“rollin’ in my ‘4 with 16 switches
And got sounds for the bitches, clockin’ all the riches
Got the hollow points for the snitches
So would you just walk on by, ’cause I’m too hard to lift
and no this ain’t Aerosmith”
Who doesn’t remember that line from Dr. Dre’s gangsta rap classic The Chronic. The line, well the whole record really, took shots at the entire hip-hop scene up to that point. Between the split with N.W.A., beef with Eazy E and Ice Cube, to him launching his new record company, Death Row Records, Andre Young was on a warpath.
“The Day the W****z took over”
Dr. Dre was referencing a 1984 track where Run DMC recorded a new version of the hit Aerosmith song, Walk This Way. One year later the Beastie Boys burst onto the scene with their Hip-Hop masterpiece, Licensed to Ill. The thing with the Beastie Boys is, they started out as a punk rock band from Brooklyn. Before long they were trading in their instruments for turntables and microphones. The rap group gained significant airplay with their rap hits like Hold it Now, Hit It, Slow and Low, Brass Monkey, and Girls. However, the record had a noticeably heavy metal sound underneath the raging frat boy exterior. Their biggest hit from the record, and one of their most famous songs from the period was not a rap song entirely, it was the metal anthem “Fight for your Right to Party.” Between this and the clear mix of genres Run DMC did previously it was clear that hard rock and hip-hop could blend together in a world that would take both to new heights in the 1990s.
The Beasties would strike back in the early 90’s with another rock/rap anthem, this time it was able to not only get significantly more radio play, it was featured on late night talk shows. Sabotage quickly propelled the Boys back into the spotlight, proving they were not a one-trick pony. The band was able to effortlessly navigate both worlds of punk rock and hip-hop while gaining more than enough respect in each community to legitimize their unique sound.
To the Extreme
At a time when the Beastie Boys and Run DMC were helping blend hard rock and heavy metal together Vanilla Ice was emerging out of the shadows to bring black urban hip-hop music to the white suburban masses. Hits like Play That Funky Music, Ice Ice Baby and Ninja Rap all helped spring the wannabe rapper to the forefront of the middle America radio waves. It didn’t take long before rap music was quickly accepted by those masses and with that came the push to separate the colors, a watered down flavor of hip-hop that was palatable for the white middle class, but with enough heavy metal edge to keep the industrial working class interested.
Vanilla Ice was a flash in the pan, but he deserves credit for his contribution bringing rap music to the parts of the country that weren’t entirely welcoming up to this point.
Rage Against the Machine
They weren’t really the first, true, rap/metal band, but they were by far the most popular. What made them unique is unlike Beastie Boys who could slip in and out between their rock and rap personas seamlessly, Rage was 100 percent punk rock/heavy metal, while remaining 100 percent hip-hop/funk at the same time.
My first entry into the rap/metal genre was the Godzilla soundtrack. Between No Shelter from Rage to Puff Daddy’s rock remix of It’s all About the Benjamin’s, I became curious of a growing sub-genre of both scenes.
With record after record, the one band that could truly be classified as rap/metal and not be ashamed of it was Rage. They even managed to lift from hip-hops cousin, reggae. Fortunately that never became too mainstream…
N together now
While Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine were both finding ways to blend rap and rock in ways that made creative, and artistic sense, a new band emerged that threw all of that out the window.
With their break out hit Faith, a cover of a George Micheal song, Limp Bizkit didn’t exactly instill much confidence in the music world. They picked off the DJ from the hip-hop duo former known as House of Pain, blended their record scratches and fast rock lyrics to freestyle sounding raps over the top of heavy metal guitars and hard rock drums, the sound was a mess from start to finish. Somehow they managed to get big with Break Stuff, Nookie, and their crossover hit with Method Man, yet for all the diplomacy they might have been seen partaking in, what they really did for the music industry is perpetuate stereotypes on both sides with wannabe gangsters pushing the envelop to increase their street cred while musically cluttering the airwaves with a sound that didn’t really appeal to fans of either genre. By the time they released Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, people had grown tired of their antics, and lack of musical talent. Even Vanilla Ice was able to mount a mini comeback thanks to them, albeit as a cheap knock off.
By the time Kid Rock hits the rap/metal scene it’s clear the genre is not uniting anyone. Up till now you had some southern California NuMetal rockers with Fred Durst and his Klan of misfits, you had the post-metal Rage Against the Machine and an almost industrial sound, and you had the Beastie Boys firmly planted in the roots f hip-hop sheding any remnants of their former rocker pasts. Kid Rock decided to throw one more sub-genre into the emerging kitchen sink of a mess that was becoming the rap/metal “genre.” He added country music to the mix. And he wasn’t alone, he unleashed the insufferable Uncle Cracker on the world, paving the way for Bubba Sparxxx before eventually turning into a full blown country rocker turned political activist. His “rap” songs were offensive to fans of the genre, his rock songs were hardly anything to get excited about, and his country songs are, well country.
By the end of the 90’s the rap/metal scene was far from united. Unlike the decade before where experimenting with sounds was still acceptable, the 90’s hip-hop scene was firmly established with solid funk riffs, smooth jazzy tones, and hard core gangsta stories woven into a tapestry that celebrated urban youth culture, the white rockers who attempted to cop-opt the sound in the 90’s did it out of some form of protest, although most of them didn’t know what they were supposed to be protesting, and left the world scarred with the aftermath of turning lose Slim Shady to rectify the mistake.