When Rage Against the Machine bassist Tim Commerford apologized for the “bullshit” that is Limp Bizkit in September, I began contemplating the legacy of rap-rock, the genre that inspired a million white boys to turn their baseball caps to the side, wear their jeans slung low and swap suburban enunciation for ghetto drawl. A fledgling movement once bristling with exciting possibilities, a precursor to the mash-up and the spawner of nu-metal but apart from the aforementioned RATM, was the sound bed to 90s teenage angst ever really any good? Could any album lay claim to classic status?
(And before any smart aleck pipes up with Korn’s debut….sit down and be quiet….it’s nonsense…)
For my money, only one album comes close to delivering on rap-rock’s early promise – the soundtrack to obscure (and truly awful despite the presence of Bill Hicks-lite Denis Leary as a vicious gang leader….yeah, you read that right) 90s rich-boys-in-ghetto-peril thriller Judgement Night. Had any soundtrack every surpassed its own movie before? Certainly Help!, A Hard Day’s Night, Easy Rider, Pulp Fiction, The Crow, Natural Born Killers, and Trainspotting have offered equal visual and aural thrills but with Judgement Night what punctures our ear drums is so far removed from the celluloid monstrosity you have to wonder whether the plethora of artists associated ever even watched it.
That’s not the only mystery. Look at the line-up assembled here, more diverse than a Green Party discussion on equality. Teenage Fanclub groove with Del La Soul, Faith No More menace with Boo Ya Tribe, Mudhoney cause chaos with Sir Mix-A-Lot. How the flying fuck did that happen?! Random raffle? Chance meetings in the pub? Or, if the Devil really does have all the best tunes, was he in attendance at the concept meeting, eagerly thinking up collaborations beyond the normal realms of possibility whilst God looked on ashen faced with the realization that he was never going to get beyond a stale old bag of pop pick’n’mix in the form of Justin Bieber and Usher?
“Holy diver / I’m a survivor / feeling like de Niro in Taxi Driver /
With Jodie Foster and Harvey Keitel / looks like I’m walking through a living hell”
As a (much) younger man I was obsessed with this rhyme from House Of Pain’s Everlast…absolutely obsessed. Taxi Driver was (and still is) one of my favourite movies and for a cultural reference to fit so wonderfully into verse sent shivers down my spine (see also the Beastie Boys’ “flame on / I’m gone” from “Body Movin'”). It’s the standout moment on what is essentially quite a lacklustre opener tacked on rather clumsily to a crunching slice of detuned alt metal from New York’s Helmet. Don’t backtrack now though kids, what follows is pure gold…promise.
“Can’t believe I used to be Mr Steve Austin on the mic / 6 million ways I used to run it”
…see what I mean? The plaintive Tom Petty sampling “Fallin'” from Teenage Fanclub and Del La Soul is where the album really begins. It’s all blissed out reminiscing of past glories detailing a “washed up rapper” who’s “outta here” and the first surprise on an album billed as a murderous collaboration between rap and metal, taking Daisy Age mentality and wedding it beautifully to majestic Scottish jangle.
Little is written about how significant this track for the Fannies was but it sits in their discography between the critical and commercial disaster of Thirteen and the resurgent Grand Prix. Did the creative freedom offered by the sublime and unexpected team-up spur them on to produce their power-pop masterpiece? Such a romantic vision of musical legacy is the stuff of journalistic dreams, a plot point on a Hollywood movie. We may never know the truth but “Fallin'” stands tall (see what I did there?) as a heavenly high point in the rap-rock library.
“I’m never alone / I’m in a zone and stoned / I never leave home / without my microphone”
If any tune on Judgement Night can lay claim to a notion of “classic” rap-metal it’s the inspired pairing of hip-hop godfathers Run DMC and guitar slinging heroes Living Colour. DMC had long used guitar samples courtesy of Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin to bolster their beats and previously got enlisted by wrinkly rockers Aerosmith to add cred to their reimagining of “Walk This Way”. Here though, the ‘live’ funky-crunch of Vernon Reid’s riffs add extra clout whilst lyrics are spat with equal power culminating in a party starter of devastating levels of moshability.
“if it takes the death of me / to make history / the whole world will remember my misery”
Biohazard….Onyx…..brutal, ugly the title track is the first tune on the record to fully realize squalid urban decay in musical form. A glorious “yeah…..mutherfucker”, promises of making the “white man call me master”, foreboding beats and dark riffs create an impending swirl of dread that the subsequent movie never managed to muster. If nu-metal has a ground zero then this is it….blame it for Durst, blame it for Crazy Town but never doubt that “Judgement Night” is one hell of a tune; a juggernaut of crazed intensity designed for total annihilation of your senses.
