The birth of Techno music is often attributed to an isolated DJ in the slums of Detroit while it’s counter-part, “house music” is attributed to an isolated DJ in the clubs of Chicago. Both alleged movements describe their music as the definitive origin of modern Electronic Dance Music. These distinctions are often very divisive among aficionados of electronic music. However to divorce both techno and house from the origins of Hip-Hop is doing a disservice to the pioneers of the techniques that would evolve into the diverse strands of EDM music techno-nerds constantly fighter with each other over on the interwebs to this day.
This is an analysis of the evolution of the terms as they relate to the styles of music we have today. This is all from the perspective of a lonely DJ whose understanding comes from the studying of the roots of the movements, independent of any agenda, or even more importantly, ties to a movement.
The claims go as such. Someone in Detroit was mixing disco records with electro records and developed this into the musical style techno-nerds will call “techno” music. The so-called attributes of the music are singled out as they are defined solely by how closely they resemble the benefactor with no regard to the reality of the techniques being developed for nearly a decade previously by DJ’s in the Bronx, Southern L.A. as with elsewhere. The so-called purists make every attempt to white-wash Techno music by making the claims it strictly evolved out of the ashes of the discothèques from the late 70’s who’s audience had moved on.
The addendum to this alternate reality account of the rise of the dance music disregard the techno moniker entirely, going out of their way to stringently insist it only applies to a very narrow, very precise set of rules determined arbitrarily by the followers of a cult-like DJ who they credit with creating, what they refer to as ‘house’ music, which bears a striking resemblance to the music the uninitiated refer to as ‘techno’, which they deem either unworthy or inferior to their beloved house term. Both sides equally ignore the development of the music Hip-Hop DJ’s were doing elsewhere, while simultaneously accrediting, incorrectly, developments to DJ’s who severe ties with the urban roots of Hip-Hop. This is not to say the author himself believes white washing is inherently a sin. However, in the context of the evolution of electronic music, it is a disservice to blatantly neglect the work of the ghetto disc jockeys and their obnoxious rhyming emcees who popularized the music being created by mixing records on turntables. This, in fact, requires a serious bending over backwards on the logic of those holding to the false narrative.
Thus it is now THE RAT, who shall bear witness the truth of the birth of electronic music, henceforth correctly identified as Techno for all purposes. Partially based on the erroneous neglecting of the connection to Hip-Hop music the cult followers of the Detroit/Chicago narrative stubbornly adhere to. Also partially birthed in the fact that words actually matter but only in that they are defined. Consider this. Rock N Roll music is the bas moniker for Hard Rock, Punk Rock, Heavy Metal and Speed Metal. Yet, none in the rock community disregard the black roots of their music. The undeniable reality is Rhythm And Blues, born out of the same ghettos that would give rise to rock n roll, bears little sonic resemblance to modern rock n roll to the uninitiated. Still, those who can rightly follow the path from blues to rock to metal ought to also be able to follow the same path from R&B, to funk/disco to Hip-Hop/Techno. It’s not exactly rocket science. Of course ignore the obvious auditory similarities still requires one to disregard the science of linear time. That is, Chicago House and Detroit Techno could not exist in a vacuum with no ties to the developments of electronic music taking place in the Hip-Hop community. Rather it allows certain individuals to disconnect their beloved ‘European-based’ music from the taint of American urbanism. That is to say, a narrative that proclaims techno or even house, began in the white suburbs of the Midwest completely ignores the existence of the disc jockeys mixing disco and funk records into what would become colloquially as rap music.
Disco music itself was a white-washing of the funk music being produced. There are two different paths which interconnect, dissect and reconvene throughout. The short version is this. Funk was stripped of its hook and verse, reduced to the simple break, then mixed with another break, layered upon with scratches, 808 drum beats and other elements to become Hip-Hop music, one of the four elements of the Hip-hop culture.
Disco music began winding down in the cities as rock n roll was making a resurgence. Clubs and radio waves were cluttered with New Wave bands and imitators who were mixing pop, rock and electronic music to form the basis of the synth pop that dominated the decade. Eventually disco was also stripped in a similar fashion and also layered as funk was being turned into Hip-Hop, disco underwent the same process becoming what those who are not afraid of the cult followers simply call techno. Techno music became an offensive term as it was entered into the lexicon and became short-hand for all electronic produced music. Thus in retaliation the cult followers began impressing upon society an effort to restrict the usage of the term until such time as nothing left could be classified as “techno”, they were so offended by the utterance of the word they not only cringe upon hearing it they shift into belligerent attack mode in an effort to contort history to belittle the pour soul who elected to mistakenly use the word they fear so much. Thus the re-writing of history ensues in an on-going barrage of misinformation used to scare people into accidentally using the wrong term. Coupled with a culture born from being as Politically Correct as humanly possible and this fear of words limits their ability to express themselves without accidentally offending those who adhere to the cult.
This is the truth. Electronic music created using the same methods as Hip-Hop, be it old school turntables with mixers and the like, or combined with synthesizers or even created using loops, if it is in fact electronic and is produced in the same manner at all, as in NOT by playing of actual instruments to create new, original compositions, it is in fact Techno. House music does not exist in the mind of this technophile. It is a make believe term retroactively applied, falsely to a genre of music whose very existence has been under attack by the cult of a single DJ from Chicago.
