The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly of Rap-Rock Crossovers in 10 Songs

From Aerosmith and Run-DMC to Imagine Dragons and Kendrick Lamar

rap rock songs crossover 10 tracks collaborations jay-z linkin park run dmc aerosmith
Linkin Park and JAY-Z, photo by KMazur/WireImage; Aerosmith and Run-DMC (YouTube)

    With the 50th anniversary of hip-hop officially marked on August 11th, 2023, we’re commemorating the landmark all month long. Today, we’re taking a look at 10 notable moments where the hip-hop and rock ecosystems combined as “rap rock.” Keep an eye out for all our Hip-Hop 50 content throughout the month, and check out our exclusive merch featuring our Hip-Hop 50 design at the Consequence Shop. A portion of proceeds from sales benefits Chance the Rapper’s SocialWorks.

    Rock music and hip-hop were never quite opposites. Hip-hop emerged through the use of sampling — of course, samples of jazz, R&B, disco, and soul music were integral to early productions, but rock music was swimming in those mixes too. The mid ’80s saw a significant rise for hip-hop within the cultural consciousness, all while rock was undergoing its own transformation; traditional rock became less commercially successful in the wake of pop and new wave, and hip-hop was still decades away from its inevitable peak. So, for a time, both of these genres were relegated to outsiders, and the artists that represented them realized the potential in joining forces.

    The acts that became big from this first boom of rap-rock, like Run-DMC and Beastie Boys, leaned into the possibilities of putting their hip-hop styles over guitar-based beats. Though the trio had been pioneers of the rap-rock “genre,” it was Rick Rubin who initially suggested to Run-DMC that they record a remix of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”; while the rap group was initially hesitant, the single off 1986’s Raising Hell became a major hit on both urban and rock radio stations and revitalized the career of the then-waning Aerosmith. That same year, Beastie Boys emerged on the scene with a decidedly hybrid approach; they may have originally formed as a full-on punk group, but their debut LP, Licensed to Ill,  featured a true mix of both guitar-forward sounds and hip-hop vocals.


    As both rock and rap began to experience a major commercial heyday in the 1990s, musicians of both genres began dipping into each others’ wells once more. Rap-rock became a certifiable musical style, thanks in part to successful groups like Rage Against the Machine and Faith No More. The 1993 film Judgment Night — an otherwise unremarkable film — featured the bold, industry-aided move of a soundtrack entirely devoted to rap-rock crossovers, including Pearl Jam with Cypress Hill, Del the Funky Homosapien with Dinosaur Jr., and Mudhoney with Sir Mix-A-Lot. Though the soundtrack wasn’t exactly praised, it’s a significant example of both worlds combining in a swirling cocktail of grungy guitars and rousing bars.

    Then came the nu-metal boom: Heavily rap-influenced acts like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, and Korn fully leaned into the genre’s aggressive, hybrid style, to the point where even their fashion became inseparable from hip-hop’s aesthetics. The movement would be relatively short-lived, with rock once again waning in popularity as hip-hop became the most listened-to genre in the world throughout the 2000s and 2010s. That said, a new generation has picked up nu-metal and flipped it on its head in recent years.

    Today, the whole label of “rock music” has become fractured, and, as we highlighted last year in our essay on how music has changed over the last 15 years, nearly every popular music genre features components and aesthetics of hip-hop. And it’s gone the other way, too: there are still hybrid rap-rock attempts a la Machine Gun Kelly, and rappers like Lil Uzi Vert, Lil Peep, Juice WRLD, and Trippie Redd have all contributed to hip-hop’s emo-ification.


    Ever since Aerosmith and Run-DMC showed everyone how to walk their way, artists on both sides of the rap-rock divide have crossed the sonic bridge. Some of these collaborations have definitely been more successful (or generally enjoyable) than others, so let’s take a trip through the last 30 years of rock and rap with 10 crossover tracks that range from good to bad to downright ridiculous.

    — Paolo Ragusa
    Associate Editor