It’s widely debated if – or at least to what degree – rap is rock ‘n’ roll. In New York City, where hip-hop originated, a few rock bands were among the first to recognize the significance of rap, as shown by the Tom Tom Club’s single “Wordy Rappinghood” and of course Blondie’s number one smash “Rapture.” There was already some overlap of rap and rock by the mid-’80s, with hip-hop act Run-DMC incorporating electric guitars into their sound, and then-new rocker the Red Hot Chili Peppers not being afraid to rap on their songs (as just two examples).
However, it took music mogul Rick Rubin – a major player in both rock and rap – to truly bring the worlds together, putting Run-DMC on the same record (and in the same video) as stalwart rockers Aerosmith in 1986. The success of “Walk This Way” opened floodgates to numerous collaborations between the two music genres. Here are ten of the best.
#10. Rihanna, Kanye West and Paul McCartney
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Even though the 2015 track “FourFiveSeconds” doesn’t actually include any rapping, the stripped-down, quiet, and heartfelt collaboration between singer Rihanna, hip-hop giant Kanye West and ex-Beatle Paul McCartney is a marvelous showcase for a wide diversity of talent spanning not just musical genres but generations as well (the song went Top 5 in at least twenty-five countries, including the US and UK).
#9. Coldplay and Jay-Z
Photo Credit: Kevin Mazur/WireImage
“Lost!” was a mid-tempo track that originally appeared on British rock band Coldplay’s 2008 studio album Viva La Vida!. Several variations of the song were released at around the same time, probably the most notable of which includes a powerful rap verse by the top-selling American hip-hop artist Jay-Z put out under the title “Lost+” (maybe that’s where all the streaming services got the idea for the “plus”).
#8. Post Malone and Ozzy Osbourne
Photo Credit: Emma McIntyre
In 2019 American rapper Post Malone wanted (and got) veteran heavy metal god Ozzy Osbourne to sing the chorus on his track “Take What You Want”, and while Malone does dominate the track, any Ozzy presence at all is bound to make a lasting impression (just ask a certain now-headless bat). The song went Top 10 in the US, the UK, and several other countries, and this unlikely rapper-rocker pairing would then collaborate on a second track, “It’s a Raid.”
#7. Artists United Against Apartheid
Photo Credit: Sun City
“We’re rockers and rappers united and strong” is the lyric that opens “Sun City” from the exceptionally diverse 1985 musical project known as Artists United Against Apartheid. Though rock and rap were still kind of sniffing each other out in the mid-’80s, they found a common cause in calling attention to South African apartheid on this powerful recording organized by rock musician Steven Van Zandt. The extensive collage of participants includes rappers Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow, and Run-DMC, along with Bruce Springsteen, Ringo Starr, and members of the Rolling Stones among the many others.
#6. Helmet and House of Pain
Photo Credit: Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic
By 1993 rock and rap team-ups had become so popular that the soundtrack for the movie Judgement Night was comprised entirely of such pairings, including Slayer with Ice-T, Biohazard, and Onyx as well as Cypress Hill appearing with both Pearl Jam and Sonic Youth (on separate tracks). Probably the most popular cut to come from the album was the title-says-it-all “Just Another Victim”, a collaboration between Boston rappers House of Pain and alternative metal band Helmet.
#5. Public Enemy and Anthrax
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“Bring the Noise” was a track by the influential East Coast rappers Public Enemy which originally appeared on the soundtrack to the 1987 movie Less Than Zero (and then their album It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back). In 1991 thrash metal band Anthrax did their own version of the song, which included samples from the original recording (a discernable reverse of hip-hop’s common sampling of rock records). Both groups appear in the video for the later version and even ended up performing it live side-by-side when the two toured together that same year.
#4. R.E.M. and KRS-One
This alphabet soup-sounding combination came about when influential alternative rockers R.E.M. – then at the height of their commercial success – recruited Boogie Down Productions member Lawrence Parker aka KRS-One for “Radio Song” from the band’s 1991 album Out of Time. KRS-One does a short spoken-word intro as well as singing backup through the song, but it’s his rap during the outro which unquestionably steals the show (KRS-One also appears alongside the band in the video).
#3. P. Diddy and Jimmy Page
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Sampling rock songs – whether it’s just a snippet or an entire chorus – has long been a staple of hip-hop, but in 1998 when rapper Sean Combs (i.e. P. Diddy) used Led Zeppelin’s 1975 classic “Kashmir” for his track “Come with Me”, he took it a step further by having Zep guitarist Jimmy Page actually play the original song’s monster riff on the new record (and “monster” is the appropriate analogy, since the track was recorded for the 1998 film version of Godzilla).
Photo Credit: courtesy of Gorillaz
When the Gorillaz rap “Finally, someone let me out of my cage,” on the classic “Clint Eastwood” from their 2001 debut album, they could have been talking about the full potential of merging rock with rap. Though primarily a vehicle for the accompanying visuals (anchored by four cartoon characters), the sound of this ongoing musical collective which features longtime Blur vocalist Damon Albarn and rappers De La Soul and Del the Funky Homosapien (among others) could not be more real musically.
#1. Run-D.M.C. and Aerosmith
Hollis, Queens rappers Run-DMC were hardly strangers to rock n’ roll before 1986, making liberal use of electric guitars on their records and even releasing an album and single called King of Rock. However, it was their cover (with original lyrics) of Aerosmith’s 1975 rock hit “Walk This Way” that not only sent the original artist (who appear on the record and in the video) towards their own phenomenal comeback but arguably helped hip-hop reach a wider audience more than any other record in history.