Throughout much of the 1980’s, it seemed like there was a clear distinction between musical fans. Rap fans weren’t supposed to like rock music. Heavy metal fans weren’t supposed to like rap or punk rock. And if you were a pop music fan, forget it! There were clear lines of demarcation that fans weren’t supposed to cross which created an “us-vs-them” mentality very much like current political trends. It took some artists years to bridge that gap and make it cool to try something different.
One of the earliest attempts in the ‘80’s at bridging this gap was the Run DMC version of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” It was a successful attempt at merging rock and rap. It was a fun take on the classic hit. The video featured Run DMC along with Steven Tyler and Joe Perry from Aerosmith creating one of the first crossovers to find an audience. Though it didn’t break down the needless barriers, it still opened a path for others to follow.
Late in the ‘80’s and early in the ‘90’s the thrash metal band Anthrax took this a step further. They released an EP in 1987 titled “I’m The Man” which was a heavy metal rap song. Anthrax’s founding member Scott Ian was noted for being socially aware in his lyrics and a fan of rap music and this was an extension of his passion. It made it cool for metal fans to openly enjoy rap music. Several years later Anthrax collaborated with the rap group Public Enemy to cover PE’s song “Bring the Noise” in 1991 bringing together two of the largest groups in their respective musical genres.
With the rise of the Beastie Boys in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s the fusion of rap and metal found a home. The group originated as a punk band that changed their sound and became a successful rap group. Though often miscredited as the originators of rap and rock, they nonetheless were the most successful at it. Their debut album “Licensed to Ill” featured heavy metal guitarist Kerry King from the band Slayer on several tracks while staying true to their rap sound. Their third release, “Check Your Head” ushered in new life to the group and cemented their status as legends.
Going beyond the obvious musical distinctions between rap and rock, the divide went further than that. It was an artificial gap that tried to delineate fans by race. Rap musicians and fans are primarily African-American while rock bands and fans tend to be Caucasian. There are noted exceptions but by and large these divides were prominent and you weren’t supposed to cross lines. What these musicians did was purposely destroy these barriers in an effort to spread the message of social justice. Yeah they were musicians performing their craft but how they did it and the message they tried to present went much deeper. It wasn’t cool to like rap if you were a metal fan but if your idols showed that yes it was acceptable then it made it much easier to try something new.