Ever since the days when pioneering Bronx DJs like Afrika Bambaataa, Grand Wizard Theodore and Grandmixer DST would scour record bins across New York City in diligent search for the perfect beat, hip-hop has been inherently tied to a wide array of musical genres. While simply a reflection of the music’s collage-minded genius, it might still marvel the casual listener to think that James Brown’s funk revolutions, Kraftwerk’s German synth epics and the Incredible Bongo Band’s cover of a 1960 Cliff Richard hit called “Apache" could have anything in common with each other.
But that’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 Request Live playing a Will Smith video along with a Rage Against The Machine video. You got these young 15-year-old white girls lookin’ at Nas and then lookin’ at Limp Bizkit all in the same week. Its like a big mash of everyone together. Its getting better and better the way the barriers are being broken down. You can have a Family Values Tour with Mobb Deep, Run-D.M.C., Limp Bizkit— the rock groups and rap groups together. You got this record [“N 2 Gether Now”) with Method Man and Fred Durst [of Limp Bizkit], produced by Premier. It’s crazy.
Rock is definitely benefitting from rap right now in incorporating some of the element of it—rhyming, having a DJ in the group, etc. But is that relationship beneficial to hip-hop?
Premier: It was always a give and take situation. But we see eye to eye with those types of bands with what they’re putting down. And they see eye to eye with what we‘re putting down, I guess it was bound to happen. But it’s really a resurgence—Run and them already
|combined rock and rap]. I’m a big Aerosmith fan. But the same way “Walk This Way" re-ignited their career; it ignited Run-D.M.C, in the same breath. So It's a trade off.
Zack: I feel like rock music at this point isn’t really doing a service to the hip-hop side of things. It’s mostly hip-hop written from a metal instrumental perspective. It’s something that’s been sorted out and planned as opposed to being a product of intuition and spontaneity, which I think are the two cornerstones of great hip-hop records and great rock records.
If you’re listening to the early Wu-Tang records, it was just the rawest, truest form that you 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 some elements of punk, but writing from a hip-hop perspective. We felt we needed to approach it that way in order for It to keep its integrity. And (Rage guitarist] Tom Morello's ability to play—whether it sounded like transforming or scratching— has always been a fundamental element to it. I think you see it kind of cultivated throughout the course of our last three records in the sense of we try to fuse [punk and rap] tastefully.
Some people would agree with the notlon that some of these rock groups aren‘t giving back enough for the styles they’re adopting. Like it’s cool to have Premier do one song for your album. But is what they‘re doing the rest of the time so different from the early rock ’n’ roll era whan Pat Boone would sing a Fats Domino song and waIk away with most of the credit and the money?
Run: In a way it's like that, man. I’d like some more of the groups to come to the forefront. Like Kid Rock looked out. I’m not gonna lie ’cause on the MTV Awards he basically headlined the whole show and he turned around and did four records and three of them was Run-D.M.C. songs! That was the best thing, man. When Kid Rock did that for me. people came up to me—I ain't gonna mention no names—like, ‘Yo, why’d you go out with Kid Rock?’ I said, ‘Man, if it was up to you. I wouldn’t even be in this forum tonight’. He let us come out on his show and basically gave us a tribute. And when I called up Fred Durst in LA, he showed up and got on our record. So I can’t really beef with none of them. I think with Run-D.M.C. there’s a big respect there. And most phone calls I’ve made for [our new] album, I’ve got responses from everybody.
A couple of people didn’t see my vision with it. We asked the Beastie Boys to do a record with us. I think they decided that they didn‘t want to do it. That hurt me a littte bit. I don’t wanna get into that too deep, but I wish they woulda came through and did a record with us. Then they got on the MTV Awards, Mike D said, ’Run-D.M.C. put us on.’ I'm like, ‘Yo, what’s up? We gonna collaborate or what? Adam Horowitz came through and wanted to do a beat for us. But it didn*t form up good enough to get us a record. I don’t mind that being printed. I gotta keep it real.
Premler: There’s certain things that’s supposed to be recognized. Limp Bizkit put Run-D.M.C. 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-D.M.C. are icons. And then with a group like Mobb Deep, they’re recognizing what’s real out there instead of picking artists that don't blend in with that type of crowd.
How about Gang Starr tourlng with Rage Against The Machine?
