Brothers From Another Planet
by Jeff Kitts
Photographs by Karjean Ng
Not too long ago, the idea of a creative collaboration by hard rock bands and rap artists would have inspired laughter. In the first place, the musical differences seemed too huge to surmount. After all, rock has long been based around instrumental – particularly guitar – virtuosity, while rap has mostly relied on samples and pre-recorded backing. As to the commercial viability of such a union, the old thinking had it that fans of the two styles would never agree to come together – except, perhaps, to do battle.
In recent years, however, the two musical forms have grown closer, with rock bands incorporating samples and rapped passages and rappers more often turning to live instrumentation. In turn, the gulf between their bases has continuously shrunk. The time finally seemed ripe for a full-scale marriage of rap and rock, to bring the styles together in a match made in musical heaven.
Enter Judgment Night. The Immortal/Epic Records soundtrack to the upcoming Largo/Universal film features 11 collaborative efforts by leading rock and rap artists, in a groundbreaking experiment in musical fusion. The unlikely duos include: Living Colour with Run-D.M.C., Helmet with House Of Pain, Pearl Jam with Cypress Hill, Slayer with Ice-T, Biohazard with Onyx and Mudhoney with Sir Mix-A-Lot.
Actually, for all the old arguments against the notion, the union of rock and rap music isn’t entirely new. Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. teamed up in 1986 for a remake of the Aero classic “Walk This Way.” That same year, Anthrax broke rules with their original rap-metal song, “I’m The Man,” while the Beastie Boys’ power-child cruncher “Fight For Your Right” became the party animal’s national anthem. In 1990, Faith No More achieved multi-platinum status with their crossover hit “Epic.” And more recently, Anthrax joined forces with Public Enemy for a remake of PE’s “Bring Tha Noize.”
But according to Happy Walters, manager of Cypress Hill and House Of Pain, president of Immortal Records, and Judgment Night project coordinator, the melding of rock and rap has never been done correctly – until now.
“The Run-D.M.C./Aerosmith thing was just a remake of an already-existing song, as was the Anthrax/Public Enemy collaboration,” says Walters. “We wanted to do the Judgment Night soundtrack using all original songs with the bands actually working together in the studio.
When the time came to assemble the roster for Judgment Night, Walters set his sights on today’s harder, hipper rock and rap artists – a union of fresh blood from both genres.
“To me, classic rock bands like Aerosmith and AC/DC don’t fit with rap artists like Onyx and Cypress Hill as much as the younger, harder alternative and metal bands do,” says Walters. “More and more, rap music is appealing to fans of Biohazard, Slayer and Pear Jam – and hip-hop fans are also becoming more educated about rock. Given time, the alternative rock and rap genres will become synonymous.”
Most of the pairings on Judgment Night were of bands that shared little more than a flair for songwriting and a willingness to mesh crunching guitars with sampled drum loops. The exception? New York City homeboys Biohazard and Onyx. Unlike the album’s other team efforts, the compatibility of Biohazard and Onyx have a longstanding relationship and a compatibility that extends far beyond their music.
“We’re brothers from the U.S.G. – the United States Ghetto,” says Onyx’s Sticky Fingaz. “That’s what we represent. So for our two groups to be able to work together and get along so good, Biohazard had to be from the U.S.G., too.”
“Even though we grew up in a different section of New York City than the guys in Onyx, we were all exposed to the same type of urban surroundings,” says Biohazard guitarist Bobby Hambel. “We all grew up on the city streets, and we learned how to deal with things the same way.”
There’s no doubt that Biohazard and Onyx – who worked together prior to Judgment Night – will collaborate again in the future. The two bands recently met with Guitar World within walking distance of the United States Ghetto, to rap, so to speak, about Judgment Night and the union of rap and rock.
GUITAR WORLD: How is it Biohazard and Onyx came to be paired together on the Judgment Night soundtrack?
BILLY GRAZIADEI [Biohazard guitarist]: I was asked to do two remixes of Onyx’s ‘Slam’ and we thought it would be cool if Biohazard sang on the choruses. The two groups became friends after that, played a show together, and recently shot a video for ‘Slam’ together. Then someone approached us about doing a track for a movie – and when they said they wanted us to write a song with Onyx, we told ‘em we’d love to do it.
GW: Suave and Sticky Fingaz: Have you always been into rock, or is this a recent phenomenon?
SUAVE [Onyx]: No, I wouldn’t say it’s recent. I have a friend who always listened to a lot of rock music. So even if I wasn’t listening to it myself, I was always aware of rock bands. One thing I definitely knew was that rock bands had the illest, illest guitars – word up.
STICKY FINGAZ [Onyx]: Yeah, I’ve been sampling rock music for a long time. I like all kinds of music as long as it’s good: rock, blues, jazz, movie soundtracks – all kinds of shit.
GW: Where you exposed to rock music at an early age?
FINGAZ: Not so much when I was shorty – when I was shorty, it was strictly hip-hop. Remember that when you’re shorty, you don’t know too much – you’re a follower because you want to learn. But as I got older, I got into my own things, my own personalities and started listening to other shit.
GW: Do you like any of the newer breed of rock and metal bands?
SUAVE: We like Nirvana – they cool. The Black Crowes. And Biohazard, of course.
BOBBY HAMBEL [Biohazard guitarist]: We wouldn’t be real musicians if we didn’t respect and appreciate all kinds of music. People categorize music because of ignorance – which is the same reason why racism still exists. There’s such a thing as musical bigotry.
GW: How was “Judgment Night” actually written? What was the collaborative process like?
HAMBEL: Basically, we all just showed up at a studio one night, plugged in a bass and started by recording a groove.
