Yesterday I found myself watching Lil Wayne Unplugged on MTv. This was Lil Wayne , in all his shirtless glory, rockin’ out with a live band behind him. The result was exactly what it sounded like. It was fucking terrible and completely missed the mark. But , it’s not totally Wayne’s fault. No, the mixture of Rock and Rap has long been a complete mess. In fact, I can honestly say it’s never worked on any level. Let’s take a brief look back and pick apart the pieces of the horrific fusion…shall we?
The first song that I can think of that SORT OF used this would be Blondie’s Rapture.
Now, this song is awesome. There is no denying it. So, the fact that one of the first fusions of these two musical genre’s works would work strongly against any argument I could have, right? Well, no. Cause this is as much a “Rock” song as it is a “reggae” song. This is not what I’m talking about. It’s also a drugged out Debbie Harry just doing whatever the fuck she wants cause he was chilling with Basqiat and Fab Five Freddy all the time. To me , this doesn’t count.
Now, this song, is the real beginning of it all…
When this came out, people we’re in fucking awe. Personally, I loved it. I was also a kid who didn’t know shit about anything. Hearing it now, it’s incredibly corny and pretty embarrassing for both artists involved (that says a lot considering Aerosmith is responsible for some of the worst music ever made). But still, as cheap as this song was, it didn’t really exploit how bad the mixture of the two genre’s could be.
You could say the Beastie boys touched on the rock/rap but I always felt they veered more towards the funk end of things (not counting most of “License to Ill” just because, well, they were white and them using rock was expected). Even when they did do rock tinged things, it felt natural. I think that’s a key word here:natural. Rock/rap has always sounded forced. Like two guys who know nothing about each other but decide to move in together anyway.
Anyway, with the success of “Walk this way”, other groups touched on the mixture…Then, along came Rage Against the Machine.
Now…I realize that a bunch of you are probably big Rage fans. That’s fine. But, coming from the hip hop side of things, there is no music I like less than this kinda shit. I know they had a message and stood for important things (or whatever), but this shit was just Nu-metal before Nu-metal existed. To me, it didn’t matter what Zack De La Rocha was saying cause the way he said it was making my ears bleed. Musically, they were fine for what they were. A hard rock band. Again, this is the rap viewpoint of things. I could perfectly see how a rock person could find the value in this. But, to me, if you told me you liked hip hop AND Rage in 1997, I would roll my eyes at you. Purist snobbery? definitely, but I still can’t stand that shit when I hear it now so I must have been on to something.
Next up, was the Judgement Night soundtrack. This was the soundtrack to a shitty movie that no one saw. The premise of this soundtrack was taking the hottest rappers of that time and meshing them with the hottest rock bands. What came out of it was a debacle (excluding the genuinely dope Teenage fanclub/de la soul song). Truly awful shit that I will occasionally hear people stand up for.But the fact remains it came across as either THIS (a hardcore band blasting their music while some rappers pitifully tried to keep up with the energy by screaming his half-baked lyrics) OR THIS (some wishy-washy jam band sounding crap that just happened to have a rapper on it. The kind of thing you might hear at a frat party with a live band in Vermont).
The unfortunate thing about this soundtrack is that it opened the flood gates. In no time, every suburban dude with a public enemy album and a guitar thought it was their time to show how versatile and eclectic they could be. This led to all sorts of terrible bedroom productions that no one ever heard , as well as, Nu-metal. Yes, the Limp Bizkit and Linkin park era. The same era that inspired that Party fun action Committee classic “Whatchu know now” (clip unavailable on youtube). By all accounts this shit is some of the worst music ever created. Just pure crap on every level. This mainly because it was a slap in the face to both genre’s. It was simultaneously terrible rap AND rock. The fucked up thing is that some rap dudes sort of embraced a few of these acts. Method Man , Dj Premier and Jay-z did songs with them and gave them way more cred then they should have ever had. I don’t know how it happened (yes i do. it’s green and rhymes with bunny) cause there was a time when a bunch of Whiny whigz from so-cal suburbs would get curbed for even trying to rap…let alone raps kicked over Fat albert’s junkyard band level death metal riffs played by dudes with dolphin tattoos and septum pierces.
Luckily, this genre died out fairly quick but it left its mark. There are still people trying to find that perfect balance between rap and rock that will simply never exist. I don’t understand people’s need to try to force together two separate things that have nothing to do with each other. There’s no fault in taking aspects of another genre and sprinkling it in to whatever you do, but , when dealing with rapping, full on mashing that shit together like you’re trying to make some sort of musical jambalaya is just a bad look. Now, I understand how it happens. It’s in the nature musicians to want to expand their sound. Stepping outside of genre’s is often an easy way to achieve this. Unfortunately, when rap is involved, it would appear all bets are off.
Oh, and just to clarify, it can work when done in good taste and sparingly. Before you all flip you wigs on some “But EL-P worked with Trent Reznor!” shit, recognize that it NOT what I’m talking about. You know damn well what I’m talking about it but some people feel the need to knit pick about shit like this just to be contrary. So, yeah, save that shit.
On a final note, allow me to leave you with this:
If that whole studio got hit with a missile, the world would be an infinitely better place. I can’t help but imagine what Metallica must have been thinking while they sat there watching that clown ass motherfucker Swizz Beats pretend to know what he’s talking about. I mean, as terrible as Metallica has gotten, they’re still Metallica. Swizz Beats just figured out how to not use casio demo settings to make his beats. Stick to club bangers, bro. I sure as hell can’t make them.
But I digress, regardless of my feelings towards these artists, it’s just time we, as musicians (I use that word loosely, including myself) just stop trying to make this happen. The bottom line is, as simple as hip hop is to make, you do have to understand it on a certain level to make it successfully. Same goes for rock. Just going off of what you’ve heard in passing over the years is not enough. Just because you owned a Run DMC and a Tribe Called Quest album does not mean you know what makes good hip hop. Ever wonder why when (famous) rappers talk about the music they like that’s not rap, it’s shit like Coldplay, Linkin Park and John Mayer? It’s because they have no idea what the fuck they’re talking about. Conversely, I bet any of those dudes could write a novel on why Rakim was one of the best rappers ever. Basically, go with what you know. Otherwise, we’ll just have a bunch of ill-informed assholes making music they have no clue about just to do it…oh wait…too late.