Walk Together, Rock Together: Five Unsung Punk & Hip Hop Encounters
Growing up as a rabid fan of anything (music, movies, comics, etc.) means you’re spending your days schooling yourself on it, seeking it out, finding a cheap way to get it, and hooking up with a crew of like minded people who are also fans. There’s not enough free time nor should a healthy kid be in the headspace to step back and do an analysis of why they’re a fan of a certain medium or style. No teenager whose goal is to steal a couple fat caps and get laid wants to explore what factors in their life make them a specific “market” or a “demographic.”
But during my years spent digging through the catacombs of record stores with deceptively utilitarian names like “Music Connection” and “Sound Exchange” to staying up late to catch Stretch & Bobbito, a few memorable moments made me realize - without ever being able to give a clear reason why - it seemed normal to be a fan of both Punk Rock and Hip Hop. If you ask a lot of Punk rockers and Hip Hop heads about a venue where you’ll find their two diehard fanbases intersecting one answer would likely be skateboarding. So when The Beatnuts' “Off The Books” segued into Youth Brigade’s “Men In Blue” it in the Shorty’s Fulfill The Dream video, the Punk / Hip Hop connection just felt right.
Then it happened again. I bought Blood, Sweat, and No Tears, the debut album from New York Hardcore kings Sick of It All. I hit play and heard that unmistakable voice of the emcee who penned “Slap Them Up”: “Blastmaster KRS-One. Fresh for ’89. You Suckaaas!” Thus KRS kicked off Sick of It All’s “Clobberin’ Time,” one of the most legendary mosh parts to ever come out of the five boroughs. Again, the connection just felt right.
I was finally sold on the two genres being one and the same the day I realized I was unable to give a truly unbiased review of the musical merits of Frayser Boy’s Me Being Me. Why? Because one of its producers, Three 6 Mafia’s Juicy J, was featured in the insert wearing a Misfits shirt. And in this case, the bond between genres really felt right. Both Three 6 and The Misfits had DIY beginnings and embraced over the top horror imagery while (partly due to finances) preferring lo-fi grime when it came to production values. Both units lost all of the original members but two in the case of Three 6, and one in the case of the Misfits' Glenn Danzig who basically controlled the band anyway. Both were eventually accepted by the mainstream, alienated a portion of their fans and got bigger, glossier, and more musically ambitious. Three 6 gave us “Stay Fly," Danzig - band name and his name now one and the same- gave us “Mother.”
The following are some unsung moments when Hip Hop and Punk have crossed paths. These aren’t mega-cultural milestones nor are they the best musical moments. I didn’t choose hardcore kids putting down their instruments and making a legendary Hip Hop album (i.e. The Beastie Boys' License To Ill) or rappers picking up instruments and having Punk Rock songs on a legendary Hip Hop album (i.e. Check Your Head).
These are a few side alley collisions where each of the drivers threw up their hands and told society they just didn’t give a fuck. And with these two kinds of music which both started in the streets that’s the way it should always be.
Johnny and Afrika Speak About Destruction
It always amazed me how the real interesting stuff started happening when the Punk stopped. After one proper Sex Pistols album and a bunch of scattershot filler, Johnny Rotten decided to go over the heads of the public rather than spit in their faces. Rolling back to his govt. name “John Lydon,” he formed Public Image Ltd. (PiL). Similar to early Hip Hop, PiL took the sounds of Krautrock acts like Kraftwerk and anchored them with the bottom heavy bass of Dub Reggae. PIL’s Hip Hop similarities didn’t stop there. When Lydon slithered onto American TV in 1980 to snarl at Tom Snyder that PiL was not a band in a music sense but a “communications company messing about” with “anything that’ll make money” like “dabbling with film soundtracks,” it makes you wonder whether a 15 year-old, Marion "Suge" Knight Jr. had stayed up past Johnny Carson that night and found some inspiration.
So after all of this, it didn’t come as a surprise when the man responsible for “Planet Rock,” “The Godfather,” Afrika Bambaataa, asked producer Bill Laswell for someone “real crazy” to record with the latest incarnation of his band Time Zone. One phonecall and a quick recording session later and there was “World Destruction.” The track was roughly four minutes of epic Rap-Rock that predated “Walk This Way” by two years.
World Destruction - Time Zone f. John Lydon (12" single, 1984)
Thanks to a relatively recent pop culture phenomenon called The Sopranos, “World Destruction” is now better known as the song that opened and closed (with the classic “dollar bill” shot) the series' Season 4 premiere.
Lydon and Bambaataa must have caught the same electro bug in the studio that day because they went on to collaborate separately with British genre definers Leftfield giving the group their biggest hits (“Open Up” / “Afrika Shox” ) on their only two albums.
Dee Dee Ramone Channels Schoolly D
Hands down, my favorite Ramone was always Dee Dee. Here’s a guy that most of the time looked and sounded like he was zonked out of his mind on numerous substances and probably was the most crippled out of all his bandmates, who all fought various forms addictions and/or illnesses. Yet one look at the songwriting credits and you’ll see that it was his name under most of The Ramones “hits,” bubble gum Pop anthems played at warp speeds using three chords or less.
So I’m guessing diehard fans took the news with heavy hearts when it was announced in 1989 that Dee Dee was leaving the band to become a full time rapper. Yes, the rapper, “Dee Dee King.” After stumbling onto planes during the End of The Century Tour rockin’ Adidas and Dookie Rope Chains, Dee Dee’s Schoolly D fixation caused him to make a fateful decision.