All of this can be proven by listening to a handful of Hip-Hop acts Break Dancers cling to, mostly who fall under the banner of Electronic Funk (a cousin of Hip-Hop) which is what the cult of house followers will point to, falsely, as what they call ‘Techno’. If one listens to Soul Sonic Force “Planet Rock” and calls that ‘techno’ then listens to TECHNOtronic and calls that house, dismiss their unsound logic and believe the truth, Techno is what they cult of house refuse to utter for some weird hang up. Techno Syndrome is not even correctly label a “techno” song on wikipedia because the cult of house are hard at work scrubbing all references to the word, even when used itself by those making the music. They adhere to a false doctrine perpetuated by a lie to hold up their weird, twisted belief that some disco DJ sitting in Chicago was somehow insightful enough to create his own style of music with absolutely NO prior knowledge of what was already being done elsewhere in the country at a time when radios and MTV were prevalent. Let the haters bring their wrath upon the one delivering the truth. Stay cool friend.
I have reached a point in my music collecting that I need to explore other options. I like buying CD’s because they offer me a physical thing I can put on a shelf while also giving me the ability to rip the tracks to my hard drive and then move them to my iPod. The problem is, CD’s are not getting any cheaper for some reason. I buy from Amazon and even though I have Prime, it still ends up costing 7-10 per CD. I was buying them for $2 to $3 each brand new unopened or $.99 used from Hastings. Sadly, Hastings is no longer in business. There doesn’t seem to be any other new or used CD retailers near by so I have turned to the internet. I was hoping I would find some cheap alternative to Amazon but it doesn’t appear to be the case. Now I am exploring digital options.
First, I am NOT anti or pro digital. I have always been for whichever options is cheapest while being the most consumer friendly. My primary reasons for sticking to CD’s has always been cost. When I can get a CD for under $5 even if I only like 2-3 songs, it’s worth it because I value the packaging and artwork, the physical item, at least $1 value so I tend to figure that’s a good price. It’s not like in the 90’s and early 2000’s when I was spending $12 to $15 for a CD just for 2-3 songs, if that. Cost value has always been a factor. I purchase music from iTunes a lot but based on cost alone. For instance, if I know for a fact I only want literally 1 songs from a certain CD and it’s not worth the space having a physical copy would add to the clutter, then I pick up the song from iTunes for the $.99 or $1.29 they tend to be. However, if I know I want all of or a majority of songs, for example Doggystyle by Snoop Dogg, I wanted the whole record, so I was not going to spend the $9.99 on a digital copy when I would prefer a physical copy with the fold out pamphlet. This is another reason why just having a single JPEG for the album art sucks, you just get the superficial cover, you don’t get the actual contents of the booklets.
I realized there had to be a better option. I shot down Amazon digital because the selection sucks. Sometimes they have a “CD” I want and sometimes they just have selections from the artists library. I have come across HUNDREDS of songs or albums they do not have. iTunes has a similar shortcoming so in those instances I tend to look for the actual CD. I tried Pandora but I hate Pandora. I even tried the paid option for a period and it wasn’t any better. I learned Pandora is designed to help you “discover” music. I am 35, I discovered all the music I like when I was a teenager now I just want to build up my collection so I can have music to listen to when I am in the right mood.
Then I tried Spotify. At first it seemed like the perfect option. I could add ENTIRE albums to my playlist, if I paid a monthly fee I could turn off ads, and the player wasn’t terrible to navigate. The first shortcoming I noticed, however, was like Amazon and iTunes they are limited to licenses. This means sometimes they have the ORIGINAL recordings by the original artists, and other times they have those disgusting “Remastered” copies. It’s never clear if a remastered edition refers to them cleaning up the original audio recording tapes from before digital like they did in the 90’s, or this new, very disgusting trend where old men attempt to re-record songs in their twilight years hoping they will sound the same as when they were young men. Trust me I have compared plenty of original recordings to the remastered versions and I can ALWAYS tell the difference. Something is always off. Maybe the drummer gets tired and starts to slow down, maybe they are using a different drum kit than before, sometimes the guitarists tunes his guitar different or the singer just can’t hit the high notes like he could when he was young. Sometimes it’s noticeable but not too terrible and other times it literally sounds like a damn cover band. I hate that.
Also, they always add new tracks, usually “studio sessions” or demo crap I am not interested in. I want the ORIGINAL album just like it was when it was originally released. The whole point in buying CD’s or records even if you go that far, is to have a tangible item from your actual past. Not some replica. I don’t want reproduction NES carts and I don’t want artists re-recording their songs and selling replicas of their real works.
I have also run into the issue of rights. Sometimes Spotify only has the rights to a selection of songs from an artists not their entire works. This isn’t a problem for mainstream artists but when looking for tracks by techno DJ’s from the 80’s or those quirky low-selling alternative bands from the 90’s suddenly it becomes an issue. To make matters even worse, sometimes they don’t even have full soundtrack albums just a user created playlist containing the closest example of the songs from that soundtrack. I couldn’t even find a single recording of Techno Syndrome by the Immortals, the THEME song to Mortal Kombat. It wasn’t available on any of the digital stores, not even Pandora or Amazon. Nothing. Now I already have the complete line of CD’s, including More Kombat which is just a few bonus songs, but still if someone wasn’t aware of that shortcoming they wouldn’t be able to “discover” that song because it doesn’t exist as far as the digital stores are concerned.
