In the vast ocean of musical genres, rap and rock have never been that far apart. Though rap and rock fans have always had a bit of tension between them, it wasn’t hard to see how rap rock started to gain traction in the ’90s, taking the aggression of rap and pairing it with loud guitars. And while the likes of nu metal have gone way out of style in recent years, this kind of collab never really goes away.
Throughout rap’s history, these bands have always been sampling rock bands, so it was only a matter of time before they actually tried their hand at making some heavy riffs of their own. That doesn’t mean that they have to use the traditional guitars and drums that you’d see in a rock context though.
These guys were still operating under the rap moniker, but the aesthetic was a lot more on the rock side, going for something a lot more aggro and making their way to the top on heaviness rather than just the flow. While it’s a fine line going from legit to corny most of the time, every one of these tracks can inspire just as much headbanging from a metal crowd as they could from a hip hop crowd. We might not have the same musical DNA or anything, but we can all still get along.
In the early ’00s, the rap game was starting to go through a bit of a sea change. We may have been a long way from people like Kanye West coming up in the next few years, but the sounds of people like the Neptunes were dipping their toes into pop culture, taking the kind of off the wall mentality of Outkast and their own unique spin on it. When the production crew wasn’t working with stars like Gwen Stefani or Snoop Dogg though, they still had one hell of a track record on their own.
Though most of NERD’s first record is what you’d expect from the Neptunes’ typical production style, Rock Star is probably one of the hardest beats that they had put together at that point. While it would be easy to just see this song as a joke to use the kind of macho bravado of a rock star, the main riff and especially the drums take you for a ride in the headphones, taking a sample from John Bonham’s drums from a Led Zeppelin song and sprinkling Pharrell’s smooth delivery on top of it.
And even though people like to talk up genres blending together in the past few years, this is probably one of the first times that it was all pulled off effectively, with Tyler the Creator seeing this as one of the templates for his career coming off of albums like Bastard. The licks might not be from a virtuoso or anything, but it’s sometimes the simplest riffs that are the most effective.