You Scratch My Back, I’ll Rock Yours: The Influence of Rock ‘n’ Roll on Hip-Hop and Rap, and Vice-Versa

When delving into rock music or rap and hip-hop, it is common to hear one genre feature elements of the other. Lil Wayne, for example, can often be seen jamming on a guitar during live performances. In fact, at this moment, he is even on tour with Blink 182. Machine Gun Kelly started his musical career in a punk rock band called The Dumb Bunny Trio. Two sides of the same coin: rock is influenced by rap and hip-hop vibes and vice-versa.

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Image: Stereogum

One thing to keep in mind when we’re discussing music is that strict categorization often doesn’t apply. As we will see when we depart on our little musical journey, musical categories are colorful and fluid. This is actually one of the beautiful things about music.

Roots & Origins

Hip-hop influenced rock and vice versa. When considering the history of both genres, this isn’t surprising. Rock’s roots can be traced back to the rhythm and blues genre that emerged in the South in the 1940s and 1950s.

Tracing the roots farther back reveals that these styles were born from a marriage between sounds brought over from Africa and the need for expression by the African American community under slavery. After the Civil War, the African American community further embraced these sweet sounds and media of expression and continued to develop them.

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Image: Pinterest / The Beastie Boys

It wasn’t until well into the 20th century that blues, jazz, gospel, and the like found a more mainstream audience. Despite racial tensions back then, these genres transcended racial barriers and brought people closer together.

Hip-hop materialized in the 1970s from an urban movement in the Bronx, New York. Some of hip-hop’s genesis can be credited to Clive Campbell, a.k.a. DJ Kool Herc. What began as a percussion session in his apartment soon spread across the whole neighborhood. Throughout the 1970s and subsequent decades, it evolved and became a powerful medium for protesting social injustices and expressing oneself musically.

Rap as a genre was born through the rise of hip hop. From the start, a key element of hip-hop was the role of the Master of Ceremonies or MC for short. MCs traditionally spoke between acts or provided lively segues. In the hip-hop movement, MC-ing became its own thing. MCs delivered rhymes and beat-infused breakdowns. This became known as ‘rapping’. Hence the term ‘rap’.

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Image: Tone Deaf

In the early 1990s, hip-hop exploded into international acclaim with the advent of ‘gangsta rap’, pioneered by artists like Ice-T and N.W.A. Ok, we’ve covered a lot of history here, now let’s do a little recap.

We saw that both genres, hip-hop, and rock ‘n’ roll, originate in largely African American communities. Both genres have strong connections to social struggles. And both genres rise above racial divides and find listeners everywhere in the world. Again, considering their similar histories, it’s not hard to see how the two genres flirt and mingle on the contemporary musical landscape.

Some Classics and Beyond

When thinking about rockers that are influenced by hip-hop, who comes to mind? Well, no article talking about rock and hip-hop would do the topic justice without mentioning The Beastie Boys. With four albums reaching the top of the Billboard, these guys took the music scene by storm. Their music integrates loud riffage on bass and guitar. But they also include rap-style gritty beats and booming vocals with a rebellious essence.

Looking at the early 1990s from a rocker’s view, another band comes to mind: Rage Against The Machine. Tom Morello on guitar brought us crazy sounds emanating from a heavy blues tradition, but with a funky twist: wah, flanger, and a host of other effects are his shtick. Lead vocalist, Zack de la Rocha often spits rhymes with breakneck veracity. The message of their music is mostly politically oriented.

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Image: Last.fm

Looking at the other side of the coin, hip-hop artists jamming with rock flavors, a couple of legends immediately register. Lil Wayne has been a guitar enthusiast for a long time. He even released a guitar-driven record, Rebirth, which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Charts. It’s a well-known fact that Mac Miller was a super-talented pianist, guitarist, and drummer, and a huge fan of The Beatles.

Denzel Curry propelled himself to stardom with his breakout viral single titled Ultimate. His music is gritty, aggressive, in-your-face – even sometimes referred to by fans and critics as ‘rap-metal’. Clearly, hip-hop and rock have this high-energy element in common.

To be honest. the list of rappers, rockers, and hip-hoppers that benefit from each other and share musical vibes could fill an encyclopedia. What’s important to remember is that in the roots of these genres, there is a commonality to be found. And this manifests itself through musical expression. Both these raw genres have a lot to offer, so crank up the tunes and enjoy!