For many years it seemed that rap and rock were competing ideologies. Too many times I’ve seen the phrase “you can’t spell c r a p, without rap,” uttered by some tight-jean wearing scenester whose music has now become utterly irrelevant. I guess they were too busy flat-ironing their hair to make compelling music.
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Still not everyone was as close-minded as the kids who peaked at the Warp tour. Many rock bands embraced hip hop and some even went as far to infuse their own rock-style with a hip hop twist. Bands like Linkin Park, Slipknot, Limp Bizkit, and Korn all brought a touch of hip hop music to their rock-n-roll to form a new genre called Nu-metal. Which yes, did wear itself out with its incessant yelling rap that was so angsty, it would make a young Robert Pattinson blush. But there were some real chops behind these bands (Wes Borland anyone?).
So it’s no surprise that it worked both ways, and that rock and roll had an influence on hip hop. Here are some of The Freeze’s picks for best rock and roll influence on a rap project.
Cage – Depart From Me
Cage revisits charted territory with a punky twist. This should come as no surprise as he enlisted Jello Biafra (of Dead Kennedy’s fame) on the preceding album, Hell’s Winter. The same angst ridden rage that dominated the punk scene coalesces well to liven up his raps. The song title, “Fat Kids Need An Anthem,” just sounds like it could be on a punk record. Then there’s “Kick Rocks” with its simple refrain reminding hanger ons what he really thinks of them. The song cleverly appropriates the L’Eggo of my Eggo’s campaign that was big in the 70’s into a “Let Go of My Megalomania” chant.
Depart from Me may be a bit rough around the edges, but that’s what makes it so punk rock.
Danger Mouse – The Grey Album (Jay-Z Meets The Beatles)
Looking back now, it seems obvious that The Black Album was a high point for Jay-Z’s career. Jay was about to end his career amidst a critically acclaimed album, a commercially successful crossover collaborative album with Linkin Park, and a successful Fade to Black tour. Jay’s fame had reached new heights. He was everywhere. So it made sense for an ambitious producer to make a timely project using his vocals. Enter The Grey Album.
This revered project had Danger Mouse use percussive loops sampled from The Beatles’ The White Album understating Jay’s verses from The Black Album. A highlight is the rock and roll attitude of “99 Problems” coupled with the low and dirty sounds of the guitar and crashing drums of the Beatles’ “Helter Skelter”. The song works on multiple layers.
However, not every song on the project works. “Moment of Clarity” loses its poignancy over its busy beat. While “Change Clothes” feels like an amusement park ride, losing its supposed sex appeal.
Insane Clown Posse – The Great Milenko
An easy to spot rock and roll influence in hip hop. ICP has said that they were too rock for the hip hop crowd and too hip hop for the rock crowd. Hearing this album, you can see why. The Great Milenko is a musical coup. Enlisting the help of guitarist Slash (of Guns N’ Roses, Velvet Revolver), and Alice Cooper, the album had a lot of heavy metal appeal.
“Hall of Illusions” has Slash playing a distorted guitar that matches the hip hop snares. The beginning feels like an acid trip through a funhouse, then turns into a statement against domestic abuse. Seriously.
The aforementioned “Hall of Illusions” illustrates how people can be hypocrites. While an under-appreciated track is “Under the Moon” that talks about the effects of bullying, telling the tale of two high-school lovers. Hate them or love them, the Insane Clown Posse were ahead of their time.
BlakRoc – BlakRoc (The Black Keys + Mos Def, Members of the Wu-Tang, Jim Jones)
The brain child of hip hop executive Damon Dash, that decided to pair the Black Keys with some of the most gritty rappers imaginable. The billing includes rappers like; Raekwon, Jim Jones, Billy Danze (of M.O.P), Pharaohe Monch, and the RZA.
What follows is what feels like a cosmic psychedelic hip hop record. Each voice telling different stories of the streets as the listener goes on a journey. There is a cohesion to the project. The vocals often have a haunting cosmic horror effect.
“Ain’t Nothing Like You” has Jim Jones rapping a vivid self-portrait while the guitar twang fits perfectly into the bluesy hook by Mos Def. The resulting effect feels like it should be a real blues-rock and rap outfit performing in a Nashville bar.
BlakRoc succeeds where a lot of the other projects on this list fail, and that is to make a truly organic sounding combination of both rock and rap. Considering how collaborative this project was, it’s no surprise it is shining example of what rock and rap fused together can sound like. In the above video, you can see part of RZA’s recording session where he picks up a bass and puts his own unique touch on a song.
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Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture Part 1 and 2
As the Wu-Tang was one of the nineties rap groups to get early acceptance in the skater crowd, it’s no surprise that they would eventually venture into rock territory.
An assortment of Wu-affiliates and underground legends makes part 1 a must listen. “Lyrical Swords” is a nod to GZA’s Liquid Swords, with GZA pairing up with underground legend Ras Kass.
That said, there are moments stringed together that seem odd. Director Jim Jarmusch appears on skits delivering monologues, and some of the vocals don’t seem to fit. Part 1 is weird. However, with a guest list of Planet Asia, Del the Funky Homosapien, and MF DOOM, you’ll want to listen which accompaniments work and which don’t.
On part 1, expect a lot of guitars and sample flips. “Slow Blues” has the rappers deliver emotive performances over a guitar loop that just feels like the inside of a smoky, packed venue.
Wu-Tang Meets Indie Culture Pt.2:
Enter the Dubstep
“Biochemical Equation,” a track that appears on part 1. gets a souped up remix. RZA and MF DOOM are on another stratosphere on this joint. RZA’s vocals on this one seem mixed better to the beat and his lyrics fit the off-kilter beat. The vocals for both MF DOOM and RZA, seem cleaner as the beat doesn’t overpower the lyrics but instead blend together.