In the annals of “so bad, it’s good” moments comes Standing In The Spotlight. Dee Dee lets you know right from the get-go that “Mashed Potato Time” will “make you snap crackle and pop” 'cause “he’s the master of Hip Hop” while “2 Much 2 Drink” is the dark side of the Beastie’s “Fight For Your Right” and finds Dee Dee re-pronouncing Heineken to make it rhyme with fun. And there’s still eight tracks to go... What gives this LP its charm and its place in my “rap” world is that Dee Dee actually sounds like he’s having fun and while taking the endeavor seriously isn’t taking its execution. When J-Ro said he was “like Kukamunga” and MCA talked about, “real not phony ‘O.E.’ and Rice-a-Roni” they were coming from the same place albeit with a heightened level of proficiency.
Dee Dee King - 2 Much 2 Drink (Standing In The Spotlight, 1992)
Having fun with nothing to prove. That’s something that seems to be missing in not just a lot of recent hip hop music but pop music in general.
Pushead Visits Dr. Octagon
Taking away Brian “Pushead” Schroeder’s Dr. Octagoneycologyst cover art is no different than taking the silver triangle with the rainbow thing away from Dark Side of The Moon. Just like Kool Keith travelled from a world of Ced Gee beats and Tim Dog collaborations, Pushead landed in Dr. Octagon’s “General Hospital” after polluting the world (his band was Septic Death) with some of its most iconic Hardcore, Punk, and Metal imagery. Way before Shepard decided that “Andre Had A Posse,” Pushead’s unmistakable art was like a twisted welcome wagon on video boxes and Zorlac skate decks for kids who wanted to experience a band called Metallica. And no CGI’d-out movie trailer has ever been more repulsingly intriguing than a signature Pushead skull and The Misfits simply asking, “Mommy Can I Go Out And Kill Tonight?”
Punk and hardcore in its essence is simple. Stripped-down. Dangerous. This is why the Hip Hop critics who overthought Dr. Octagonecologyst with cerebral dissertation style reviews should’ve analyzed the LP from the cover art in. Dr. Octagonecologyst is an album that features a sample from Cabin Boy and finds Keith discussing straight faced “carrying walruses” and being “armed with seven rounds of space doo-doo pistols.” The irreplaceable sounds from Dan the Automator, Kutmasta Kurt and DJ Q-Bert are all dusted-out murk and fit perfectly alongside the soundtrack to Planet of The Vampires.
"Earth People - Dr. Octagon (Dr. Octagonecologyst, 1997)
So like the grasshopper with saw blade hands Pushead did for Japanese hardcore band Cocobat, Dr. Octagon’s cover art issues the same mission statement. Don’t dissect stupid, just enjoy.
Jello and Ice-T Fight The Law
Leaving Luke Skywalker and Dee Snider out of the equation, the two people Tipper Gore would probably least like to have father her grandchildren are Ice-T and Jello Biafra.
Let’s start with Jello. Naming your third album Frankenchrist released by your band named “Dead Kennedys” would definitely make the finger of some PMRC lackey stop as it scrolled down the list October ’85’s new releases. Add to the mix songs like “Hellnation” and “Stars and Stripes Of Corruption” and you’ve really got a party. Now that Jello a.k.a. “Captain Ringworm” has whet your appetite, the H.R. Giger painting Penis Landscape (which is not a landscape in the the shape of a penis but actually many penises ... and vulvas too) is generously provided in glorious poster form. Now Giger wasn’t a fringe artist, this was an Academy Award winner! But when it came to the people that mattered, the people that decide to slap fines and jail sentences on “pornographic” lawbreakers who distribute art like Giger’s, its probably a good bet that they weren’t fans of a little film called Alien that also relied on his visuals. Either way the fight over whether or not to deem Frankenchrist “harmful material for minors” turned Jello into an even bigger scourge of the PMRC, a first amendment crusader, bankrupt, and a man without a band. Lets face it, the third item on the list is the one that really hits home for most of us.
Ice-T. Two words: "Cop Killer." I’m not bringing this up to say it was the general public’s job to interpret this song differently nor am I trying to mince words when it comes to telling people about something vs. telling people to do something. But the whole song (recorded by Ice-T’s Thrash band Body Count) falls into a grey area which was ignored by many lazy critics content with delivering something appealingly topical rather than an informed argument for either side of the case. If all the critics who championed Slayer - like those at Spin who made Reign In Blood the #67 album of the last 20 years - and agreed that the song “Angel of Death” was simply “cinematic” stood up for “Cop Killer” using the same reasoning, would the outcome have been different?
Either way, while 2 Live Crew was in Miami rcording “My Seven Bizzos,” Ice-T and Afrika Islam were meeting with the disembodied voice of Jello Biafra in Los Angeles. The resulting track which has one of the most logical names in the history of Hip Hop, “Freedom Of Speech,” was born. Beginning with the line “‘Ayo Ice I’m working on a term paper for college, What’s The First Amendment?’” and ending with a clip from Jello’s “Tales From The Trial Pt.3,” Ice T lets us know that we, “better watch what we say.”
Freedom of Speech - Ice-T - The Iceberg (Freedom of Speech...What What You Say, 1989)
No three artists are more similar with each other as far as relationships with the media go than Jello, Ice-T and Chuck D. So it was a complete no brainer when “Freedom of Speech” appeared again on the latter’s Louder Than A Bomb compilation.
Just Another Damn Collaboration
No example lets a music fan run with why the two genres are intertwined better than this final selection. These two joints feature bassist Daryl Jenifer (as producer) and enigmatic frontman HR (as guest vocalist) from my (and Lil Jon's) ALL TIME favorite hardcore band, Bad Brains. Any fan familiar with the Bad Brains who is also familiar with Ill Bill and R.A. The Rugged Man, two Hip Hop artists who have called on this half of Bad Brains, could give a whole list of reasons as to why they’re all a perfect fit. But like Juicy J’s Misfits shirt, even if it was just picked out by a stylist, it just feels right.