All things considered I realized that buying digital is not the best way to go even still in late 2017. By now you would think they would have everything digital but its like streaming movies services, somehow less is more is their philosophy and its just frustrating as a consumer. I guess I will just stick to buying CD’s for the most part resorting to digital only when it’s necessary to acquire the one or two obscure songs from a particular artists, assuming iTunes or Amazon even has the song I want. I couldn’t find a single store that had Beautiful by Joydrop. I don’t want to spend the outrageous price they want for a copy of the CD for just 1 song so I either have to do without or settle for streaming from YouTube. That is, until YouTube decides to take the video down, again.
Between the years of 1995 to 1997 there was a war waging between the two coasts of the United States. The East Coast Gangsta Rap scene, led by Puff Daddy and his boy Biggie Smalls, against the hardened West Coast Gangsta Rap scene led by veterans of the L.A. gang scene, and pioneers of the genre N.W.A, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, and newcomers Snoop Dogg, The Dogg Pound, and 2Pac. While Death Row Records was at the forefront of the West and Bad Boy was taking the helm in the East, there was a newcomer about to bust things wide open.
Shots were fired, literally, in late 1994 when 2Pac was gunned down entering the Bad Boy Record studio. He miraculously survived this attack, taking five bullets and then recovering to launch the war full force at Death Row records a couple of years later. In September of 1996 the shots fired again, this time ending 2Pac’s life. Presumably in retaliation, or perhaps as an indirect results of the gang wars, for whatever reason Biggie Smalls was shot and killed just a few months later right before the release of his double album, Life After Death.
Just when everyone thought the Gangsta Rap genre was going to fizzle out, Puff Daddy quickly dropped the gangsta rap persona and shifted to a more radio friendly hip-Pop sound, reminiscent of the main stream sound Will Smith was employing. The gangsta scene looked like it was going to disappear for a brief moment. Even Bad Boy’s next rising star, Ma$e, altered his gangsta image to a more MTV friendly look and their music videos reflected this by focusing more on their flashy parties and money than their gangsta life styles as previous videos had done. The Mafioso rap would live on, under the head of superior producer to Puffy, Jay-Z, as his masterfully crafted Rocafella Records picked up the pieces of the crumbling Bad Boy empire.
In the middle of all the coastal wars there was a new gangsta rap guru waiting to take over and push both Bad Boy and Death Row into obscurity. The mans name was Master P. The record label was No Limit Records. The album, Ghetto D.
By the time No Limit Records came onto the scene, gangsta rap was either west coast G-Funk or east coast mafioso, the southern blend of hard core street and down to earth thugs just trying to make a living was a different change of pace. Although No Limit Records quickly supplanted the two dominant gangsta rap labels of the day, they did so using the very same talent Death Row used to launch. Snoop Doggy Dogg, rebranded as just Snoop Dogg when he left Death Row and joined No Limit. This story is going to focus on the record that made the shift happen. Keep an eye on part two where you can learn more about Snoop’s time with Master P and company.
Ghetto D (short for Ghetto Dope, as per the albums title track) came out hitting hard and fast. The first track on the record hits you in the face with it’s message, “a shout out to drug dealers” as the record claimed. The record didn’t spend a lot of time talking about pimping hoes, drive by shootings, or hit men coming to snipe the snitch, the record just painted a picture of a working class thug trying to make a living selling drugs.
The album gets straight to the point with tracks like Weed & Money, Ghetto D, and Stop Hatin’, it’s the single and subsequent music video that really propelled the record to mainstream recognition. “Make Em Say Ugh!” quickly became a radio hit, a hit on MTV and the anthem for the new wave of hard core gangsta rap that was about to burst onto the scene. That track brought the entire No Limit studio crew right to the front of the Hip-Hop scene and proved that gangsta rap didn’t have to take a side in the deadly gang wars.
The record itself is massive. It sports 19 tracks of pure, hard core hip-hop. Not a single track of interludes, fake radio broadcasts or people talking. The album didn’t tell a story using theatrics like Doggystyle, a superior gangsta rap album in many respects, it did manage to get straight to the point. Master P didn’t need a lot of story lines cluttering up the record, he let the music speak for itself. With solid base lines, quick battle raps, hard beats, and lot’s of G-Funk melodies mixed with some southern beats, the record demonstrated there truly was a middle ground to the gangsta rap turf wars.
1998 was defined by the sounds of Master P, C-Murder and Silkk The Shocker, all who quickly dethrowned the entire Bad Boy and Death Row crews from prominence. Ice Cube, one of the founders of the Gangsta Rap scene, turned to Hollywood and left the music industry mostly behind. Dr. Dre responded to the new label by hiring a White Boy to get his game back on track. Snoop Dogg himself even followed the old, if you can’t beat em, join em, mantra as he released several albums on the record label that left Death Row in the ashes. Silkk The Shocker would quickly follow up Master P’s glorious sounding Ghetto D with a record of his own, Charge it to The Game, featuring the hit “It Ain’t My Fault” and prominently featuring newcomer Snoop Dogg on some respectable gangsta tracks.
Much like Doggystyle before, each track serves a purpose in getting the listener to fear and respect the talents of the producer behind the scenes. Ghetto D rose to the occasion of filling in the gaps created by the decline of the two East Coast/West Coast giants. Their reign didn’t last forever as Jay Z and his Rockafella Records would soon surpass all three gangsta rap labels in terms of sales, money, presence in the market, and number of important artists all combined.
