Though some of you may think punk rock is only for pasty little white boys with Mohawks and bad tattoos, you'd be surprised by just how similar it is to rap once you do a little digging. For starters, they both found their footing in 1970s New York City, one uptown in a Bronx recreation center, and the other downtown on the streets of the East Village. Secondly, they were both originally centered on a DIY work ethic that became the source of a tremendous amount of creativity and inspiration.
In the early days, punk rock and rap went hand in hand. This is why the Beastie Boys were able to make a smooth transition from hardcore punk outfit to hip-hop trio, why rappers like Fab Five Freddy got name checked on Blondie songs, and why Chuck D collaborated with Sonic Youth. Even though the two scenes emerged separately in New York City, they had a mutual respect for one another, one that doesn't really exist today, and it totally should.
There are signs that rap music is on its way towards embracing its original kinship with punk rock. Whether it's Tyler, The Creator calling OFWGKTA a punk band, Kanye West becoming a self-professed "new wave" artist, or Lil Wayne infusing his tracks with subtle punk influences, rap culture is experiencing a renewed interest in punk, and therefore it's time for all of you rap geniuses to get learnt.
What follows is a primer for any rap fan interested in learning a thing or two about the genre's old-school NYC counterpart. Rap and punk may seem to inhabit opposite sides of the musical spectrum, but hopefully this piece will convince a few skeptics that you can, and should, in fact love both. At the very least, it's a history lesson worth taking. Here is A Rap Fan's Guide to Punk Rock.
Essential Album #1: Bad Brains, "Bad Brains"
Listening to the self-titled debut album from this four-piece band is a rite of passage for any punk fan. Bad Brains was founded in 1978 by four black dudes in D.C. and are now are considered the godfathers of hardcore, the type of punk rock characterized by aggressive percussion, screaming vocals, and a total need for speed. Just how fast? This record has 15 songs and is just 36 minutes long. Its blistering guitar solos, unforgettable riffs, and unapologetic lyrics are a perfect distillation of punk rock's anti-establishment ethos. What's more, Bad Brains peppered the record with hints of reggae and dub, two influences shared by many other punk bands and mastered by ska bands such as Operation Ivy. The stand out tracks on this Bad Brains record are "Banned in D.C.," "I," "Pay To Cum," and "Jah Calling." Other notable hardcore bands include Minor Threat, Black Flag, Gorilla Biscuits, Suicidal Tendencies and the Dead Kennedys.
Essential Album #2: The Stooges, "S/T"
Technically, The Stooges are a protopunk band, but you wouldn't have punk rock without them so they absolutely deserve to be on this list. In the late 1960s, Michigan bands like The Stooges, the MC5, and Death were channeling their anti-establishment attitudes and turning it into high-energy, angsty music long before misunderstood suburban kids started to spike their hair and wear weird clothing in the name of punk rock. The Stooges' debut album is oozing with disillusionment and a burning desire to reject political and social norms. Lead singer Iggy Pop screams into the microphone "come on" and you can't help but follow. It turns out, he's leading you to the other punk bands that would later be defined by the same youthful defiance and anger.
Idol: Lou Reed
Essential Artist #1: The Clash
There are many differences between the way punk developed in the UK and the way it developed in America. For one thing, many punk fans in England were associated with right-wing nationalists and Neo-Nazi groups that promoted racism. Those punk bands are horrible. Luckily, though, all English punk bands are not horrible. Wire, The Buzzcocks, Crass, and the Sex Pistols are just a few of the greats. The greatest UK punk band, however, is The Clash. They were prolific, deeply invested in the political and social tenets that defined most punk rock scenes around the world, and they really helped the genre garner global attention. Like Bad Brains, The Clash wasn't afraid to experiment with different genres including dub, reggae, funk, and pop. Some of the must-hear songs from The Clash include their stellar cover of Junior Murvin's "Police and Thieves," "I'm So Bored with the U.S.A." and "White Riot."
Essential Artist #2: The Ramones
The Hangout: CBGB
Essential Clothing Item: Buttons
Festival: All Tomorrow's Parties
Essential Underrated Artist: Minutemen
The Minutemen are the punk's band punk band. This criminally underrated trio from San Pedro, California featured a jolly, heavyset D. Boon on guitar and vocals, Mike Watt on bass, and George Hurley on drums. Their seminal record Double Nickels on the Dime isn't your typical punk record, and that's what makes it so amazing. It has crazy time signatures, gorgeous acoustic instrumentals, and spoken word. It challenged what was already thought to be a radical movement in music to be even more forward thinking. Sadly, D. Boon died way too young at the age of 27 and, as a result, the band's career was very short-lived. If you're curious, We Jam Econo, a documentary about the Minutemen and how they helped changed the face of punk rock as we know it, is definitely worth watching.