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10 Best Rap Rock Tunes

CJ Baker is a published writer who wrote the novel and started the companion podcast An Epic Soundtrack To A Mundane Existence.

Anthrax's Frankie Bello and Chuck D of Public Enemy on stage together

Anthrax's Frankie Bello and Chuck D of Public Enemy on stage together

Rap Rock This Way

There was a time when rap and rock were considered two distinct musical genres, listened to by two separate camps. Over time things musically evolved and the genre lines started to blur. Rock and rap artists started to collaborate. Rappers would often sample rock songs and rockers would try their hand at rapping. For better or worse you also had the development of genres such as Nu Metal that freely incorporated hip-hop elements. Instead of having to pick a side, a listener could enjoy both.

10. "Rapture" – Blondie
9. "Body Count" – Body Count
8. "Numb / Encore" – Jay Z and Linkin Park
7. "Fallin'" – Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul
6. "Killing In The Name" – Rage Against The Machine
5. "No Sleep till Brooklyn" – Beastie Boys
4. "The Magnificent Seven" – The Clash
3. "Bring The Noise" – Anthrax and Public Enemy
2. "Sun City" – Artists United Against Apartheid
1. "Walk This Way" – Run DMC and Aerosmith

10. "Rapture" – Blondie

From the new wave group's 1980 album, Autoamerican, this tune is credited as being the first US #1 hit to feature rap vocals. The song was inspired by Blondie's Debbie Harry and Chris Stein's friendship with rapper Fab 5 Freddy, who took them to attend their first rap event. After attending a few more of these events, Debbie Harry was motivated to compose her own rap. The lyrics name drop both Fab 5 Freddy and influential hip-hop DJ, Grandmaster Flash ("The Message").

9. "Body Count" – Body Count

Body Count is the heavy metal project of rapper Ice-T. He first introduced the band with the track "Body Count" on his 1991 solo album, O.G. Original Gangster. The track was also included on Body Count's 1992 self-titled debut which was notorious for originally including the controversial "Cop Killer" which was removed from subsequent pressings.

On the version that appears on O.G., he introduces the song with a snippet of an interview where he discusses the black roots of rock music, responding to critics that want to criticize him for selling out by making rock music. The song "Body Count" addresses systemic racism and police oppression, themes that Ice-T continues to frequently address with Body Count's music.

8. "Numb / Encore" – Jay Z and Linkin Park

Linkin Park was one of the more successful nu metal/rap-rock bands, while Jay Z is rap royalty, so their collaboration shouldn't have been that huge of a surprise. "Numb/ Encore" was the most successful mashup between the two artists, who complement each other well. The track appears on their 2004 mashup EP, Collision Course, which was inspired by Danger Mouse's excellent 2004 bootleg, The Grey Album, which mashed up Jay-Z's The Black Album with The Beatles' The White Album. The "99 Problems / Helter Skelter" mashup in particular is worth a listen.

7. "Fallin'" – Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul

This tune is from the soundtrack of the 1993 movie, Judgement Night. The movie was subpar, but the soundtrack was influential in the development of rap-rock due to its pairings of alternative rock/metal bands with rap acts. This pairing of the UK power-pop band Teenage Fanclub and alternative hip-hop group De La Soul is a musical departure compared to the mostly heavier tunes that appear on the album. This song has a hypnotic chillout vibe, another element in the fusion of rock and rap.

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6. "Killing In The Name" – Rage Against The Machine

Even though rap rock and nu metal were commercially successful, it was often critically maligned. Rage Against The Machine was the rare example of a rap-rock band that was able to avoid the stigma often associated with the genre. Part of what made them important was how they incorporated the radical politics of hardcore punk and socially conscious hip-hop. "Killing In The Name" came from their landmark 1992 debut album, which was recorded in the wake of the Rodney King beating and the acquittal of the police officers involved. It is a classic protest anthem that still continues to resonate.

5. "No Sleep till Brooklyn" – Beastie Boys

Due to their early hardcore punk roots, they were one of the first rap groups to appeal to both rap and rock fans. Throughout their career, they scored hits on both the rap and modern rock charts. "No Sleep till Brooklyn," which appears on their 1986 debut album, Licensed to Ill, rocks hard and features the guitar talents of Slayer's Kerry King. The song's title is also a nod to the 1981 Motörhead live album, No Sleep 'til Hammersmith.

4. "The Magnificent Seven" – The Clash

Appearing on the UK punk band's eclectic 1980 triple album, Sandinista!, "The Magnificent Seven" joins Blondie's "Rapture" as early examples of a rock act incorporating rap into their music. The Clash was known for experimenting with different styles, such as reggae and dub.

Concerning the influence of rap on their music, lead singer and primary lyricist Joe Strummer made the following statement: "When we came to the U.S., Mick stumbled upon a music shop in Brooklyn that carried the music of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and The Sugar Hill Gang. These groups were radically changing music and they changed everything for us."

3. "Bring The Noise" – Anthrax and Public Enemy

"Bring The Noise" was originally recorded by Public Enemy for their landmark 1988 album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back. The hard-hitting track included a shout-out to Anthrax because Chuck D was flattered by the fact that lead guitarist Scott Ian often wore a Public Enemy t-shirt when performing live.

Anthrax recorded their own version, which sampled Public Enemy vocals, and it appeared on both Anthrax's 1991 compilation album, Attack of the Killer B's and Public Enemy's 1991 album, Apocalypse 91… The Enemy Strikes Black. The mutual admiration continued as they embarked on a joint tour, which included the two acts performing "Bring The Noise" as each show's encore.

2. "Sun City" – Artists United Against Apartheid

Composed by the E Street Band's Steven Van Zandt and produced by notable hip-hop producer and DJ Arthur Baker, this 1985 super group benefit tune was an anti-apartheid protest song. It was written in response to artists performing at the Sun City resort in South Africa, a country openly segregated through apartheid. The song was like a politically direct "We Are The World." It was also groundbreaking for its fusion of different genres, from rap acts like DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys, Run-DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kurtis Blow to rockers like Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel, Bob Dylan, Joey Ramone, Bono, and Bruce Springsteen.

1. "Walk This Way" – Run DMC and Aerosmith

This is not the first example of rap rock, but no rap rock song has ever been more popular. "Walk This Way" originally appeared on Aerosmith's 1975 album, Toys In The Attic. Run-DMC's iconic reworking of the rock classic appeared on their 1986 album, Raising Hell.

Even prior to this rap-rock milestone, Run DMC was known for incorporating elements of rock. Their 1985 album was titled King of Rock and one of their first singles, "Rock Box," featured Eddie Martinez on lead guitar. "Walk This Way" helped make a further argument that rappers were becoming the new rock stars. It also helped resurrect Aerosmith’s career, while introducing both acts to new audiences. A true cultural touchpoint.

© 2022 CJ Baker

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