The aftermath of the decline of the Coastal Wars left Death Row in ruins, Bad Boy turned pop, and Dr. Dre selling records featuring a bleached blond Backstreet Boy lookalike. Master P stood up and reminded the world that gangsta rap music could still be about hard music with a prominent message interlaced within some head bobbing tracks. Ghetto D is easily one of the top 25 gangsta rap records of all time.
In this episode I talk about Star Wars Rogue One, the prequels and special editions, Nirvana and the 90’s grunge rock scene, the underappreciated film Ghost World, and some other stuff.
The 1990’s were, obviously, a very confusing time. With Ellen making her big announcement near the start of the decade, to the revelations of the Bill and Monica scandal, the decade was over run with sexually confusing expressions dominating the news cycle. None of them were more shocking than seeing Marilyn Manson walk out on stage at the MTV music awards in his leather speedo singing about “The Beautiful People” to the bewildered youth sitting at home wondering what to make of this new “shock rocker” taking the world by storm.
Manson was not the first shock rock band, and they certainly weren’t the last. Unlike previous bands discussed, shock rockers aren’t identified by their sound, some are glam rock, others thrasher metal, while others a mix of industrial electro rock fused with 80’s dance pop. What united them was their ability to rely on stage antics, publicity stunts, and a growing anti-establishment movement that wanted to tear down the walls of Capitalism once and for all. Let’s start at the beginning.
You Ain’t Nothing But a Hound Dog
Believe it or not, the first “shock rocker” was the King of Rock N Roll himself, Elvis Presley. Although his music and movies were very tame even by standards of the day, his stage antics lead to all sorts of controversies. All he had to do was shake his hips and stir young girls crazy. Of course the uptight mothers of those sexually aroused teen girls swooning for Mr. Presley didn’t take it laying down. They tried to have him banned from even appearing on television with the compromise being the camera had to stay above the waste.
I can’t get no satisfaction
To some the Rolling Stones are the turning point where rock n roll sheds it’s pop sound and returns to it’s urban blues roots. To others it’s just the continuation of the degradation of American culture. No matter where you stand the Stones rose to such prominence in the world of Rock music that to this day, the premiere authority on rock music is a magazine named after the band. Not quite as tame as Elvis, they certainly could fall into the camp of more shocking rock bands of the day.
There is no denying that shock rock as we know it today started the moment Alice Cooper stepped onto the scene. His theatrics, outrageous costumes, decidedly darker music themes, and eye shadow did more to create room for the counter-culture than any band before, or since. While their famous record, and the world-renown title track, were created by an entirely different band than who would later take on the name, the lead singer was really the star of the show anyways.
The Prince of darkness himself is easily one of the most recognizable early heavy metal rockers and clearly one of the pioneers of the shock rock genre. Of course he wasn’t the first to come onto the scene, he took it to dark places nobody else was willing to go. He was also well known for his theatrics, and is often mistaken for Alice Cooper, who both have similar styles in some ways. Black Sabbath and all bands inspired by are living proof that just being shock rock on the surface doesn’t mean the music itself can’t be taken seriously.
I Wanna Rock N Roll All Night
If you weren’t a member of the KISS Army you probably weren’t a hard rock fanatic in the 1970’s. It’s okay, I wasn’t even alive. What I do know about the and comes from second hand stories my mom told me, and what I learned from the classic comedy Detroit Rock City about a group of misfits on a road trip determined to see the band live in concert.
KISS is a prime example of a band whose style and image personifies the shock rock look and attitude, yet their music is so much softer and tamer than their image would have you imagine. Even in comparison to other hard rock bands of the time their music was very tame for the image they projected. Not that it was bad, they are still one of my favorite hard rock bands, but if you played a KISS song for someone and never showed them a poster or image of the band, you wouldn’t think they were shock rock at all.
They band was good at one thing even more than making music, business. They were not so much a band as they were a brand. They sold comic books, dolls, even video games, all trying to exemplify the shock rock image of children of the night. Yet somehow they managed to get away with recording a disco album and nobody even bothered to notice the irony. Hey it was a damn good song and still one of my favorites so can’t fault them for knowing how to make money.
By the time to get into the 1980’s there isn’t much left that shocks the metal world. You have already had Ozzy allegedly biting the head off a bat, or was it Alice Cooper? Yeah google how often those two get mixed up. There was the whole KISS backlash, you had Judas Priest on the scene and even a host of bands giving people reasons to label rock music as satanic or demonic. So when you see the cross-dressing Twister Sister come on the scene you think, okay, now I’ve seen it all. Now unlike KISS whose image didn’t fit their music, Twister Sister at least had a solid 80’s metal sound that blended in with the other hard rock bands of the time. The 80’s didn’t really see that many other cross dressing bands, aside from the one Boy George headlined, it still helped ease Americans into at least accepting there were people with different lifestyles, even if they didn’t accept those lifestyles quite yet.
Nine Inch Nails
To be more specific, Trent Reznor. This time he went in the opposite direction. The sound he created was infinitely harder and more shocking in many ways than the look he portrayed. On the surface he was just another heavy metal looking dude, nothing special. But his music, especially Head Like the Hole, really brought industrial music to the main stage. Maybe there are those who wouldn’t put NiN on a list of shock rockers, but he clearly paved the way for the mother of them all so he deserves a spot in this timeline.
