Sometime in the mid-1970s, Afrika Bambaataa was kicking out a brand new sound up in the Bronx, while down at CBGBs punk was being created by Richard Hell, Blondie, The Ramones, and The Talking Heads. Although they were scared, a few of the white folks were taken across to the Bronx, to see what the black and brown folks were doing. Soon after, Debbie Harry came out with Rapture. And Raprock was born. Subsequently, Aerosmith would help break black rappers to a mainstream (suburban) market theretofore accessible only by The Beastie Boys. The Brooklyn trio helped break rap into a moneymaking art form. And because one good turn deserves another, Run DMC would revive the careers of Aerosmith who had previously managed to snort up, shoot up, and dry up all their cred.
The worm then turned as Limp Bizkit, Sugar Ray, and Linkin Park all tried to write original crossover tunes. Mostly, their efforts were suckcesspool.
The art of the crossover goes hand in hand with the art of the cover, but it is even trickier. A bad cover can be cheesy (or Richard Cheesey), but bad raprock is just Crazy Town.
Then when you marry the two, covers and rap . . . You get . . . Mixed results. Dynamite Hack famously did it with Boyz in the Hood. So famously, that I’m not even gonna post it here. Instead, below, you’ll find . . .
A is for E-Z E’s tune, Automobile. These aren’t great covers, but they’re fine for the curious.
Automobile (Eazy-E)-Stillwater Pioneers.
B is for Black Sheep (Black Sheep cover)-Trick Turner.
C is for Jonathan Coulton’s cover of Baby Got Back (Sir Mix-A-Lot). This is the first cover of the day that I think is truly great. It takes a crude, and kind of stupid, banger and turns into something that almost feels meaningful. It’s rare that a cover artist makes a song his own. Even rarer that this is done with rap covers.
D is for Diddy! Bad Boy For Life (Puff Daddy)-Clem Snide.
E is for Get UR Freak On (Missy Elliot)-eels.
F is for Feel Good, Inc. (Gorillaz)-The Editors. Technically, I’m not sure if the original qualifies as a rap song, but it had a rap break by Del Tha Funkee Homosapien (who’s Ice Cube’s cousin or something like that), so I’m counting it.
G is for Grandmaster Flash! The Message (Grandmaster Flash)-Keller Williams.
H is for How I Could Just Kill a Man (Cypress Hill)-Rage Against the Machine
I is for Ignition (R Kelly)-Bonnie Prince Paul and Matt Sweeney. R Kelly is more R&B than rap, but I had to put this up anyway.
J is for Christmas in Hollis (Run DMC)-Jungl Ed. Y’know how some songs remind you of movies? This song always makes me think of Die Hard. Specifically, the part where Bruce drops heavy shit on the hood of the car of the dad from Family Matters. Priceless.
K is for KT Tunstall-Get UR Freak On (Missy). KT is fast becoming one of my favorite cover artists. If you’ve heard her cover of the J5’s I Want You Back, you know why.
L is for Ludacris’ What’s Your Fantasy, as covered by Travis Morrison.
M is for Miss Jackson (OutKast)-The Vines.
N is for Nina Gordon-St8 Outta Compton (NWA). Simply one of the greatest rap covers ever.
O is for OutKast. Come back soon for a big Hey Ya post.
P is for The Popguns-Can I Kick It? (Tribe Called Quest)
Q is for this quick version of Doo Wop (That Thing) (Lauryn Hil)-Mr. Bungle. Way too short. So check out this version: Doo Wop (That Thing) (Lauryn Hill)-Devendra Banhart
R is for Richard Cheese-Milkshake (Kelis).
S is for Snow Patrol-Crazy in Love (Jay-Z and Beyonce).
T is for Tech Lo-Southern Hospitality (Ludacris).
U is for Gin and Juice (Snoop)/Smoke 2 Joints (Sublime)-The Under Ground Groovement.
V is for Vanilla Ice.
W is for Wu Tang Clan Ain’t Nuthin to Fuck With-Rage Against the Machine. Ragers are the experts at this, fer sure.
X is for the ones I didn’t upload here. Pour a little out for The Gourds’ minor hit, the bluegrass version of Snoop’s Gin N Juice. And pour another for Travis Morrison’s cover of LL’s Around the Way Girl. And pour–No. There are others, but drink the rest yourself.
Y is for the person getting knocked out! Mama Said Knock You Out (LL Cool J)-Lagwagon.
Z is for Zero. The number of times I’ll post Duran Duran’s massacre of the great, White Lines (Grandmaster Flash). True connoisseurs of this genre should also be aware of DuranX2’s cover of Public Enemy’s 911 is a Joke. Their experiences with the pain of racial discrimination add a unique expressiveness to the song.