Overall, the thunderous bass that dubstep became known for works with the booming voices of various personalities of Wu-affiliates. But just because it works, doesn’t mean it’s necessary.
While the project does have nice cuts, it’s only on a track like “Cinema” that’s understated, that demonstrates how off-kilter production can add to a song.This dubstep version feels less urgent and paces GZA’s storytelling abilities allowing tension to properly build.
It’s worthy nod to the Wu but mostly based on novelty alone.
De La Soul – And the Anonymous Nobody
No one expected De La Soul to return.
After a notoriously acrimonious relationship with record label Tommy Boy, the rap group decided to take matters into their own hands and crowdfund a project. The result is what ended up being And the Anonymous Nobody.
And the Anonymous Nobody is an epic “musician’s musician” album. It mixes soul, funk, and rock. Take the funky, “Pain” featuring Snoop Dogg which has quick-witted raps that gives you that head-bopping feeling of the golden-era of rap to the rock and roll to the psychedelic sound clash of “Snoopies” with David Byrne or the hard rocking “Lord Intended” with Justin Hawkins (of The Darkness).
It has a little something for everyone. Clearly, De La Soul took great pains with the musicianship of the album, which was heavily influenced by the rock and roll elements.
Yelawolf’s Stereo Mixtape
A fan of rock music growing up, Yelawolf’s rock and roll influence is brought to light on the mixtape Stereo.
Highlights include “Brown Eyed Betty” and “Another Brick in the Wall”. The latter samples the infamous Pink Floyd song and has Yela “articulating [his] rhythm” with an enunciation that is under-appreciated in modern hip hop. With DJ scratches accompanying the beat, the song serves as a great introduction to a hip hop project with a rock and roll influence.
However, some of the rock and roll samples sound passé. The song “TNT,” for example would have sounded great when the Beastie Boys (who definitely influenced Yela) came out but sounds too derivative to modern ears.
That said, when the rock and roll works well, it does wonders. “Brown Sugar” feels like the magic of an after-hours spot. The song interpolates “One of These Nights” by The Eagles, and just oozes rock and roll cool. The song has Yela tell the story of a downtrodden woman, with Yela and the woman swapping life stories. The character feels real.
The end result of the project is Yelawolf doing justice to the rock and roll he grew up on.
Th1rt3en (Pharoahe Monche) – A Magnificent Day For An Exorcism
As Pharoahe Monche was a part of the Blakroc project a few years back, it’s no surprise he decided to take his own stab at rock-infused record.
The eerie Triskaidekaphobia (fear of the number 13) uses some rock and roll tricks to create a haunting atmosphere while Monche raps interesting patterns and wordplay.
Deleted: Of course, it being a Pharoahe Monche record, there is still a bit of social commentary. Enlisting the help of guitarist Marcus Machado and drummer Daru Jones, Monche seemingly has simply amplified his message by going electric.
El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure
The discordant syncopations of El-P’s Cancer 4 Cure, was the beginning of El-P’s mainstream acceptance.
“Request Denied” has El-P give a single sputtering flow after a three minute instrumental as he gives the middle finger in the rock and roll way possible with lines like,” I’m a “holy fuck, what did he just utter?” marksman/Orphan, a whore-born, war-torn life for the harvest.”
The theme of paranoia feels like a kinetic force throughout the album. It pushes with centripetal force.
The Rock and Roll Influence on Live Performances
When Playboi Carti debuted Die Lit, people were saying how punk rock it was. The album cover even features Playboi Carti stage diving. What that album’s aesthetic was alluding to was the fact that hip hop shares parallels with hip hop. And this especially true of the live show.
Hip hop for a long time was the underdog of music genres, considered too basic in its musicality. This draws parallels to the simplicity of punk records that were essentially built of three chords. They also both started with an ant-establishment sentiment before becoming pop music.
So it was only natural that this would translate inevitably to stage shows. Here is a video compilation done by Youtube Channel, Unidentified.
Rap and Rock Have Raw Power
What we see is raw energy. Performers are transmuting the vibes of their fans from hype and anticipation to primal bacchanalia. This is how the rock and roll influence takes hold. These shows are wild. They tap into a primordial orgiastic release. That youthful exuberance is channeled onto the performers. Clearly, rock has had a positive influence on rappers and this is shown through many rappers’ excellent live shows.
This is also demonstrated through the popularity of Death Grips. Their stylistically punk approach to songs can be heard on 2012’s The Money Store. In 2018 in an interview with GQ, the man who destroyed Donald Trump’s Hollywood Walk of Fame Star revealed he was listening to Death Grips as his soundtrack as he destroyed the star.
The influence of rock and roll on rap is that it accentuates the unruly nature of two genres. Whereas hip hop can be smoothened out with its blending of jazz, rock kicks it into gear with raw adrenaline. For better or worse, that rawness is sometimes replete with anger at the system. That rawness is what helped Rage Against the Machine flourish and become an influential force on the rap rock or Nu-Metal genre.
A new crop of artists is now using that same rawness. In the video above, Denzel Curry does a cover of Rage’s “Bulls on Parade” evoking the same anger at the system. It’s done exceptionally well. Curry might have a future as a frontman for a rock band if he ever wants to switch genres. In addition, to an excellent rendition of “Bulls on Parade,” Curry adds a rap verse putting his own spin to a classic. So a new generation is implementing the sounds of rock into rap as well. From Rage Against the Machine to H099o9, fans will seek out the hard-hitting sounds of rap and rock. The combination is simply too potent to ignore.
Here is the Boiler Room set for LA-based punk rap group, Ho99o9.