Before I get too deep, Marilyn Manson is one of my favorite bands of all time. From the cover songs Sweat Dreams or Tainted Love, among many others; to their rock anthems The Beautiful People, Rock is Dead; to their darker tracks like Deformography, Worm Boy; or their WTF tracks like Kiddy Grinder, or Sh*tty Chicken Gang Bang, the band does shock rock better than any band before. Their music, style, videos, persona, and themes are a perfect storm of counter culture done right. Nothing about the band says conformity. During a time when rock bands sounded like Nirvana, Alice in Chains, or The Goo Goo Dolls, Manson was finding ways to churn the stomachs of their loyal followers, harshest critics, and even their peers, all while constantly putting out records that told stories that had to be experienced not just heard. The phrase nobody does it better always comes to mind when I think of Marilyn Manson and shock rock.
Other bands like Garbage, Godsmack, Orgy, etc., would come onto the scene and push the envelope of what was decent and acceptable with many more to follow. By the end of the 1990’s heavy metal, hard rock and rock n roll had each splintered into more than a dozen sub-genres, scenes and movements each equally important to their respective followers.
“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.
When I was in the 7th grade I entered the world of band for the first time. My band instructor was a little pushy, his name was Mr. Hall, for some reason or another he really tried to get me to play the saxophone. I tried it out for the back to school parade and I hated it, I couldn’t get any sounds to come out of that thing that any reasonable human would consider pleasant. So I switched to percussion. He was against this because, in his views, percussion was easy and only lazy kids wanted to play drums. It was true the majority of the drum line in our school were lazy, pot-smoking good for nothings, myself and one friend being the exceptions. Still I quickly fell in love with banging the trap set and begged him to put me on the pep squad so I could play fight songs at the sporting events. We started out with a classic easy rock n roll tune called Rock N Roll Part 2, aka “the Hey song!”
Over the years I fell away from drumming despite my very strong desire to keep going. I would bang my drumsticks on anything I could, cardboard boxes, pots and pans, trash cans, whatever it took. I was able to cobble together a make shift drum set when I was 14 using money I earned throwing newspapers at people’s houses. Once I firmly got into my teen years I was clamoring to form my own heavy metal hair band with my friends.
Glam Metal, Hair Metal, pop metal, call it what you want, the 80’s took the fully established hard rock genre and took it mainstream. What memories I do have of the 80’s largely consist of hair bands rocking out to their various anthems.
Def Leppard- Pyromania
As a drummer, it would be my duty to pay homage to the band world-famous for having the “one armed” drummer. Okay so they have some good music too, especially Foolin, by far my favorite heavy metal ballad, if you can call it that, and Rock of Ages, among many other rock hard tunes. It might be their best work, it might not, but by the time Pyromania lights the metal world on fire, the hair bands have firmly become the norm.
As someone whose initials spelled RAT, and whose nickname was “THE RAT” all through school, this was a band I had to check out. I instantly fell in love with Lay it Down and Round & Round, their two biggest hits to the best of my knowledge. I was able to get one of their greatest hits CD’s and discovered the draw of power rock. They might be tame by some standards but their music was just hard enough to keep throw coals on the hair metal fire throughout the 80’s. Too bad it all died suddenly when Nirvana crawled out of bed and said with a shrug, eh, entertain us.
Nothing was more instrumental in bringing heavy metal to the forefront of American pop culture than the budding MTV and it’s constant rock videos bombarding the youth with images of hot babes, fast cars, and loud guitars. This was the era where Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees were gutting teenagers with hair metal blasting in the background to set the mood.
If you really want to trace the rise of metal music, look no further than the introduction of the rock music video and the video stars that would soon follow. By the end of the decade every metal video was just trying to be more outrageous than the last, eventually leading us into the 90’s where music videos took on a more artistic approach with the rise of shock rockers Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.
I have written extensive articles both here and in college on the importance MTV had on American youth culture so I will just say dust off the VCR and pop in the VHS copy of Hot for Teacher if you want a reminder of what the decade was all about.
Van Halen vs. Bon Jovi
Musically the two aren’t that similar. But if you were alive in the 80’s you know the impact they had on your sisters sexuality. These two bands were the symbol of heavy metal rock stars as sex symbols, pushing the mantra of sex, drugs, and rock n roll deep into the minds of American teenagers. Van Halen was edgier with their music, while Jovi was more of a showman in their concerts. Both bands came out of the other end of the 80’s relegated to relic status, while Jovi made an attempt to make a come back in the 90’s alternative infested airwaves, Van Halen were all but forgotten by the mainstream.
One thing the two bands did was really help push the divide between the hard rockers and the glam rockers. Bon Jovi appealed more to the masses while Van Halen stood as a symbol for the troops to rally behind. The core metal audience was splintering into sub-factions by this time and these two bands were among the dividing forces.
