Up Jump the Boogie: A hard rock retrospective part 3

“rollin’ in my ‘4 with 16 switches
And got sounds for the bitches, clockin’ all the riches
Got the hollow points for the snitches
So would you just walk on by, ’cause I’m too hard to lift
and no this ain’t Aerosmith”

Who doesn’t remember that line from Dr. Dre’s gangsta rap classic The Chronic. The line, well the whole record really, took shots at the entire hip-hop scene up to that point. Between the split with N.W.A., beef with Eazy E and Ice Cube, to him launching his new record company, Death Row Records, Andre Young was on a warpath.

“The Day the W****z took over”

Dr. Dre was referencing a 1984 track where Run DMC recorded a new version of the hit Aerosmith song, Walk This Way. One year later the Beastie Boys burst onto the scene with their Hip-Hop masterpiece, Licensed to Ill. The thing with the Beastie Boys is, they started out as a punk rock band from Brooklyn. Before long they were trading in their instruments for turntables and microphones. The rap group gained significant airplay with their rap hits like Hold it Now, Hit It, Slow and Low, Brass Monkey, and Girls. However, the record had a noticeably heavy metal sound underneath the raging frat boy exterior. Their biggest hit from the record, and one of their most famous songs from the period was not a rap song entirely, it was the metal anthem “Fight for your Right to Party.” Between this and the clear mix of genres Run DMC did previously it was clear that hard rock and hip-hop could blend together in a world that would take both to new heights in the 1990s.

The Beasties would strike back in the early 90’s with another rock/rap anthem, this time it was able to not only get significantly more radio play, it was featured on late night talk shows. Sabotage quickly propelled the Boys back into the spotlight, proving they were not a one-trick pony. The band was able to effortlessly navigate both worlds of punk rock and hip-hop while gaining more than enough respect in each community to legitimize their unique sound.

To the Extreme

At a time when the Beastie Boys and Run DMC were helping blend hard rock and heavy metal together Vanilla Ice was emerging out of the shadows to bring black urban hip-hop music to the white suburban masses. Hits like Play That Funky Music, Ice Ice Baby and Ninja Rap all helped spring the wannabe rapper to the forefront of the middle America radio waves. It didn’t take long before rap music was quickly accepted by those masses and with that came the push to separate the colors, a watered down flavor of hip-hop that was palatable for the white middle class, but with enough heavy metal edge to keep the industrial working class interested.

Vanilla Ice was a flash in the pan, but he deserves credit for his contribution bringing rap music to the parts of the country that weren’t entirely welcoming up to this point.

Rage Against the Machine

They weren’t really the first, true, rap/metal band, but they were by far the most popular. What made them unique is unlike Beastie Boys who could slip in and out between their rock and rap personas seamlessly, Rage was 100 percent punk rock/heavy metal, while remaining 100 percent hip-hop/funk at the same time.

My first entry into the rap/metal genre was the Godzilla soundtrack. Between No Shelter from Rage to Puff Daddy’s rock remix of It’s all About the Benjamin’s, I became curious of a growing sub-genre of both scenes.

With record after record, the one band that could truly be classified as rap/metal and not be ashamed of it was Rage. They even managed to lift from hip-hops cousin, reggae. Fortunately that never became too mainstream…

N together now

While Beastie Boys and Rage Against the Machine were both finding ways to blend rap and rock in ways that made creative, and artistic sense, a new band emerged that threw all of that out the window.

With their break out hit Faith, a cover of a George Micheal song, Limp Bizkit didn’t exactly instill much confidence in the music world. They picked off the DJ from the hip-hop duo former known as House of Pain, blended their record scratches and fast rock lyrics to freestyle sounding raps over the top of heavy metal guitars and hard rock drums, the sound was a mess from start to finish. Somehow they managed to get big with Break Stuff, Nookie, and their crossover hit with Method Man, yet for all the diplomacy they might have been seen partaking in, what they really did for the music industry is perpetuate stereotypes on both sides with wannabe gangsters pushing the envelop to increase their street cred while musically cluttering the airwaves with a sound that didn’t really appeal to fans of either genre. By the time they released Chocolate Starfish and the Hotdog Flavored Water, people had grown tired of their antics, and lack of musical talent. Even Vanilla Ice was able to mount a mini comeback thanks to them, albeit as a cheap knock off.