“Our government is fucked / sure to bring us down / the media incites civil unrest / hatred can bring you down”
Covering three Exploited songs is one thing – having it done by Ice T backed by Slayer takes it to a whole new level (if only he had recruited them instead of Body Count on a more regular basis). The sound of war on wax – unrelenting, bloody and darkly compelling. Cop cars set alight by screeching guitars, buildings decimated by a single word. If you ever need to be incited to riot, make “Disorder” your theme tune.
“I’m living like a criminal and criminal I be / and I’m respected in the hood like a G
But if they think about snitching then they’re gone / I’m taking off their heads with the motherfucking chrome”
As Mike Patton’s guttural screams and groans add extra layers of instrumentation to an already densely populated soundtrack to the apocalypse, it becomes clear that “Another Body Murdered” from Faith No More and the Boo Ya Tribe, is more than mere musical melding between two heavyweights at the top of their game. The lead single from the movie defies even the term rap-metal feeling closer to a horror soundscape where the bogey man is less silent stalker and more jabbering, somersaulting circus freak. The first tune from Faith No More not to feature big haired riffmeister Jim Martin, “Another Body Murdered” proved a transitional moment for the band with Billy Gould now firmly placed as leader. The results led to Faith No More’s most experimental and exciting albums in their oeuvre no longer tied to their metal past, free to explore every musical possibility their warped minds could conjure.
“Sugar Come By / And Get Me High”
A solitary female presence on the album, Kim Gordon’s breathy drawl binds this unholy alliance between everyone’s favourite stoners Cypress Hill and alt-rock’s royal family Sonic Youth in a hazy, lazy dose of trippy brilliance….she’s the enchantress, offering up dope-fuelled treats to her spellbound lover at any moment threatening to derail the whole romance as “I Love You Mary Jane” swirls and sways bookended by trademark squalls of Sonic Youth guitar. The result: a surreal noise that rap-rock will never replicate again.
“We fuss and cuss and kick up much dust / but you know rap stars, you can trust us”
Ass master Sir Mix-a-Lot hooks up with godfathers of grunge Mudhoney on one of the album’s undoubted highlights. Sexually aggressive and un-PC the lyrics may be, but the melding of garage-punk and Mix-A-Lot’s rhymes is an audacious and entertaining ride; speedy, greedy, and ever so sleazy. As with many of the rappers featured this was Sir Mix-a-Lot’s first time in a studio with a full band but there’s no obvious hesitation or trepidation from either party. “Freak Momma” is full on thrills with the MC sounding like he’s having the time of his life. When he pulls out the line “I wanna put you in the mud, honey” you can almost hear the fist pumps…..
“You scar your knees / bowing, praising / now when I phase in like Kitty Pryde / City wide”
But for all “Freak Momma’s” excitable energy, for me, Judgement Night’s greatest achievement is teaming up one of the all-time great rappers, Del the Funky Homosapien, with alt-rock’s guitar gods Dinosaur Jr (years before Damon Albarn enlisted his skills in Gorillaz). Every inch a classic, J Mascis’ lazy drawl oozes into Del’s hyper-kinetic rhymes, slashes of guitar accent every syllable and the drums drag wonderfully behind it all, leaving enough space for Del to shine with every word. For added fun check out the live video from a US talk show featuring Mike Watt on bass and Mike D on drums….
“Thugs on the wall are goin insane / when I catch this motherfucker / I’m a shoot his fucking brain”
There’s very little subtly when you name a track “Come and Die” – Tupac cohort Hussein Fatal and Irish punks Therapy? know that from the start creating a maelstrom of violence terrorizing the listener from the off….and unlike most of the tracks here, even the rock element gets in on the vocal act as Andy Cairns’ bullying voice screams “can’t run / can’t hide / I will kill you”. A nasty little track that, if it were a serial killer, would be Ted Bundy.
“It’s time I came to get mine / Running through the hoods with the hand on my nine”
The final track on Judgement Night sees Cypress Hill returning for a second slice of the grunge-rap pie, this time enlisting Pearl Jam along for the ride. Opening with a sound that fills me with nostalgia due to its resemblance to the sound bed to my favourite Sega Megadrive game Flashback – if you never played it, you never lived – Cypress Hill lose the stoner persona to go full G on our ass, reeling off an entire arsenal of contempt for authority and rivals. Pearl Jam, for their part, sound a little subdued unsure of how best to facilitate Cypress Hill’s style. It’s probably the least effective track here but by now you’ll have had your fair share of genius to let this little faux pas slide.
Judgement Night, the greatest rap-metal album of all time? In terms of scope, audacity and sheer listenability it’s hard to deny. Forget, the atrocities it inspired (including an ill-advised dance-metal crossover soundtrack to the movie Spawn), just for a moment it felt like the melding of these two genres was the most exciting thing in the world. Go have a listen, and re-discover your inner teenager.
Here’s the full movie.