Contrary to popular opinion, not all rap-rock sounds the same. As proof, here are the 10 most essential rap-rock songs, which run the gamut from the art-metal weirdness of Faith No More to the suburban disillusionment of Linkin Park. About the only thing they all have in common is their ability to deftly merge hip-hop sounds and rock attitude.
Rap-rock at its artiest, Faith No More's "Epic" launched the San Francisco group into the mainstream with a unique combination of metal guitar and Mike Patton's chanted/rapped lyrics. "What is it?/It's it!" became one of the year's most addictive choruses and oddest riddles, but the song also demonstrated the commercial viability of rap-rock. (Faith No More would get even weirder on their next album, Angel Dust.)
From their earliest days, Red Hot Chili Peppers were heavily influenced by funk, a precursor to hip-hop, but the band never made better use of the style than on "Give It Away." On this standout track from Blood Sugar Sex Magik, RHCP frontman Anthony Kiedis spits bravado like an MC, while guitarist John Frusciante squeals and shreds right behind him.
Heralding the emergence of a vitriolic new musical force, Rage Against the Machine's first single, "Killing in the Name," contained all the weapons in the band's arsenal: politically-relevant lyrics, a demon rhythm section, and Tom Morello's guitar tricks that mimicked the furious scratching of a hip-hop DJ. Plus, the song sounded really amazing while you were flailing around in the mosh-pit.
Beastie Boys helped birth the rap-rock movement with their 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill, but they took the genre even higher with "Sabotage" eight years later. Though also remembered for its brilliant cop-show-parody video, "Sabotage" craftily merged punk, hard rock and hip-hop until the song became something you could only classify as rap-garage-rock.
Kid Rock was a white-trash Detroit rapper who wanted to let the world know that he was the baddest punk on the block. He came up with "Bawitdaba," a magnificently strutting track that demonstrated his killer charisma and rude attitude. 1999 was the year that rap-rock came into its own as a commercial force, and "Bawitdaba" kicked things off forcefully.
The poster boys of rap-rock, Limp Bizkit became superstars with Significant Other and its smash single, "Nookie." When the genre later started experiencing its inevitable backlash, "Nookie" was targeted as symptomatic of rap-rock's worst tendencies: misogynistic attitudes, moronic lyrics, mindless aggression. But there's no denying that the song struck a chord with angry young men hungry for an excuse to bang their heads.
Korn frontman Jonathan Davis worships hip-hop, but in his nu-metal band's music the influence isn't immediately noticeable. But as "Falling Away From Me" reveals, Korn integrate rap's staccato rhythms and space-age keyboard hooks into their sound, producing creepy, catchy hard rock that established the group as the era’s top moodmakers.
Linkin Park stumbled upon a novel way to merge rap and rock by juxtaposing lead singer Chester Bennington's melodic vocals with band member Mike Shinoda's rapped verses. The most successful pairing of these vocalists was on "In the End" -- Shinoda spits worried lines while Bennington's plaintive chorus articulates the song's disillusionment in more soaring ways. Where many of their predecessors used rap-rock to express aggression, Linkin Park saw the style as a tool to convey uncertainty and fear.
The Georgia collective Rehab gave rap-rock a laidback Southern twang on their album Graffiti the World. "Bottles & Cans" finds frontman Danny Boone contemplating his dead-end life of booze and drugs over a hip-hop beat and a lurking guitar riff. Rap-rock had rarely sounded so world-weary before.
Swan Songs, the first album from Hollywood Undead, was a largely generic rap-rock affair, but this breakthrough single was particularly strong, recalling the antagonism of Limp Bizkit, the melodicism of Linkin Park, and the misanthropy of Eminem. If they come up with more hits like this for their sophomore effort, Hollywood Undead could help usher rap-rock into the next decade.