Bawitdaba

By the time Kid Rock hits the rap/metal scene it’s clear the genre is not uniting anyone. Up till now you had some southern California NuMetal rockers with Fred Durst and his Klan of misfits, you had the post-metal Rage Against the Machine and an almost industrial sound, and you had the Beastie Boys firmly planted in the roots f hip-hop sheding any remnants of their former rocker pasts. Kid Rock decided to throw one more sub-genre into the emerging kitchen sink of a mess that was becoming the rap/metal “genre.” He added country music to the mix. And he wasn’t alone, he unleashed the insufferable Uncle Cracker on the world, paving the way for Bubba Sparxxx before eventually turning into a full blown country rocker turned political activist. His “rap” songs were offensive to fans of the genre, his rock songs were hardly anything to get excited about, and his country songs are, well country.

By the end of the 90’s the rap/metal scene was far from united. Unlike the decade before where experimenting with sounds was still acceptable, the 90’s hip-hop scene was firmly established with solid funk riffs, smooth jazzy tones, and hard core gangsta stories woven into¬† a tapestry that celebrated urban youth culture, the white rockers who attempted to cop-opt the sound in the 90’s did it out of some form of protest, although most of them didn’t know what they were supposed to be protesting, and left the world scarred with the aftermath of turning lose Slim Shady to rectify the mistake.

Megalomania, Pyrotechnics and Freedom of Speech: A hard rock retrospective part 2

When I was in the 7th grade I entered the world of band for the first time. My band instructor was a little pushy, his name was Mr. Hall, for some reason or another he really tried to get me to play the saxophone. I tried it out for the back to school parade and I hated it, I couldn’t get any sounds to come out of that thing that any reasonable human would consider pleasant. So I switched to percussion. He was against this because, in his views, percussion was easy and only lazy kids wanted to play drums. It was true the majority of the drum line in our school were lazy, pot-smoking good for nothings, myself and one friend being the exceptions. Still I quickly fell in love with banging the trap set and begged him to put me on the pep squad so I could play fight songs at the sporting events. We started out with a classic easy rock n roll tune called Rock N Roll Part 2, aka “the Hey song!”

Over the years I fell away from drumming despite my very strong desire to keep going. I would bang my drumsticks on anything I could, cardboard boxes, pots and pans, trash cans, whatever it took. I was able to cobble together a make shift drum set when I was 14 using money I earned throwing newspapers at people’s houses. Once I firmly got into my teen years I was clamoring to form my own heavy metal hair band with my friends.

Glam Metal, Hair Metal, pop metal, call it what you want, the 80’s took the fully established hard rock genre and took it mainstream. What memories I do have of the 80’s largely consist of hair bands rocking out to their various anthems.

Def Leppard- Pyromania

As a drummer, it would be my duty to pay homage to the band world-famous for having the “one armed” drummer. Okay so they have some good music too, especially Foolin, by far my favorite heavy metal ballad, if you can call it that, and Rock of Ages, among many other rock hard tunes. It might be their best work, it might not, but by the time Pyromania lights the metal world on fire, the hair bands have firmly become the norm.

Ratt

As someone whose initials spelled RAT, and whose nickname was “THE RAT” all through school, this was a band I had to check out. I instantly fell in love with Lay it Down and Round & Round, their two biggest hits to the best of my knowledge. I was able to get one of their greatest hits CD’s and discovered the draw of power rock. They might be tame by some standards but their music was just hard enough to keep throw coals on the hair metal fire throughout the 80’s. Too bad it all died suddenly when Nirvana crawled out of bed and said with a shrug, eh, entertain us.

MTV

Nothing was more instrumental in bringing heavy metal to the forefront of American pop culture than the budding MTV and it’s constant rock videos bombarding the youth with images of hot babes, fast cars, and loud guitars. This was the era where Freddy Krueger and Jason Vorhees were gutting teenagers with hair metal blasting in the background to set the mood.

