Rap Metal: A Reconsideration

A hastily convened supergroup who combine the power and fury of Rage Against the Machine, Public Enemy, and Cypress Hill, Prophets of Rage failed, sadly, in their pre-election mission to prevent the end of America as we know it. Still, Chuck D and Tom Morello’s intrepid crew—who continue to pulverize audiences in Europe this summer before hitting Riot Fest in Chicago—have done something that many people may have thought impossible. They’ve made a very convincing argument in favor of the most vilified musical genre of the last 25 years: rap metal.

Of course, the two preeminent styles favored by this nation’s youthful miscreants have had a complicated relationship ever since their earliest flirtations, like when Rick Rubin and The Bomb Squad deployed slashing guitar riffs and big John Bonham beats in an array of seminal hip-hop tracks. With the success of Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” in 1986, the door was kicked wide open, though it really was Anthrax and Public Enemy’s matchup on “Bring Tha Noize” that formed the blueprint five years later. Then Ice-T went to war with Warner over Body Count and things couldn’t get any more aggro if you tried.

And try they did, on projects like the high-concept/higher-testosterone soundtrack for 1993’s Judgment Night, in which MCs faced off against a gallery of grunge and thrash acts like Slayer and Biohazard. The results inevitably were hit-and-miss, but Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Linkin Park absorbed the lessons well. By the end of the decade, the cumulative effect on the new—or nu—rap metal hordes was akin to a back-alley bludgeoning.

Inevitably, the formula got stale and the parties retreated to their respective corners in the wake of rap metal’s commercial zenith in 2004, JAY Z and Linkin Park’s fittingly titled Collision Course. Yet many of the style’s foremost progenitors remain in good health today. True, many have shifted tactics—you’ll hear more EDM in Linkin Park’s new album, One More Light—but the California chart-toppers were still asking Rakim to drop by the studio as recently as three years ago. In another sign of rap metal’s refusal to lay down and die, Cash Money Records signed Limp Bizkit, but alas, the band’s would-be comeback album is still in limbo four years after the release of “Ready To Go,” a shockingly OK team-up with Lil Wayne, a man who may be more metal than 18 Cannibal Corpses put together. Prophets of Rage are planning to release an album of new material in September.

For some listeners, the music will remain dude-bro bombast at its most egregious. But at its best, there’s always been something compelling—even noble, in a quiet-emotional-moment-in-a-Michael-Bay-movie kind of way—about the alchemy that’s created when musicians from different paths join together in the common pursuit of getting as loud, hard, and gnarly as possible. Let the bludgeoning begin again.

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