From the days when pioneering Bronx DJs like Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmixer DST scoured record stores across New York City in search of the perfect beat, hip-hop has been intrinsically linked to a wide range of genres. musical. While this is only a reflection of the musical genius when it comes to collage, it might still amaze the casual listener to think that the funk revolutions of James Brown, the German synth epics of Kraftwerk and the The Incredible Bongo Band’s cover of a 1960 Cliff Richard hit titled “Apache” could have anything in common with each other.
But it’s on[y where hip-hop’s extended musical family begins. Excavated from the rock side of the tracks, Billy Squier’s “Big Beat,” Thin Lizzy’s “Johnny The Fox,” The Monkees “Mary, Mary,” Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” and countless others also became essential hip-hop building blocks. 0nce rap officially hit the charts in 1979, rap-rock recordings seemed just a shout away.
“It all stemmed from us looking for hard beats to cut up in the hood,” explains Reverend Run (neé DJ Run) of rap’s original Kings of Rock, Run- D.M.C, whose “Rock Box” first formally fused the genres in 1984. “We didn’t really want the rock to come into the beat that much. But when it came time for us to make the record we just said, ‘You know what* Let’s go all the way.‘ So we let the rock come in.”
And, as Biz Markie once said, ’what comes around goes around’ After years of uneasy experimentafion, the hip hop/rock genre has all but conquered its former novelty status and resides within the pop pantheon as a daily operation. In 1999-going-on-2G, Rage Against The Machine, rock’s most vital and ferocious live motivators, will go on tour with hip-hop’s most respected music merchants, Gang Starr. The Beastie Boys have made more albums playing their own instruments than without. White soul brother Beck still regularly sculpts retro-flavored freak-ins from sample-dominated breakscapes. Ice Cube has toured with and collabo-ed with KoRn. Chart-toppers like Limp B!zkit and Sugar Ray employ permanent DJs within their otherwise traditional rock contexts. Even a boy band like L.F.O. can adopt some superficial aspect of hip-hop’s musical form and garner a hit.
So what, if anything, does all this cross-pollination mean? Well, who better to initiate discussion of the phenomenon than a treacherous trio of contemporary musical giants? In an unprecedented meeting of the minds, the Fader asked DJ Premier— producer extraordinaire and music director of the everlasting Gang Starr (get up on their greatest hits package, Full Clip)—Zack de la Rocha—esteemed frontman of rap/punk godheads, Rage Against The Machine (experience their latest release, The Battle of Los Angeles) — and the legendary Reverend Run—one third of hip hop’s greatest group of all-time, Run- D.M.C. (check out their newest joint, Brown Royal, when that drops in stores)—to get together and share some illuminating thoughts on the rock/rap craze. Here‘s how the brothers worked it out:
Run, you are obviously a pioneer In this marriage of rap and rock music. How do you feel about how these styles have evolved?
Run: I think it’s very diverse now. You got [MTVs] Total live requests play a video of Will Smith with a video of Rage Against The Machine. You have these 15 year old white girls watching Nas and then watching Limp Bizkit the same week. It’s like a big mash of everyone together. It’s getting better and better about how barriers are broken down. You can take a family values tour with Mobb Deep, Run-DMC, Limp Bizkit, rock and rap groups together. You have this record [“N 2 Gether Now”) with Method Man and Fred Durst [of Limp Bizkit], produced by Premier. It’s crazy.
Rock is definitely taking advantage of rap right now by incorporating some of its elements – rhymes, having a DJ in the band, etc. But is this relationship beneficial for hip-hop?
First: It was always a give and take situation. But we’re okay with these types of groups with what they’re putting together. And they’re okay with what we’re tabling, I guess it was bound to happen. But it’s really a resurgence – Run and they already
| rock and rap combined]. I am a big fan of Aerosmith. But in the same way that “Walk This Way” jump-started their careers; he ignited Run-DMC, in the same breath. So it’s a compromise.
Zack: I feel like rock music at this point doesn’t really do the hip-hop side of things a favor. It’s mostly hip-hop written from an instrumental metal point of view. It’s something that has been sorted and planned rather than being the product of intuition and spontaneity, which I think are the two cornerstones of great hip-hop records and great rock records.
If you listen to the early Wu-Tang records, it was just the rawest, truest form you’ve heard. And the same goes for Gang Starr. For [Rage], we take the approach of writing rock from a hip-hop perspective because that’s what we grew up listening to. I grew up in the so called “Golden Era” of hip hop. It was Eric B. & Rakim. It was De La. It was EPMD. And when I went to write music, for me it was using live instrumentation and a few punk elements, but writing from a hip-hop perspective. We felt we had to approach it that way so that it would keep its integrity. And the ability of Tom Morello (Rage guitarist) to play, whether it sounds like a transformation or a scratch, has always been fundamental. I think you see her sort of cultivated throughout our last three merging [punk and rap] tastefully.
Some people would agree that some of these rock bands don’t give enough for the styles they adopt. How cool to have Premier make a song for your album. But is what they do the rest of the time so different from the rock ‘n’ roll era where Pat Boone would sing a Fats Domino song and run away with most of the credits and money? ?
To run: In a way, it’s like that, man. I would like other groups to come to the fore. As if Kid Rock had looked outside. I’m not gonna lie because at the MTV Awards he basically starred the entire show and he turned around and made four records and three of them were Run-DMC songs! It was the best thing, man. When Kid Rock did this for me. people came up to me – I’m not going to name names – like, “Yo, why did you go out with Kid Rock?” I said, ‘Dude, if it’s up to you. I won’t even be on this forum tonight ”. He let us out on his show and basically paid tribute to us. And when I called Fred Durst in LA, he showed up and signed up on our record. So I can’t really fight any of them. I think with Run-DMC there is great respect. And most of the phone calls I made to [our new] album, I have answers from everyone.
