Rock and rap music have always been very compatible genres. Although some have done it better than others, the rebellious spirit of the two art forms has led to some incredible productions.
In 2010, Lil Wayne released Rebirth, a rock-inspired hip-hop album that, for the most part, consisted of, for the most part, tacky rock-infused pop-rap songs that just didn’t suit the rapper. However, there was an attempt to marry the two genres, which is possible.
In 2001, Jay-Z released the Kanye-produced track ‘Takeover’ to great success. The instrumental sampled ‘Five To One’ by The Doors and was a fantastic example of how rock can transform into hip-hop music with the right arrangement.
Another group that has proven capable of this is N.E.R.D. Comprised of Pharrell Williams, Chad Hugo and Shay Haley, the trio explored the realms of alternative hip-hop in the 2000s and how it could be fused with rock to create new, exciting sounds such as their 2001 anthem ‘Lap Dance’.
However, none of the above were the first rap acts to experiment with the genre. Rock was always considered the music of America’s white middle class. African-American artists often incorporated rock elements into their music to capture that market.
In the same way that Eddie Van Halen’s solo in ‘Beat It’ expanded Michael Jackson’s fan base, in 1984, one legendary trio sought to do the same thing. Run-DMC.
In 1984, Run-DMC’s team decided to produce a rock-rap crossover single. Jam Master Jay and Rick Rubin often used rock breaks to add fullness to the trio’s songs. Although the collective was hesitant at first, they eventually ended up acquiescing to the desires of Russell Simmons.
As such, they recruited Eddie Martinez, a session player renowned for his work with Blondie, to add a guitar solo to their track ‘Rock Box.’ As planned, this boosted its appeal to white listeners, and the trio had a hit on their hands. The single was so successful they filmed a music video. The video was the first rap visual to air on MTV.
The idea was primarily the idea of Larry Smith, who is often referred to as ‘The Father of Boom Bap’. Speaking with I Want My MTV, DMC unveiled, “We didn’t want the guitar version playing in the hood. But when DJ Red Alert played it on his radio show, black people loved the guitar version.”
Run-DMC’s decision to keep the electric guitar solo in the track meant that they had released the first hip-hop track of all time to include a rock element in their song and, in the process, made a hit. You can listen to ‘Rock Box’ in the video below.