FINGAZ: It was funny because I was checking out different records looking for a cool bass line to sample, and these guys came in with the guitars and made the bass line! [laughs] So the Biohazard guys ended up playing the music, and Chyskillz, the producer, sampled it, as if he was sampling a record.
EVAN SEINFELD [Biohazard bassist/singer]: It was a real collaboration of what we do and what they do – it wasn’t like us writing a Biohazard song for the Onyx guys to rap over.
GW: Was it difficult for two bands who don’t play the same style of music to write a song together?
HAMBEL: Not at all. We just used the vibes that they put out with their sounds, and they just used the vibes we put out with our sounds. It’s a feel, more than a combination of different styles of music.
GW: As guitarists, did you approach the song differently than you would a Biohazard song?
GRAZIADEI: It’s really not that much different – playing to a loop was just like listening to Danny playing the same beat over and over again only without getting tired. [laughs]
HAMBEL: Working that way opened up a lot of doors for us – it taught us a lot about working in a studio.
GW: With so many people working on one song, did you all have to make certain adjustments and compromises?
FINGAZ: Oh, yeah – but we do that when we’re in the studio by ourselves, and I’m sure the Biohazard guys go through the same shit. With so many people in the studio, everyone ain’t always gonna like everything; but if you want it to work, you just have to compromise.
SUAVE: I think shit comes out better when you’re working like that. We work better under pressure. Our music is all about frustration.
HAMBEL: Yeah – aggravation is inspiration. You just have to know how to use your hate and frustration to your advantage.
GW: Musically, what do rap and rock have in common?
FINGAZ: Grey. If you take the lowest epitome of rap and the lowest epitome of rock – which is what we did by getting Onyx and Biohazard together – you don’t come up with black and white; you come up with grey.
HAMBEL: You come up with a stinkin’ mess, that’s what you come up with. [laughs] Neither band gives a fuck about what’s goin’ on out there in music – we’re both doin’ our own thing. They’re makin’ noise, we’re makin’ noise, and we just decided to bring our shit together. A collaboration like this is gonna make a difference – it’s gonna do something.
FINGAZ: It’s all about making people react – whether you do it by playing music or pulling out a gun.
HAMBEL: People feed off it, man. A band like Onyx is just talking shit straight from their hearts, and so is Biohazard. There ain’t nothing fake about either band. If either band tried to write a song about something other than what we know – which is just everyday life on the streets – we’d be lying. It’s important that we can back up whatever we say in our music.
FINGAZ: Yeah – you can’t talk about shit you don’t know. It’s not right to talk about life after death unless you know what it’s like to die.
HAMBEL: And we can’t sing about Satan because we never met him.
GW: Do you think that the newer, more hard-edged rock and rap bands are more compatible than older-style bands like Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. were?
HAMBEL: First of all, I think the Run-D.M.C./Aerosmith collaboration was a great idea. Those were two bands on top of the world, and they had a good idea, put it together and made something cool out of it. The fusion of rock and rap that’s going on today is happening naturally – it’s not just someone’s “idea.” It’s gonna happen whether or not a soundtrack like Judgment Night brings bands together.
GRAZIADEI: It’s a sign of the times that bands like these are getting together. People aren’t so close-minded anymore. The metal fans are accepting rap, the rap fans are starting to discover metal and hard rock. And with these bands getting together, it’s created a whole new form of music. You still have straight metal and hip-hop, but now you also have music that’s a combination of the two.
DANNY SCHULER [Biohazard drummer]: It’s just a matter of time before people start realizing that all music is the same anyway. You can’t deny a heavy groove that makes your body move, whether it’s metal, rap, hardcore or whatever.
FINGAZ: Yo, check it out – I don’t even like to break down music into categories like rock, rap, jazz and hardcore. I see all music as emotion – sometimes it makes you sad, or makes you want to fuck or makes you want to fight. I know that when I write, I have to focus on what I’m feeling at the time – I can’t just sit down and write a song. It’s all about emotion – it’s real.
HAMBEL: The best music is music that makes you feel something.
SEINFELD: That’s why the Judgment Night soundtrack can really make a difference. It’s all about unity and breaking down musical barriers. Times today are more crucial than they were ten years ago, and people have no more time for bullshit. They need music that deals with reality, and that’s what these bands on the soundtrack are doing.
GW: Rap recently surpassed hard rock in overall popularity. Why is that?
SCHULER: Because people are sick of being spoon-fed all this fake record company rock bullshit. Rap is from the streets and it’s something that people can relate to. How many people can relate to the Rolling Stones these days? They’re 50-year-old billionaires – I can’t relate to that. But I can relate to Onyx because they’re real.
SUAVE: And what’s cool is that rap comes from rock, blues, jazz, funk and all those types of music – it’s a combination of everything.
GW: Biohazard was injecting hip-hop flavorings into its music long before it because fashionable. What originally prompted you to start mixing rap and hardcore?
HAMBEL: It’s just natural for us – it’s where we’re from. We grew up in the city parks and streets, and all people listened to was hip-hop – going back to the Sugar Hill Gang and Afrika Bambaataa. And groing up with that obviously had an effect on us.
GW: Onyx and Biohazard have played shows together. What’s it like to perform for such a mixed audience?
HAMBEL: You can’t worry about whose crowd you’re going up against. You have to play every show like it’s the last thing you’re ever gonna do – and that’s why people move like crazy when they see us. You just have to go out there and show ‘em what you got – no matter whose crowd it is.
GRAZIADEI: The bottom line is that the kids are just there to enjoy the music – and it doesn’t matter if it’s rap or hardcore.
SEINFELD: Anyone that has doubts about the music and the audiences coming together should check out the soundtrack – and they’ll see how real it actually is.
Yo, peace out!
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