of their contemporaries and helped refine what being a rap-rock band meant by employing both a rapper who’s mic skills would have stood on their own as well as a guitarist who could legit shred when he wanted to. They’d perhaps craft one of the most inspiring songs in the genre (“Reborn”) but it was the result of paying their dues early.
Candiria “Temple Of Sickness” Surrealistic Madness 1995 – “WTF are these guys?” you might ask yourself. You are not alone. They are a cacophonistic concoction of chaos channeling hardcore punk, progressive rock, jazz fusion and hip hop into a dynamic exercise that melts the mind. The rap parts aren’t terribly well defined in the early days but Carley Coma is certainly capable of them among his many vocal antics that span several metal genre’s executions and even some clean singing later in the Candiria visceral voyage.
Incubus “Take me to your Leader” Fungus Amongus 1995 – While the band broke through a few years later on SCIENCE and has since forgone much of the rap and funk they were founded on there’s a definitely influence of early funk-rap-rock combinations happening here and the page they were turning early in their career definitely influenced how other rap-rock band’s composed, particularly when it came down to integrating a sweet, sweet melody into the song’s hook.
Duran Duran “White Lines” Thank You 1995 – Not the song you expected to wrap this list up features the 80’s electro-pop eccentrics of Duran Duran featuring Melle Mel covering Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five reimagined in the 90s with all the weirdness you would imagine Yeah, exactly. And you wonder how rap-rock came up with some of the stuff in the second half of the decade?
After 1995 the “rap rock” genre was over, so to speak. There was so much pretentious pandering, parody and plagiarism happening it lost a lot of it’s dynamic and creative expression despite hitting the stratosphere in sales and radio support. In that first decade (or so) of its existence it pushed a lot of bounds and received a lot of praise for bringing divergent cultures and sonic styles together. It helped created a lot of chaos in the business that was struggling with changes in how retail and radio and the press functioned. And endured more than its fair share of criticism from everywhere – the rap, rock funk and pop communities, talking heads on the tv and radio, parents groups and so on which caused it to improvise and expand. To survive over a decade as it had denying expectation and challenging views was pretty impressive but it really superficially imploded on itself as the founders were unable to sustain and the upcoming acts where unfortunately perhaps too industry driven as clones rather than break unique and sonically threatening ground the way the genre felt like it started. Sure, there were some really solid duets and individual artists releases in the decade plus after before the trend fully ran its course, but the truth is, as good as some of those combinations of rap and rock were together they really, truly broke very little ground compared to where things had begun.