A few people didn’t see my vision with it. We asked the Beastie Boys to do a record with us. I think they decided they didn’t want to do it. It hurt me a bit. I don’t want to go into this too deep, but I wish they’d come over and make a record with us. Then they went to the MTV Awards, Mike D said, “Run-DMC got us going. I’m like ‘Yo, what’s up? Are we going to collaborate or what? Adam Horowitz came and wanted to do a beat for us. But he didn’t train well enough to get us a record. I don’t mind having this printed. I have to keep it real.
Premler: There are some things that are meant to be recognized. Limp Bizkit put Run-DMC and Mobb Deep on tour. They put two different generations of hip-hop on the tour and they’re hot right now. They recognized that Run-DMC are icons. And then with a group like Mobb Deep, they recognize what is real instead of choosing artists who don’t blend in with that type of audience.
How about Gang Starr’s tour with Rage Against The Machine?
Zack: For us, it is really important that we take with us artists on the road who we believe have preserved the idea of music and medium. It’s about making sure that we help preserve that culture. Gang Starr embodies everything hip-hop is. That’s why we’ve always insisted on dating people like Wu-Tang and Gang Starr. It breaks that kind of musical segregation that exists in the country. You bring together people from various racial backgrounds and social classes. And when you break those boundaries, you have these revolutionary little moments that exist in shows with people who wouldn’t necessarily come exclusively to a Rage show or exclusively to a Gang Starr show. This is precisely what it is with music that is so revolutionary. It can transcend any border, any military checkpoint, any racial divide.
But people who have seen some of the shows Rage did at the opening of Wu-Tang know that rock audiences don’t always show the same kind of appreciation to the hip-hop group.
To run: This happened even on family values. Don’t get me wrong, as big as Run DMC is, we weren’t completely in love some nights. You have a few children who love you. But you are against something.
First: I like this challenge. And besides, we’re not new to this area, so they don’t scare me. It’s like I’m here to show how we get down. I know I put the mark on hip-hop to teach them what it is. So to make them appreciate and respect what we do, I’m up to the challenge.
When we went on the Smokin ‘Grooves Tour, we had to open early. I was like ‘Dude, we gotta get rid of the crowd.’ We really bathed them and at the end of the show they were like, ‘Yo, I’m going to go get your album tomorrow.’ You have to show the crowd that you are in control. Run and they did that. I watched a lot of shows from them. And he always does it like he’s just started. And that’s hip-hop.
To run: We know that if the band loves us and supports us with their fans, then the fans will find their way sooner or later. As fans are probably wondering why Fred Durst is doing this song with Meth, but they love Fred so much that they’re wearing the sneakers he’s wearing—
First: —And wear the same red hat—
To run: – and then they’ll buy Method Man! If he introduced Meth to them, they have to respect that, that’s what he likes and we have to like that too.
I remember reading back when The Clash was playing at Bond’s Casino in Times Square and they brought out Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to open the show and the crowd booed them from the stage. Then the Clash came out and did “Magnificent Seven”, which is basically a rap song, and the audience was on it.
To run: It happens.
Zack: It’s interesting. You think back to the story of The Clash and a lot of the things that got them to write music was [dub producers like] King Tubby or Scientist or Prince Jammy. And that’s really where a lot of resistance youth culture has emanated: the Caribbean. And the way the songs are structured, whether it’s rock songs or hip-hop songs, all come from those early dropouts from dub. There wasn’t a lot of interest from big business in this sound. And as a result, over the last 30 or 40 years, you’ve seen music become separated by radio formats, by music departments, and by the way record companies try to sell music and commodify culture.
It has a lot to do with how you see this very clear type of reaction Wu-Tang gets and the type of reaction Rage gets. It’s just the way this whole corporate structure has separated people as well as genders. But they all come from the same place. They are all cultures of resistance. For me, it’s really important to note this. It says a lot about how people relate to music.
And to each other.
Zack: And to each other.
Run and Preem: Do you have any ideas about corporate structures that try to change your creative visions?
To run: With Run-DMC we had young executives like Russell [Simmons] who let us do what we wanted to do. And Profile Records wasn’t really in the middle of how we wanted to dress and what we wanted to do. I recently read in Vibe how before us they were doing mellow beats with horns and live disco bands dressing in feathers and strings. And how we just got rough, straight to the street and put it on wax.
Not that all the other bands, Miss Mel and them, didn’t know how to do this. But they were controlled by what the record companies thought they had to do. And I was really getting the style of Cold Crush and Miss Mel and all the rest of them. When they had the chance to make a record, they didn’t do it like I heard them do at the Diplomat hotel. They couldn’t extinguish [Bob James’] “Take Me To The Mardi Gras” before I did, but Flash cut “Mard Gras” with Miss Mel rapping on it in ’78. I think this is the record they are going to release. They released something different. So I took it like, ‘Let’s do it like we’ve heard at Fantasia in Queens and other places.’ We didn’t go to a record company to let them tell us how to do it. We did what we loved.
First: This is exactly what I do with the beats to this day. I do it as I like to hear it. That is why when we speak on this form no one can ever tell us otherwise. When we are dealing with executives and all those people who control our money, our situations and our lives, we have to make sure that we stay in control of our music. This is something we know about. Everyone is good at something. Hip-hop has to be what I’m good at.