Zack: To us, it’s really important that we take artists out on the road with us that we feel have preserved the idea of the music and the medium. It’s a matter of ensuring that we help preserve that culture. Gang Starr exemplifies everything that hip-hop is. That’s why we've always Insisted that we take people like Wu-Tang and Gang Starr out. It breaks that kind of musical segregation that exists within the country. You bring in people together from various racial backgrounds and class backgrounds. And when you shatter those boundaries you have these little revolutionary moments that exist within the shows with people that wouldn‘t necessarily come exclusively to a Rage show or exclusively to a Gang Starr show. That's precisely what it is about music that is so revolutionary. It can transcend any border, any military checkpoint, any racial divide.
But people who saw some of the shows that Rage did where Wu-Tang opened know that the rock audience doesn’t always show the hip-hop group the same klnd of appreciatlon.
Run: That happened even on Family Values. Don‘t get me wrong, as big as Run D.M.C. is, we were not completely getting love some nights. You get a couple of the kids lovin’ you. But you‘re up against something.
Premier: I like that challenge. And plus we ain’t new to this, so they don"t scare me. It’s like I'm here to show how we get down. I know I put in the mark on hip-hop to where I can teach them what it's all about. So to get them to appreciate and respect what we do—I'm up for the challenge.
When we went on the Smokin‘ Grooves Tour, we had to open up early. I was like ’Man, we gotta get tht crowd off of their feet.’ We was really bashin‘ ‘em where by the end of the show they were tike, 'Yo, I’m gonna go get your album tomorrow.’ You gotta show the crowd that you've got control. Run and them been doin' that. I’ve watched numerous shows by them. And he still does it like he just started out. And that's what hip-hop’s all about.
Run: We know that if the band loves us and they endorse us to their fans, then the fans catch on sooner or later. Like the fans are probably buggin’ about why Fred Durst is doing this song with Meth, but they love Fred so much that they wear the sneakers he wear—
Premier: —and wear the same red hat—
Run: —and then they’ll buy Method Man! If he introduced Meth to them, they gotta respect that like, this is what he loves and we gotta love this too.’
I remember reading about back in the day when The Clash played Bond’s Casino In Times Square and they brought out Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five to open the show and the crowd booed them off the stage. Then the Clash came out and did "Magnificent Seven," which Is basically a rap song, and the audience was with it.
Run: That happens.
Zack: It’s interesting. You think back about The Clash’s history and a lot of the stuff that was moving them to write music was [dub producers like] King Tubby or Scientist or Prince Jammy. And that’s really where a lot of resistant youth culture has emanated from—the Caribbean. And the way in which songs are structured, be it rock or hip-hop songs, all come from those early dub drop outs. There wasn’t a lot of major corporate interest in that sound. And as a result, over the course of the last 30 or 40 years you’ve seen music become segregated by radio formats, by music departments, and by the way in which record companies try to sell music and commodify the culture.
That has a lot to do with the way you see this very disinct kind of reaction that Wu-Tang gets and the kind of reaction that Rage gets. It’s just the way in which that whole corporate structure has separated people as well as separated the genres. But they all emanate from the same place. They're all cultures of resistance. To me, that's really important to note. That says a lot about the way people relate to music.
And to each other.
Zack: And to each other.
Run and Preem—any thoughts on the corporate structures trying to alter your creative visions?
Run: With Run-D.M.C., we had young executives like Russell [Simmons] who let us do what we wanted to do. And Profile Records didn’t really get in the middle of how we wanted to dress and what we wanted to do. I was reading in Vibe recently about how before us they were making soft beats with horns and live disco bands that would dress with the feathers and the chains. And how we just came in raw, straight off the street and put it on wax.
Not that all them other groups, Melle Mel and them, didn’t know how to do that. But they was gettin’ controlled by what the record labels thought they should be doin'. And I was really gettin’ the style from Cold Crush, from Melle Mel, and all them. By the time they got their chance to do a record they didn’t do it like I heard them do it at the Hotel Diplomat. They didn’t get to put out [Bob James’] "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" before me yet Flash was cuttin‘ "Mard Gras" with Melle Mel rappin' on it in ’78. I’m thinking that that’s the record they’re gonna put out. They put out something different. So then I took it like, ’Let’s just do it like we heard it at the Fantasia in Queens and other spots.’ We didn’t go to a record company and let them tell us how to do it. We did what we loved.
Premier: That’s exactly what I do with beats to this day. I make it the way I like to hear it. That's why when we speak on this form nobody can ever tell us different. When we deal with executives and all these people that control our money and situations and lives, we gotta make sure we keep control of our music. This is something that we know about. Everybody’s good at something. Hip-hop must be what I’m good at.