When Anthrax and Public Enemy invented rap-metal [June 30, 1991]
Plus Billy Bragg, Driza Bone and an incognito Saint Etienne
This week’s Number 22
’Bring The Noise’ — Anthrax feat. Chuck D
There’s this drink in Spain called calimocho that’s super popular among teenagers and broke alcoholics. It’s easy to make. Just get some cheap red wine — served ice cold — and mix it with equally cheap cola.
It’s awful. Mixing these ingredients is so stupid. The resulting drink tastes like rocket fuel. It’s amazing when you’re a dumbass kid and you want to get wrecked.
Yes, this is a metaphor for rap-metal, a genre that is inherently dumbass, all of it. Fred Durst is emporer of the dumbasses. Linkin Park had a deeply dumbass side to them. Rage Against The Machine are dumbasses who think they’re smart, which is the dumbest kind of dumbassness.
Where did it all begin? Who were the first people to champion this cheap, intoxicating cocktail? The official records point to Run DMC and Aerosmith’s megahit ‘Walk This Way’, a monster track that helped push hip-hop into the mainstream (or certainly the white, male, teenage mainstream anyway.) But there’s something a little too polished, too funky about this track to draw an evolutionary chart that leads to, say, Insane Clown Posse.
It does not have enough dumbasseness. It is a martini, not a calimocho.
The truly alchemical process of fusing rap and metal would not occur until five years after ‘Walk This Way’, when the greatest minds in hip-hop got together with the fourth-best minds in thrash metal.
In 1991, a couple of bands like Clawfinger were pioneering the rap-metal sound. Anthrax were a big name in the thrash metal scene, and they had dabbled in a little rap-metal before, but never on a major scale.
Public Enemy, meanwhile, were probably the most potent force in all of music at the end of the 80s, thanks to three classic albums filled with fiery polemic that seemed to genuinely unsettle white America. Their moment was perhaps fading a little as attention turned to the West coast, but Chuck D remained one of the titans of the genre, his sharp booming rhymes sounding like the voice of a pissed-off God.
‘Bring The Noise’ was originally a track on PE’s second album, It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. It’s not a metal song, but it does contain a shout out to Anthrax in the lyrics, simply because Chuck D saw them at a show and thought they were cool.
Anthrax guitarist Scott Ian seems to be the guy who decided how to splice these two sounds together. In a 2019 interview, then-singer Joey Belladona said that he heard Ian working on a riff, and then suddenly Chuck and Flav showed up in the studio. “I was kinda in the dark with it all,” said Belladonna. “That part of it did suck, but the outcome was great.”
That’s perhaps why this is the archetypal rap-metal song - the metal riff is the driving force of the song, while the hip-hop sits on top. ‘Walk This Way’ is structured in the opposite way, so ends up being a Run DMC that samples Aerosmith. Don’t get me wrong, ‘Walk This Way’ is awesome, but it doesn’t foreground its dumbass elements enough to be true rap-metal.
‘Bring The Noise’ is dumbass as hell, which is why it became a staple of so many WWE and Tony Hawks games. PE and Anthrax toured together, and both sets of fans seemed to gel with the other, although nobody had any illusions about this being a moment of interracial solidarity. “We’d join each other on stage for ‘Bring The Noise’ every night and it was awesome,” Belladonna said in that Louder Than Sound interview. “But as for people calling ‘Bring The Noise’ a social statement… nah. I don’t see it as any statement whatsoever.”
Chuck D would probably agree. It’s just pure dumbass fun.
Elsewhere in the charts
Number One: ‘Any Dream Will Do’ - Jason Donovan (=1)
God, what a dirge. I hope it gets knocked off the top next week by some double-denim Canadian bloke.
Number 7: ‘Rush Rush’ - Paula Abdul (↑14)
I think this is a pretty decent mid-tempo ballad. Hard to tell though. My brother had such a ridiculous crush on Paula Abdul that it’s hard for me to listen to her music without hearing his lustful teenage grunts over the top.
Number 16: ‘Real Love’ - Driza Bone
This is a lovely bit of r’n’b with an excellent bass riff. The vocalist is someone called Sophie Jones who seems to have vanished a bit after this track. She was in some kind of contractual dispute at the time, which led to Driza bone re-releasing this with a slightly inferior vocal track by Dee Heron. Not 100% sure who does the rap in the middle eight though.
Number 17: ‘7 Ways to Love’ - Cola Boy (New Entry)
This is so good. Cola Boy is a Saint Etienne side-project with more of a dancey edge. Radio DJ Janey Lee Grace is the person singing and performing on TOTP here. Just a wildly enjoyable dance track.
Number 31: ‘Sexuality’ - Billy Bragg (New Entry)
“I had an uncle who once played/for Red Star Belgrade”. One of Billy’s biggest solo hits, this is the sound of him in a very playful mood. The delightful Kirsty MacColl is on guest vocals, which means she’s still in the charts (Walking Down Madison is down to Number 53.)
Interestingly enough, this version of 'Bring the Noise' is, as you've mentioned, basically a cover of Public Enemy's own song from the album 'It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back'. On that album Public Enemy had already had their own foray into Rap Metal, with 'She Watch Channel Zero?!', which samples the main riff from Slayer's 'Angel of Death'. It's a way cooler song and use of a Metal riff than 'Bring the Noise', but waaaaay too clever to make the big bucks!
On an aside, I have seen Anthrax live twice (supporting Slayer both times) and I can tell you nobody, and I mean genuinely nobody, plays metal with as much GLEE as Anthrax do! They are all so happy to be in that band. It's infectious and really charming to see how happy they are.