By: Justin Cook
I think it’s safe to say that a lot of emcees take inspiration from Rock ‘n’ Roll. Sprouting from Delta Blues, pioneered by artists such as Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf, Rock ‘n’ Roll revolutionized American music throughout the 50’s and 60’s. Much like hip-hop, Rock music began primarily in Black communities until appropriated by White artists, the most famous being Elvis Presley, which allowed it to spread around the globe. But the parallels do not stop there: bravado, rebellion, and the struggle, find themselves at the core of these two genres. In this installment of “Experiments in Hip-Hop”, I will highlight some artists that are blurring the boundaries between hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll to create a new, and dare I say revolutionary, sound.
1.) Death Grips
Death Grips is fucking insane, absolutely wild. They truly channel the Spirit of Not-Giving-a-Single-Fuck. Led by MC Ride, and backed by the legendary Zach Hill on drums, Death Grips sound like nothing you’ve ever heard before; they are hip-hop meets noise-rock meets industrial meets drone meets a static apocalypse. This is a combination of genres I never thought could come together. But somehow, Death Grips manages to pull it off—or at least, they manage to most of the time. You definitely have to be in the right mood to bump, or more appropriately, to blast their albums. This is not your everyday, sit and listen hip-hop; this is stretching the sonic boundaries of a genre that is, for the most part, musically accessible. Add this with their general “Fuck You” attitude toward the record industry (I’m thinking No Love Deep Web), and you begin to understand the chaos, and beauty, that is Death Grips.
2.) Rage Against the Machine
There’s no way I can talk about Rock inspired hip-hop without giving praise to Rage Against the Machine. They are one of the first, and arguably one of the best, bands to ever blend these two genres. They are angry. Political. Radical. And their music has so much force, so much power, you can almost feel the Institution slowly crumbling to dust; it shakes the very foundation of American society. Lead by Chicano front man Zach de la Rocha, who is connected with several left-wing movements, such as the Zapatistas in Mexico, Rage Against the Machine aligns themselves with the likes of other political hip-hop groups such as Public Enemy, Dead Prez, and Immortal Technique. But, unlike these more traditional artists, Rage makes use of live instrumentation to create what some call “metal rap” or “heavy funk.” With the combination of their politically charged lyrics, their monstrous riffs, and their absolutely raw sound, Rage Against the Machine, and their message, will echo throughout the ages.
dälek (pronounced ‘Die-a-leck’) is a hip-hop duo comprised of MC dälek, who takes care of all the vocals, and Oktopus, the producer and live DJ. Their sound is dark, brooding, noisy, and atmospheric, with undertones of post-rock and shoegaze; at times, it doesn’t even sound like you’re listening to hip-hop music. Some have even argued that dälek shouldn’t be classified as such because of their experimental production. But then MC dälek comes in, with an almost spoken-word delivery, to drop some knowledge, and you just vibe with it. His lyrics are often cryptic but revolve around radical themes quite similar to the likes of Death Grips and Rage Against the Machine; they touch on the political, the spiritual, and everywhere in between. Despite the criticisms, MC dälek has confidently stated that they are hip-hop “in the purest sense” since the culture is “all about digging in different crates and finding different sounds, and finding different influences to create [beats from].” I whole-heartedly agree and dig dälek’s experimental tendencies, both sonically and lyrically.
Gangrene is composed of The Alchemist and Oh No, two are my favorite producers in the game right now. They pride themselves on making the weirdest, psychedelic hip-hop you’ve even heard, which is appropriate given the title of their two biggest singles: “Take Drugs” and “Vodka & Ayahuasca”. For those of you who are unfamiliar, ayahuasca is an herbal brew that is used by indigenous peoples across South America for spiritual purposes; the main active ingredient in ayahuasca is dimethyltryptamine, which has been deemed “The Spirit Molecule” by psychonauts and scientists alike. Though they sample riffs from a wide range of music, their beats are strongly influenced by Rock ‘n’ Roll and blues. At times, their music can be quite heavy, and noisy for that matter, as if they were channeling the spirit of Jimi Hendrix. On top of their unique production, Gangrene always recruits great-featured artists, such as Kool G Rap, Raekwon, Prodigy, and Guilty Simpson. Definitely a unique duo reimagining the boundaries between hip-hop and Rock ‘n’ Roll.
Another project of the prolific Jonathan “Yoni” Wolf (of cLOUDDEAD and Hymie’s Basement). Why? stands at the forefront of indie rock hip-hop. Unlike the artists mentioned above, Why? tends to be less heavy; they definitely draw more influence from folk music as opposed to traditional Rock ‘n’ Roll. Regardless, they still have a unique, and refreshing, sound that redefines what is and isn’t hip-hop. They are poppy, but not too poppy; they are goofy, but still have an unapologetic rawness. Plus, Yoni is one hell of an emcee. His lyrics are packed full of honesty, as well as, beautiful imagery and wordplay. I guarantee he’ll impress even the most traditional hip-hop heads with his odd, almost deadpan, delivery and curious observations. Why? definitely takes hip-hop in a different direction than most, but with an open mind, and a close ear, they will surprise you their sound again and again.