Megadeth vs. Metallica
Here comes another fork in the road. The rise of “thrasher” metal is largely credited to the formation of these two bands, whose DNA is very inbred in some respects. The bands both kept taking metal music to even darker places with Metallica being able to cross over into mainstream success while Megadeth remained a reminder of the hardest rockers of just how heavy, heavy metal could get. There were other dark bands of the time, Dio, White Zombie, a few others, but these two stood up and carved out their own little corner of the market, then started a metal war whose repercussions were felt throughout the entire rock industry.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts
Hard Rock gets a vagina. Okay that might be a little crass, but hell metal music is all about tits and ass so suck it up, whiners. Joan Jett was one of the early punk rockers with her band the Runaways, and she emerged among a world of male metal bands to be the lone wolf woman warrior for the female power rock of the decade. Sure you had rock n roll bands comprised of woman leads before, and after, namely the Go-Go’s, Heart, Hole (yeah an all female band named themselves hole and I get flack for making a vagina joke) and Garbage. The list goes on. Still, Joan Jett was able to prove women could be hard rockers too.
Everyone remembers her anthem “I Love Rock N Roll” it’s a rock classic. I enjoyed her music with the Runaways more, which yes I discovered thanks to a certain movie. Still, she had the balls to stand up to the men who dominated metal music and I gotta respect her for that, to some degree. Not to mention her music wasn’t half bad.
Live shows and stadium rock
In the early days of hard rock, metal was a fringe movement. It was born out of the punk rock scene where the bands were making a statement. That statement was make noise and have as much fun as you can while disrupting the establishment every chance you could. By the 80’s metal bands had risen to become the dominant rockers selling out arenas all across the globe. Sure new wave bands like Devo, Duran Duran, and the like, would emerge in the 80’s to slow some of that fire trying to keep rock music in the center of the pop world, but it was still the decade where arena rock finally became a real thing. There were bands selling out arenas in the 70’s, sure, but they weren’t the bands playing this new, harder sound, not as as much anyways.
Once the live shows became a mainstay bands had to resort to theatrics to keep concert goers happy. This was the period where pyrotechnics were quickly becoming staples of the rock concert. Costumed bands like KISS lead the way, groups like Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue and Guns N Roses would take on the mantle before passing the torch to Manson and his spooky kids in the 90’s.
By the time you get to the end of the 80’s heavy metal is starting to wane. Mainstream America has started to discover a new, edgy sound in the form of gangsta rap, which would soon supplant heavy metal as the go-to sound for the counter culture of the teenagers looking to piss off their adult role models. Sure heavy metal was loud, it was flamboyant, and it glamorized a darker lifestyle, but hip-hip had guns, pimps, and thugs rapping about killing cops, raping hoes, and cooking crack. Times were changing, and the two were bound to merge sooner or later. Enter Rage Against the Machine and the rise of Rap Metal…
My first exposure to headbanging was while watching the film Ace Ventura: Pet Detective. It was a comedy film about a dimwitted animal lover solving crimes. It was a Jim Carey movie, it was the 90’s, it was a comedy movie. I thought the scene where he goes into a rock club and the guy was “headbanging” to the rock music was obviously a joke, nobody actually did that, right? Little did I know it wasn’t a joke, it was a very popular thing.
Soon afterwards I would continue my exposure into the metal scene. I watched the pair of time traveling metal-heads Bill N Ted on their various quests. This was around the time I started to really question why on earth anyone would listen to this hard rock music. I wasn’t even sure what constituted hard rock to begin with. Not to mention I wasn’t even completely accurate on what people were calling rock music. My dad was an old time rock n roll fan and he would always correct me saying this band or that bands was not rock n roll, they were hard rock or heavy metal or something else. My dad wasn’t exactly an authority on rock music either, he just was sort of glued to his childhood favorites and dismissed the music of the youth. I wasn’t quite so dismissive, however I was more into dance music, electronic music, hip-Hop, disco, funk, and pop music. I was having a hard time determining not only what was hard rock, but what was the appeal.
Doing my research it appears rock n roll has it’s roots in soul music, bar music and blues. None of these were genres I was a particular fan of in my early days so I had to dig a little deeper. The earliest example I could find of a mainstream song that was the beginning of the hard rock sound was Helter Skelter by the world-renown Beatles. Having listen to this song a number of times during my research I can almost hear the start of what would become, what I considered, heavy metal, yet it still sounded really primitive to me. I didn’t spend a lot of time chasing down all of the obscure references, I stuck to the mainstream stuff like Born to Be Wild, I Can’t Get No Satisfaction, Dude Looks Like A Lady, and Smoke on the Water. None of these were too hard but they were often cited as the early examples of the scene.
As someone who has thoroughly studied the roots of techno, house and rap music, I can attest that different fans while share different tales of what lead from one sound to the next. The branching path of genres and sub-genres in rock music is just as complicated as the branching genres of the dance scene. To this day I can’t get people to tell the difference between Techno and House, whereas to me they are as different as night and day.
My earliest attempt’s at this included me creating a playlist of songs that one could follow from the old time rock n roll to modern day hard rock. Depending on what the end goal is determines which sub-genres or paths you cut off from the main path. For example, punk rock also has it’s origins in a lot of the same bands that metal does, yet punk eventually lead to alternative, grunge rock and ska, sub-genres I have more experience with than true metal. That didn’t stop me on my journey to find the path of least resistance.
I started with The Beatles.
Helter Skelter is such a different sound from anything I had heard by them up to that point. I don’t mean to sound as if I was around for it, I mean in the timeline. I do listen to Beatles but I was more into their early pop stuff not so much their later stuff.