If you really want to trace the rise of metal music, look no further than the introduction of the rock music video and the video stars that would soon follow. By the end of the decade every metal video was just trying to be more outrageous than the last, eventually leading us into the 90’s where music videos took on a more artistic approach with the rise of shock rockers Marilyn Manson and Nine Inch Nails.

I have written extensive articles both here and in college on the importance MTV had on American youth culture so I will just say dust off the VCR and pop in the VHS copy of Hot for Teacher if you want a reminder of what the decade was all about.

Van Halen vs. Bon Jovi

Musically the two aren’t that similar. But if you were alive in the 80’s you know the impact they had on your sisters sexuality. These two bands were the symbol of heavy metal rock stars as sex symbols, pushing the mantra of sex, drugs, and rock n roll deep into the minds of American teenagers. Van Halen was edgier with their music, while Jovi was more of a showman in their concerts. Both bands came out of the other end of the 80’s relegated to relic status, while Jovi made an attempt to make a come back in the 90’s alternative infested airwaves, Van Halen were all but forgotten by the mainstream.

One thing the two bands did was really help push the divide between the hard rockers and the glam rockers. Bon Jovi appealed more to the masses while Van Halen stood as a symbol for the troops to rally behind. The core metal audience was splintering into sub-factions by this time and these two bands were among the dividing forces.

Megadeth vs. Metallica

Here comes another fork in the road. The rise of “thrasher” metal is largely credited to the formation of these two bands, whose DNA is very inbred in some respects. The bands both kept taking metal music to even darker places with Metallica being able to cross over into mainstream success while Megadeth remained a reminder of the hardest rockers of just how heavy, heavy metal could get. There were other dark bands of the time, Dio, White Zombie, a few others, but these two stood up and carved out their own little corner of the market, then started a metal war whose repercussions were felt throughout the entire rock industry.

Joan Jett and the Blackhearts

Hard Rock gets a vagina. Okay that might be a little crass, but hell metal music is all about tits and ass so suck it up, whiners. Joan Jett was one of the early punk rockers with her band the Runaways, and she emerged among a world of male metal bands to be the lone wolf woman warrior for the female power rock of the decade. Sure you had rock n roll bands comprised of woman leads before, and after, namely the Go-Go’s, Heart, Hole (yeah an all female band named themselves hole and I get flack for making a vagina joke) and Garbage. The list goes on. Still, Joan Jett was able to prove women could be hard rockers too.

Everyone remembers her anthem “I Love Rock N Roll” it’s a rock classic. I enjoyed her music with the Runaways more, which yes I discovered thanks to a certain movie. Still, she had the balls to stand up to the men who dominated metal music and I gotta respect her for that, to some degree. Not to mention her music wasn’t half bad.

Live shows and stadium rock

In the early days of hard rock, metal was a fringe movement. It was born out of the punk rock scene where the bands were making a statement. That statement was make noise and have as much fun as you can while disrupting the establishment every chance you could. By the 80’s metal bands had risen to become the dominant rockers selling out arenas all across the globe. Sure new wave bands like Devo, Duran Duran, and the like, would emerge in the 80’s to slow some of that fire trying to keep rock music in the center of the pop world, but it was still the decade where arena rock finally became a real thing. There were bands selling out arenas in the 70’s, sure, but they weren’t the bands playing this new, harder sound, not as as much anyways.

Once the live shows became a mainstay bands had to resort to theatrics to keep concert goers happy. This was the period where pyrotechnics were quickly becoming staples of the rock concert. Costumed bands like KISS lead the way, groups like Twisted Sister, Black Sabbath, Motley Crue and Guns N Roses would take on the mantle before passing the torch to Manson and his spooky kids in the 90’s.

By the time you get to the end of the 80’s heavy metal is starting to wane. Mainstream America has started to discover a new, edgy sound in the form of gangsta rap, which would soon supplant heavy metal as the go-to sound for the counter culture of the teenagers looking to piss off their adult role models. Sure heavy metal was loud, it was flamboyant, and it glamorized a darker lifestyle, but hip-hip had guns, pimps, and thugs rapping about killing cops, raping hoes, and cooking crack. Times were changing, and the two were bound to merge sooner or later. Enter Rage Against the Machine and the rise of Rap Metal…