I know, that headline sounds kind of pretentious. You should be able to like whatever you want, and no one else should have anything to say about it. But the problem is, it’s not usually like that. At least, not until you figure out how to avoid all the judgmental assholes you know. Until then, it seems like someone else always has something to say about the things you like, and the things they think you shouldn’t like.
For example, rock guys aren’t supposed to like rap. It’s not “rock ‘n roll” to like rap, so all the judgmental asshole rock guys (there are a lot of those) will get on your case about it.
Screw that. Here is a list of rap songs you can safely own up to liking, with some points to defend your opinion with, in case your taste in music is descended upon by the over-opinionated quotient in rock fandom. As long as you can shove logic in their face, you win and the assholes lose.
Outkast, Rosa Parks. This song is as accessible to the rock-listening population as any Red Hot Chili Peppers number. Believe it or not, there’s a guitar in there, and it’s playing a pretty sweet melody. There’s also a wood block, which is as rustic and down-home as any cowbell. Plus, the flute sound and lyrics make it seem almost zen, which is more or less the opposite of your stereotypical hip-hop ditty, and hence something rockers can get behind. It’s also named after a pioneer in civil liberties, so that’s worth some history cred. What history cred does Fall Out Boy have to brag about?
Busta Rhymes, Gimme Some More. Not only does it have an actual violin track (borrowed from “Psycho,” no less), the background is filled up with … bass and drums. How much simpler can you get without involving empty coffee cans and three-gallon buckets? Besides the basic appeal of the music, Busta Rhymes is just funny (his name is BUSTA RHYMES). Again, not like some rappers. And the video? On par with Tom Petty’s “Don’t Come Around Here No More” as far as hallucinogenics go. Hallucinogenics are way rock ‘n’ roll, man.
Wu Tang Clan, Bring Da (Motherfuckin) Ruckus. This might be a controversial statement, but rockers should always be allowed to like rap when it’s simple, dirty and real. Wu Tang’s “Ruckus” has little more than a beat and a bunch of dudes rapping about fighting. There’s no prima-donna-ism in sight, no limos and no color-coordinated Nikes. In fact, it’s a lot like some video games rockers wet themselves over. If someone can argue against this song, they’re just arguing on principle, so feel free to give them the scotch-to-the-face dismissal.
Beastie Boys, Sabotage. It’s like a Rage Against the Machine song written by politically lethargic teenagers. There’s a killer guitar riff to chew on, the drums are hard and loud, the record scratching is at a minimum, and the video looks like a frat boy joke. This one gets double props for not taking itself seriously, and I’ve heard it on more rock party mixes than you can throw a foosball table at. Dis this song and spend the rest of your night on keg-cup duty, bra.
The Roots, The Seed (2.0). That hypnotic lead guitar is all this song needed to distinguish itself as an almost air-guitar-able rap song rock guys can also appreciate. But no, it went further. Besides the obvious appeal of naming a baby girl “Rock and Roll,” this one combines Cody Chesnutt’s bluesy soul singing with some rapping by MC Black Thought to create a hip-hop/soul hybrid that doesn’t even come across as gimmicky. Did I mention the guitar is awesome?
A Tribe Called Quest, Electric Relaxation. Like many rap songs, this one is about wanting to have sex with girls. But unlike rap songs that elect to take the blunt, aggro and graphic approach to the subject, this one is clever, artful and a little poetic. Metaphors float around like vaguely grotesque butterflies, as we imagine the calm, relaxed walk of shame some girl is going to take the next morning. The soothing musical score is limited to a thoughtful strum on an electric guitar, with a mellow DJ beat and little else. It may not be Jeff Buckley, but what you can hold against Easy-E’s foul mouth you cannot hold against this.
Coolio, Gangsta’s Paradise. Some might see it as dorky — after all, it did win a Grammy. But Coolio keeps it real, and the song’s moral appeal is undeniable. Plus, the suspenseful violin track helped make it a giant thumb tack in the bulletin board of ’90s rap, even inspiring a Weird Al interpretation. Write off this song, and you write off all schmaltzy, award-winning crossover soundtrack material. Fool.
Public Enemy, By the Time I Get to Arizona. Point #1: the music in this song is as awesome as any funk jam. Point #2: The song is about a governor’s refusal to acknowledge Martin Luther King Day as a holiday, and most rockers could probably get behind something like that — especially when there’s more history cred on the line. Point #3: The rapping is sincere, meaningful and political, which is just respectable. Last point: If I fail to mention Public Enemy in a list of good rap songs, it’s likely Flavor Flav will show up at my house and murder me in my sleep. (Catastrophe averted.)
Gorillaz, Feel Good, Inc. Psychotic laughter introduces a bodacious guitar riff, much like what “Crazy Train’s” prince of darkness himself pulled off. Everyone should already be happy at this point, but to top it off, Damon Albarn’s voice cuts in to reassure any apprehensive rockhounds that this song is indeed in the hands of a Britpop mastermind. Besides the fact that this album rocked college parties following Steve Miller as readily as Jay-Z, it also contains a rather haunting chorus by Albarn, complete with washy-sounding effects. Cool, man.
Run DMC, King of Rock. It’s not the Beatles, and it’s not Michael Jackson, but this is definitely the 1985 hip-hop answer to good old fashioned butt rock. With its borderline-cheesy ’80s metal riff reminiscent of a K.I.S.S. anthem and its old-school rap ‘tude, this song talks shit on “sucka MCs” and delivers rhymes that devastate, without regard. Save this one only for when the rock devotee you’re arguing against is of the truly immoveable variety who’s still listening to the same records he had when he was 17 — in 1987. If he’s got something to say about this old-school butt-rap classic, he’s just hopeless. Period.
Post script: Besides the ones listed here, there are a ton of other rap/hip-hop songs that deserve the respect of arrogant, righteous rockers. Feel free to call them out in the comment section.
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