When I originally did my digging I downloaded the various songs from iTunes and created a playlist when I did that I tried to see if the dots connected in a manner that made sense. I noticed there were a few missing links.
Admittedly I am missing a few sounds from some of the bands I know are often cited, yet I have no samples of their music to go off. Call me whatever name you wish, I have, to this day, never sat down and listened to a Led Zeppelin song, not one. If I have heard one of their songs, in passing I imagine or perhaps in a movie or TV commercial, I wouldn’t recognize it unless it was pointed out to me. So why am I writing this if I can’t call up the sounds of one of the bands often regarded as the fathers of metal? Sometimes you have to make do with what is available to you, also this is my journey so I wanted to discover this my own way. That being said, I have listened to bands that were described as inspired by or similar to Zeppelin so I can say that I am at least vague familiar with the sound they are attributed to.
In my search I didn’t want to start entirely at the roots, I wanted to see how Beatles, Elvis Presley, Chuck Barry, Buddy Holly and others could morph into AC DC, Metallica, Iron Maiden, etc. I did pick up Alice Cooper’s School’s Out which I also cited as one of the bridge sounds, but Judas Priest was the first record I picked up that had a very prot-metal sound. In later years their music evolved more into the sound I always attributed as hard rock or heavy metal, depending on who you ask. I often used the term interchangeably with the understanding metal was the harder stuff. Now that I have done some more digging I discovered it’s even more complex than that. I placed Judas Priest at the earliest point of Heavy Metal on the timeline.
Specifically Destroyer and Alive but I dug through their entire catalog, first through their various compilations, beginning with Smashes, Thrashes, and Hits, and working my way back. KISS doesn’t have the hardest of sounds, they are more hard rock or even edgy rock n roll than metal, but they have the attitude and the look of what would become the signature metal theme, the dark medieval fantasy tones, some would describe as satanic but let’s not split hairs. Anyways they had the theatrics for sure but their sound was admittedly soft in comparison to what would follow. Still they are at the early point as well. They are also cited as a starting point for punk rock, but I won’t follow that path here.
This is another one I place under the category of proto-metal. They have a very hard sound in some songs, but a very 70’s blue rock vibe. I did listen to more than one song, but the one that really matters is Smoke on the Water. This is another point where you can really start to hear a new sound emerging from the underbelly of American counter-culture.
Once you get into “the other Alice Cooper,” Ozzy Osborne and his ilk, things really start to get serious. By all rights you could make a case Sabbath and Ozzy are about as close to what would become Metal as it gets. If you follow them through the 70’s and into the 80’s, even after all the shake ups and restructuring, their sound is very much in line with what I would classify as heavy metal and hard rock at the very least.
This is the point where Metal begins to emerge as it’s own thing. By the time this band hits the scene it’s fully developed. It would be really hard to argue Iron Maiden isn’t heavy metal, and from what I have heard this is the goods through and through.
Now I could have spent more time on proto-metal bands like The Who, The Kinks, Zeppelin, or any number of others. As I did my digging though, I realized that while there are individual songs or even portions of entire albums that are recognized as having elements of what would become metal, they were still entirely different sounds in their own right. You could make a case that without the sounds of the Jackson 5, Hip-Hop wouldn’t be what it is today, but you could be hard pressed to make a case for Michael and the Gang being rap.
This is one of those transition bands you could argue is really just “hard rock” and that would be fine by me. Without getting into sub-genres I classify rock into the following top-level categories: rock n roll, rock, hard rock, metal, grunge, punk, ska, and alternative rock. For the most part there is a TON of overlap, I still try to avoid splitting hairs over what sound equals what genre. AC-DC is one of those bands I could firmly place under rock n roll, rock, or hard rock, but I would be hard pressed to call them full on metal and they certainly aren’t punk or ska. At least not as I understand them to be.
You will notice as I go through this series I don’t often stray from the general consensus, at least not up front. However as I discover more to this story I fully intend to give credit where due. As I looked into this it took on a life of it’s own. Consider this entry number one in a series where I take a deeper look at the origins of this music genre that I have found an affinity for, yet continues to boggle my mind and elude my sense of true understanding. Until next time keep on head banging friends.
I was going through my Will Smith CD collection a few weeks ago when I realized I was missing one of his cd’s I completely forgot about. I finally decided to buy the disc off Amazon. I gave it a brief listen to before I decided to figure out what my favorite Will Smith tracks are. I spoke a little about this on my recent podcast, yet I still wanted to write a full article describing the individual tracks.
So here is my list, broken into to parts. Part one will cover the songs released under the DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince brand. Part two will cover all of the songs released just under the Will Smith branding.
These are not ranked in any particular order just a list of my favorite DJ Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince songs.
Girls Ain’t Nothing But Trouble- Rock the House
This is one of the best songs from his debut album. The duo quickly made a name for themselves in this track that samples the theme song from the famous TV sitcom, I Dream of Jeannie. The song is a humorous tale of Smith’s experiences with various females. Each tale ends with him telling his buddies how girls are nothing but trouble. There is a reprise later on the album from the girls perspective, but it’s not as iconic as this one.
This is probably one of the most iconic songs in the Fresh Prince catalog. The premise is simple, take a smooth funk song, remix it into a smooth hip-hop track and lace it with mellow rhymes devoted to reminiscing of all the good times from summers gone past. It’s the perfect slow jam for a warm summer day. Just put the track on the radio, crank the volume up as loud as you can handle and sit back sipping your favorite summer beverage while the tune washes over you.
