With the 50th anniversary of hip-hop officially marked on August 11th, 2023, we’re commemorating the landmark all month long. Today, we’re taking a look at 10 notable moments where the hip-hop and rock ecosystems combined as “rap rock.” Keep an eye out for all our Hip-Hop 50 content throughout the month, and check out our exclusive merch featuring our Hip-Hop 50 design at the Consequence Shop. A portion of proceeds from sales benefits Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks.
Rock music and hip-hop were never quite opposites. Hip-hop emerged through the use of sampling — of course, samples of jazz, R&B, disco, and soul music were integral to early productions, but rock music was swimming in those mixes too. The mid ’80s saw a significant rise for hip-hop within the cultural consciousness, all while rock was undergoing its own transformation; traditional rock became less commercially successful in the wake of pop and new wave, and hip-hop was still decades away from its inevitable peak. So, for a time, both of these genres were relegated to outsiders, and the artists that represented them realized the potential in joining forces.
The acts that became big from this first boom of rap-rock, like Run-DMC and Beastie Boys, leaned into the possibilities of putting their hip-hop styles over guitar-based beats. Though the trio had been pioneers of the rap-rock “genre,” it was Rick Rubin who initially suggested to Run-DMC that they record a remix of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”; while the rap group was initially hesitant, the single off 1986’s Raising Hell became a major hit on both urban and rock radio stations and revitalized the career of the then-waning Aerosmith. That same year, Beastie Boys emerged on the scene with a decidedly hybrid approach; they may have originally formed as a full-on punk group, but their debut LP, Licensed to Ill, featured a true mix of both guitar-forward sounds and hip-hop vocals.
As both rock and rap began to experience a major commercial heyday in the 1990s, musicians of both genres began dipping into each others’ wells once more. Rap-rock became a certifiable musical style, thanks in part to successful groups like Rage Against the Machine and Faith No More. The 1993 film Judgment Night — an otherwise unremarkable film — featured the bold, industry-aided move of a soundtrack entirely devoted to rap-rock crossovers, including Pearl Jam with Cypress Hill, Del the Funky Homosapien with Dinosaur Jr., and Mudhoney with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Though the soundtrack wasn’t exactly praised, it’s a significant example of both worlds combining in a swirling cocktail of grungy guitars and rousing bars.
Then came the nu-metal boom: Heavily rap-influenced acts like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, and Korn fully leaned into the genre’s aggressive, hybrid style, to the point where even their fashion became inseparable from hip-hop’s aesthetics. The movement would be relatively short-lived, with rock once again waning in popularity as hip-hop became the most listened-to genre in the world throughout the 2000s and 2010s. That said, a new generation has picked up nu-metal and flipped it on its head in recent years.
Today, the whole label of “rock music” has become fractured, and, as we highlighted last year in our essay on how music has changed over the last 15 years, nearly every popular music genre features components and aesthetics of hip-hop. And it’s gone the other way, too: there are still hybrid rap-rock attempts a la Machine Gun Kelly, and rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep, Juice WRLD, and Trippie Redd have all contributed to hip-hop’s emo-ification.
Ever since Aerosmith and Run-DMC showed everyone how to walk their way, artists on both sides of the rap-rock divide have crossed the sonic bridge. Some of these collaborations have definitely been more successful (or generally enjoyable) than others, so let’s take a trip through the last 30 years of rock and rap with 10 crossover tracks that range from good to bad to downright ridiculous.
— Paolo Ragusa
Run-DMC & Aerosmith — “Walk This Way” (1986)
For all intents and purposes, here’s the genesis of the rap-rock crossover. Though Run-DMC was initially hesitant to remix the Aerosmith hit, once they fused their on-mic charisma with the original’s earworm riff, the results were undeniable. The tune took over both rock and (the unfortunately named) urban radio stations across the country, eventually charting even higher than Aerosmith’s 1975 version. Both rock and rap were about to get a whole lot heavier in the coming decades, but it’s hard to appreciate the landscape of rap-rock without tipping your hat and walking this way. — Jonah Krueger
Public Enemy & Anthrax — “Bring tha Noize” (1991)
After Public Enemy gave a shoutout to Anthrax on their 1987 single “Bring tha Noize” — amidst references to Yoko Ono, Run-DMC, and Eric B. — the thrash metallers answered the call. Anthrax’s version is appropriately heavy but similarly ecstatic; though frontman Scott Ian isn’t quite as slick as the effortless Chuck D, the band’s chaotic confidence makes it a memorable collaboration. Public Enemy would join Anthrax on tour after the song’s release, helping usher in a new wave of rap-rock that was beginning to take hold. — P.R.
Dinosaur Jr. & Del the Funky Homosapien — “Missing Link” (1993)
The soundtrack to Judgment Night might be just as influential and predictive as “Walk This Way.” A full record’s worth of rap-rock matchups, the soundtrack tipped its hat to each genre’s scenes (Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul’s “Fallin’,” Living Colour and Run-DMC’s “Me, Myself & My Microphone”), seemingly beat nu-metal to the punch (Helmet and House of Pain’s “Just Another Victim,” Biohazard and Onyx’s “Judgment Night”), and foreshadowed the coming alternative scene that would fuse elements from both styles (Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill’s “I Love You Mary Jane”). Perhaps the best tune on the project, pound for pound, is Dinosaur Jr.’s collaboration with Del the Funky Homosapien, a genuinely engaging mix of sludgy alt-rock and early ’90s hip-hop that sounds like a less angry Rage Against the Machine — Slack Against the Machine, if you will.— J.K.
