Rap-rock remains the coolest idea ever. You've just been scared off of it by the mountain of terrible rap-rock in existence. Here are ten songs that prove the Woodstock '99-tainted genre could have a hell of a future if the right people resurrected it.
The lovable Cypress Hill always had a lot more in common with alt- and punk-rockers than their fellow rappers; with their squeal-y guitar samples they proved a perfect foil for Sonic Youth when they were paired on the Judgment Night soundtrack. On the nu-metal cash-in “(Rock) Superstar,” they build tension a lot better than most of the genuine article, with eerie glockenspiels and violins setting the stage before the riffs take over. They rap better than real bands too.
Part of the reason Linkin Park outsold and outlasted most of their peers is because their taste was a cut above, aping Nine Inch Nails and Aphex Twin for their glitchy studio tricks and scoring the likes of Black Thought and Pharoahe Monch for remixes. So it was inevitable they'd pop out an actual irresistible song eventually, and that was “Faint,” with its fantastic, cut-up sample of string exotica and unusually tense double-time rapping from the not-awful Mike Shinoda.
“Best Rapper Alive”
Weezy's much-hated rock experiment Rebirth wasn't a total waste; the Eminem collab “Drop the World” and springy, No Doubt-like Nicki Minaj duet “Knockout” were certainly a lot better than the awful single “Prom Queen.” But he never utilized a rock track better than this over-the-top Carter II symphonic-metal epic where he crowned himself.
These dweebs were impossibly fun for all of 3:21 on this insane Beasties-Blink hybrid (and don't forget the sensitive bridge!), amplified by one of the most visionary party vids of all time: robots skateboarding, freestyling in 7-11 and head-shaving. It also helped that the singer's a dead ringer for Calvin of Calvin & Hobbes.
Mos Def gets too-little respect for his ventures outside rapping, but ever since his solo debut he's posited himself a rock historian, of black musicians in particular. So on the underrated New Danger album's best song, Bad Brains guitarist Dr. Know, P-Funk keyboard god Bernie Worrell and Living Colour's rhythm section Doug Wimbish and Will Calhoun backed him with this smoking barbecue pit of a riff.
This Lollalapalooza-slaughtering Beasties classic is all attitude. The fuzz bass, the dramatic stops, the fake cop-show video, various scratching and guitar dissonances…it's all so brilliant they didn't even need to write much of a rap or a chorus.
Like Linkin Park, something had to justify all those zillions of records sold, and that something was “Nookie,” a piece of schoolyard foulmothery so brilliant that even Fred Durst sounded likable on it. The strangely bwoomp-y verses, Wes Borland's oddball riffing and the timeless “stick it up yo yeah” chant were once-in-a-lifetime genius. Its existence is almost enough to justify Durst's ego. Almost.
Rage Against the Machine
“Know Your Enemy”
Rage Against the Machine produced a lot of serious steamrollers and did more than anyone else on this list to make rap-rock seem like a respectable (and forward-looking) career option. But they never produced a single track greater than “Know Your Enemy,” a serious candidate for the coolest guitar riff of all time, as well as the most head-scratchingly impossible guitar solo, which is to say nothing of its hypnotic toggle-switch intro, fuzz-bass-and-sirens break and pre-famous Maynard James Keenan cameo. Sui generis.
Say it: MY NAME IS KIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID…No one fucking leaped to just be everything rock and rap at once the way Kid Rock did, shouting out his heroes at all times (“I like Johnny Cash and Grandmaster Flash!”) and dripping with a sleazy panache that could've only come from the 8 Mile-capital of the universe that spawned both Eminem and Iggy Pop. How fitting that his biggest, most enduring hit then is also the heaviest song he ever made.
Even when allowances are made, most great rap-rock is riff- or attitude-driven. But the fact is, rap is so much better when it's being done by a great rapper. Jigga's a living legend — to hear his greatest verses over Rick Rubin's patented steel-slamming beat, the same hallmarks that made both Slayer and LL Cool J stars, is a marvel of generation's arts, the peak of two genres at once in the 2000s. “99 Problems” makes the most hated and dated musical combination look like a piece of cake.