The Magnificent Jazzy Jeff- He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper
This is one of those old-school songs that blends Smiths fast, on topic rhymes with Jeff’s quick cuts and funky bass lines. As a former turntablist I can fully appreciate a good Jazzy Jeff mix track. The song show cases Jeffrey’s turntable wizardry at it’s finest, even showcasing his famous transformer scratch with a narrative of Smith referring to Jeff as an actual Autobot. Good time.
Then She Bit Me- And In This Corner
This is the first track off the amazing record “And In This Corner” which features another song I will discuss shortly. The song reminds me a lot of a Jim Carey film called Once Bitten. In the song, just like the film, a young man meets a strange woman at a bar, goes back to her mansion where she bites him and he discovers she was a vampire. Okay the song doesn’t explicitly make those connections, however the music is very vampire-film inspired organ music laced with some very rock solid bass lines and a deep, pounding beat. The song is short, no hook, no chorus, but it tells a goofy story just like Smith’s best songs and is a good song to dance to if you happen to be in the mood, or just to chill out to as is most often the case with his music.
I Think I Can Beat Mike Tyson- And In This Corner
Not exactly the “title” track from the ablum, but you could call it the “Main Event” if you wanted to do so. The track is a very fun tale of Will Smith famously challenging Iron Mike Tyson to a boxing match. In my podcast I highlight how much of a Nintendo fan Smith comes off and this song is likely a good reference for a Nintendo fan if you ever played Mike Tyson’s Punch Out for the NES, which was popular when the song came out. Anyways gaming connections aside, the song is one of the funniest songs Smith performed from his early days. The music has a very upbeat boxing ring vibe to it and the imagery is very 1980’s. The track was also featured on his Greatest Hits Collection, so you know it’s one of his best.
Boom! Shake the Room- Code Red
This was basically the very first song I ever heard by the duo and remains one of my favorites. It doesn’t have the humor of his earlier tracks but it sure packs a good punch. The hard-hitting beat, the almost g-funk sounding bass lines, and fast, angry raps make it a show of force for the rapper who was in the midst of a transition at this time. Code Red would be the last album he did as a duo and before he would go on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest names. It was a solid house party style dance track that to this day could get any hip-hop fan on the dance floor.
Nightmare on My Street- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper
It’s no secret that A Nightmare on Elm Street is not only one of my favorite film franchises of all time, it’s actually my favorite movie of all time. The song tells a story how Smith and some of his friends go to see the original Elm Street film and later that night he gets a visit from Krueger in his dreams just like in the film. The song borrows dialog from the second film, while it also captures more of the MTV-inspired funny Krueger than the scary original. The song is perfectly 80’s and makes a good song to set the mood for a good Elm Street marathon.
I Wanna Rock- Code Red
This is one of those songs that hearkens back to the old school. Smith clearly was trying to recapture the glory days with this track while the rest of the album was showcasing his ability to adapt to the changing landscape of hip-hop. The song is short, and not very well produced. It’s a simple record scratch looping the same vocal sample over, and over. The line, “I wanna rock right now” from the Rob Base and EZ Rock track, It Takes Two, is the center-piece of the track with some old school beat boxing and a live band in the back ground backing up Smith’s raps, once again bragging about the skills of his partner-in-crime.
He’s the DJ, I’m The Rapper- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper
Yes, the title track from one of his earliest cd’s is still the best track on that record. Smith kicks some old school fast freestyle sounding raps to Jeff’s patented record mixing and fast scratches to a very familiar retro electro track. The song is just oozing with Jazzy Jeff and Fresh Prince charm that made the duo so famous. It’s old school, it’s funky and it’s b-boy dancable all at the same time. Bust out the cardboard box, slip into some sweat pants and pull out your best break dance moves to this groovy track.
The Human Video Game- He’s the DJ, I’m the Rapper
I picked this song because it’s pretty simple, it’s just a beat box track with Ready Rob doing his thing. The beat boxing imitates the sounds from an actual Donkey Kong arcade machine. It’s just a fun song with Smith bragging about his friend’s obsession with the arcade classic and how he is capable of using his beat boxing skills to make it sound like he is actually playing the game. It’s another one of those famous light-hearted tracks the group was famous for.
Theme song to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Oh come on, you knew I was going to pick this song. Summertime might be his most iconic track from his music career, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a sitcom we all know and love. The theme song gets stuck in your head and you know you like it. There isn’t much else to say, it’s just a fun song that sets the premise of the show perfectly.
I left off a few tracks he is more famous for, but to be honest, I didn’t think they were his best songs. Sure everyone knows Parent’s Just Don’t Understand, but seriously it’s a fine song but not worth a lot of the hype. I had a few other songs I could have mentioned, like Ring my Bell, or Brand New Funk, but I didn’t want to to look like I was only picking songs from the team’s Greatest Hits collection. Although it would be easy to just pick up that one album and call it a day, there are so many other great tracks I just wanted to highlight a few from each record. It was hard because honestly, I love them all. I might not like every single song on every CD, but I enjoy every CD and there is easily more than one song per CD I like, too many for a brief post such as this.
Look for part two where I go through his entire solo career and try to pick out the best of the best, of the best, with honors.