Puff Daddy & Jimmy Page — “Come With Me” (1998)
By the late ’90s, rap-rock had proven its commercial viability. Nu-metal was well on its way to becoming an inescapable aspect of popular culture, turntables and drop-tuned guitars had begun showing up on stage next to each other, and bands like Rage Against the Machine and Faith No More had scored hits with their hybrid approach. And yet, there was still novelty in pairing a popular rapper of the time with a rock legend from yesteryear, and thus, Puff Daddy and Jimmy Page’s “Come With Me.” The track, which was created to promote 1998’s Godzilla, sees the MC spitting bars over a decently faithful, extremely dramatic recreation of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir.” In a way, it’s kind of the ’90s “Walk This Way,” just without any of the innovation. — J.K.
Linkin Park & JAY-Z — “Numb/Encore” (2004)
The rage about nu-metal began to soften around 2003, and rap began to dominate the Billboard charts in unprecedented fashion. At that time, it seemed unlikely that newer, hit-driven rappers would embrace rock music as they would have in the previous decade — but JAY-Z, always the entrepreneur, found Linkin Park to be the perfect collaborator. The resulting Collision Course EP combines songs from Linkin Park’s majorly successful first two albums with JAY’s own greatest hits. While the absurd combo of “Points of Authority/99 Problems/One Step Closer” can catch you by surprise, it’s “Numb/Encore” that rightfully remains the standout of the bunch. — P.R.
The Black Lips & GZA — “The Drop I Hold” (2009)
As the aughts came to a close, genre barriers were already breaking down. Now past both nu-metal and Gorillaz’s fusion of pop, alternative rock, and hip-hop, both scenes began to take queues from each other, especially in the underground. The Black Lips and GZA collaborated during a show at 2009’s South By Southwest, hitting it off so well that they dropped their joint The Drop I Hold EP as an iTunes exclusive later that year. The four-track release’s title song was a reworking of Black Lips’ 200 Million Thousand LP song, which already showcased indie’s burgeoning interest in hip-hop with its pseudo-rapped lead vocals. Having GZA drop in for a verse also foreshadowed the reverse appeal, as it arrived just a year before Kanye West put Bon Iver front and center on My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. You’d be hard pressed to find an official version of “The Drop I Hold” online, but you can check out the original (sans “The”) and get a feel for Black Lips’ hip-hop explorations. — J.K.
Fall Out Boy & Big Sean – “The Mighty Fall” (2013)
2013 was not a great era for rap-rock, and Fall Out Boy — though successful with their fifth album, Save Rock & Roll — was not saving rock and roll. This forgettable cut from the album continues with their car commercial rock sound, and then Big Sean pops in for a verse that reads more as lazy than compelling. “The Mighty Fall” arrived in an era where alternative rock was still relatively popular, but it was waning; hip-hop, on the other hand, was bubbling up for yet another volcanic explosion with the streaming era just beginning. Unfortunately, the resulting pairing here is both genres at their most unimaginative. — P.R.
Imagine Dragons & Kendrick Lamar – “Radioactive” (2014)
By 2014, the practice of throwing a rapper onto a pop song was well established, whether the verse was originally part of the track or, like in the case of “Radioactive,” it was tacked on after the fact. Still, the matchup of Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar is jarring, especially in hindsight. A universally beloved rapper who’s often brought up in “best of all time” conversations pairing up with the band that took Nickelback’s place for the music world’s punchline? The ill fit was on full display during a Saturday Night Live performance where K.Dot was surrounded by… an alt-rock drum circle and string section? But, hey, if there’s one through-line with rap-rock crossovers (and any popular music in general), it’s the invisible hand of the industry doing whatever it can to make a buck. — J.K.
Post Malone with Ozzy Osbourne & Travis Scott – “Take What You Want” (2019)
Even though he gained fame thanks to his auto-crooned rap tunes, Post Malone was always a vocal fan of rock music. So, once he was at the top of his powers, it’s no wonder he used his endless resources to get the Prince of Darkness on a track. Alongside emo-rap peaking with artists like Juice WRLD, Lil Peep, and XXXTentacion, the tune proved that injecting pop-forward hip-hop with rock’s darker subgenres was an increasingly winning formula. The formula would go on to be so fruitful, in fact, that some rappers would turn to fully embrace the sound of rock… as we’d all soon see. — J.K.
Machine Gun Kelly & Lil Wayne – “Drug Dealer” (2022)
First rapper, then a rapper who guested on pop-punk songs, then a pop-punk rapper, then a full-on pop-punk talisman, Machine Gun Kelly has always been tied to both worlds of rap and rock. Lil Wayne, on the other hand, notably dabbled in rap-rock with his 2010 album, Rebirth (an album that doesn’t hold up today, but maybe in 10 years it will). The two together sort of makes sense, and Lil Wayne sounds relatively comfortable above the crystalline guitars and Travis Barker drums. But “Drug Dealer” mainly serves as an example of our current era’s indifference to genre commitment, as well as a model of how both rap and rock today seem to require a slightly distanced, passive persona. — P.R.