As much as some intentional hybrids of rap and rock suck, guitar-toting rockers with long hair and spandex have unwittingly been an important part of hip-hop’s fabric since pretty much the beginning.
The connection between rap and rock goes all the way back to the Bronx park jams of the 1970s, when DJs like Kool Herc, Afrika Bambaataa, and Grandmaster Flash found that records by bands like Thin Lizzy and the Rolling Stones had breakbeats just as funky as those by more likely suspects from the world of R&B.
The marriage between rock and hip-hop took on added dimensions in 1986, when metal-loving rap producer and Def Jam Records co-founder Rick Rubin sampled from Aerosmith and Led Zeppelin on the breakout records which propelled Run-DMC and the Beastie Boys—and, by extension, hip-hop as a whole—into pop music’s mainstream.
While those jacks were obvious to anyone who’d ever tuned to classic rock radio, as sampling methods have become more advanced, the source material used in rap songs can be a lot less apparent these days.
Everyone old enough to know the words to Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” knows its signature “Dun dun dun dada dun dun” melody comes from Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure,” but how many Fabolous and Gucci Mane fans can name the rock bands sampled on “Breathe” and “Lemonade”?
For the latest example of a rap hit indebted to a rock staple, see Meek Mill’s summer smash “Amen,” and the piano scales it borrows from the Doobie Brothers’ “Minute by Minute.” We’re willing to bet more than a few of your favorite rap records have a little rock 'n' roll in ‘em, whether you realize it or not. Read on for breakdowns of the rap songs which have made the best use of rock samples, both classic and obscure.
[Ed. Note—Only songs that rock in the traditional sense—sorry indie electronic jams and rockers gone disco—were considered for this list.]
Written by Jesse Serwer (@JesseSerwer)