6 of the Best Rap-Rock Crossover Hits

Today, rock and rap can be thought of as quite different. When someone begins to describe what kind of music they like, they’ll say, “I like rock, rap…” Hardly ever are they considered siblings, or closer.

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Below is evidence that the two genres are more closely related than often given credit. Both are born of the blues; though, rock more directly.

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Nevertheless, here are six terrific examples of rock-rap crossover hit songs.

1. “Walk This Way,” Aerosmith and Run-DMC

The grandpappy of them all. This broke down walls—literally—when it hit eardrums, and eyeballs through the music video. Officially, the song is a cover by Run-DMC in conjunction with Aerosmith. Rick Rubin, a noted fan of rock, was working with Run-DMC and would occasionally pull out a sample from Aerosmith’s original “Walk This Way” and the Run-DMC crew would freestyle rap over it. While there was trepidation at Def JamRecords, whether Run-DMC should cover and release the song, Rubin encouraged it and in the end, when it was released in 1986, it charted higher than Aerosmith’s original. It’s an example of fearless creativity and something new. Until then, few knew how close rock and rap really were.

Reverend Run raps:

School girl sleazy with a classy kind of sassy
Little skirt hanging way up her knee
It was three young ladies in the school gym locker
And they found they were looking at D
I was a high school loser, never made it with a lady
‘Til the boys told me something I missed
That my next door neighbor with a daughter had a favor
And I gave the girl a little kiss, like this

2. “Numb/Encore,” Jay-Z and Linkin Park

There was a time when the trajectories of Linkin Park and Jay-Z were on the same level and even intersected. A case in point is the 2004 EP, Collision Course, which features the song “Numb/Encore.” That track is a mashup of the two entities’ tracks. Jay raps over instrumentation from the acclaimed rock band.

The song came out around the time of Jay-Z’s temporary retirement. “Encore” is from his then-farewell record, The Black Album. On the mashup, Linkin Park vocalist, Chester Bennington, soars, singing lyrics from the band’s hit, “Numb.” As legend has it, Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda had a history of remixing Jay-Z lyrics over rock music from bands like Smashing Pumpkins. As usual, practice makes perfect. The track later won Best Rap/Sung Collaboration at the Grammy Awards of 2006. Amazingly, the live performance for the ceremony featured Paul McCartney.

Jay-Z raps:

I’m, young H-O, rap’s Grateful Dead
Back to take over the globe, now break bread
I’m in, Boeing jets, Global Express
Out the country but the blueberry still connect
On the low but the yacht got a triple deck
But when you Young, what the fuck you expect? Yep, yep

3. “Bawitdaba,” Kid Rock

For whatever you think about Kid Rock today—indeed, there are strong opinions—his hit single, “Bawitdaba,” rocks. Rock, who came up in Detroit as a rapper, an acquaintance of Eminem’s, he also got into rock and roll and eventually bridged the two in a working-class way. The crest of this was Rock’s 1998 album, Devil Without a Cause, which was heralded by “Bawitdaba,” on which Rock raps over guitar licks and feedback and heavy chords, smashing cymbals, record scratches, and big vocal aggression.

Rock raps:

And this is for the questions that don’t have any answers
The midnight glancers and the topless dancers
The gander freaks, cars packed with speakers
The G’s with the 40’s and the chicks with beepers
The northern lights and the southern comfort
And it don’t even matter if their veins are punctured
All the crackheads, the critics, the cynics
And all my heroes in the methadone clinics

4. “Sabotage,” Beastie Boys

This classic from the Brooklyn-born rap trio’s 1994 album, Ill Communication, is both a demonstration of cutting-edge composition and a look back to the band’s roots. Before they were the “Fight For Your Right” rappers, the Beastie Boys were a punk rock band playing NYC basements. Then, as hip-hop grew to early prominence in the Big Apple, they found their calling and worked with Def Jam Records, recording and releasing some of rap’s early hits. Once established in the mid-’90s and with their new album on the way, the trio released the single “Sabotage,” which has since become a maintain in American music. Not only can the three rappers link ping-pong balls but they can play instruments— Ad-Rock on guitar and vocals, MCA on bass, and Mike D on drums. Featuring screamed, punk-like lyrics, “Sabotage” bridges rap and rock, all over a buzzy guitar. It’s unique and somehow timeless.

[RELATED: 8 Rappers Who Died Too Soon]

Ad-Rock raps:

I can’t stand it, I know you planned it
I’m gonna set it straight, this Watergate
I can’t stand rocking when I’m in here
‘Cause your crystal ball ain’t so crystal clear
So while you sit back and wonder why
I got this fucking thorn in my side
Oh my God, it’s a mirage
I’m tellin’ y’all, it’s a sabotage

5. “Rapture,” Blondie

Not only is “Rapture,” from Blondie’s 1980 album, Autoamerican, incredible, but its predecessor, the lesser known Christmas hit, “Yuletide Throwdown,” which features rap pioneer Fab Five Freddie, is perhaps even more amazing. Said Debbie Harry of that holiday song, “It’s heartwarming.” Indeed, Blondie was an early advocate for rap in the music’s nascent stages. And “Rapture” and “Yuletide Throwdown” prove that.

On “Rapture,” Blondie raps:

Fab Five Freddy told me everybody’s fly
DJ spinnin’ I said, “My my”
Flash is fast, Flash is cool
François c’est pas, Flash ain’t no dude
And you don’t stop, sure shot
Go out to the parking lot

6. “Lost!” Coldplay and Jay-Z

This 2009 offering is an example of two entities—Coldplay and Jay-Z—at the top of their game, coming together to deliver vulnerability, truth, the human condition, and all of their existential worries in the form of an epic, sticky, collaborative effort. The song is an admission of paranoia as much as it is a blueprint of how to navigate that very fact. Jay-Z delivers his thoughts on the hypocrisy of fame: With the same sword they knight you, they gon’ good night you with.

Indeed, as the title suggests, the song is all about loss. But as with any great art, when doing so well enough, you actually win.

Chris Martin of Coldplay sings:

Just because I’m losing
Doesn’t mean I’m lost
Doesn’t mean I will stop
Doesn’t mean I’m across

Just because I’m hurtin’
Doesn’t mean I’m hurt
Doesn’t mean I didn’t get what I deserved
No better and no worse

I just got lost
Every river that I tried to cross
Every door I ever tried was locked
Oh, and I’m just waiting ’til the shine wears off

Photo by Jeff Kravitz/FilmMagic

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