What Happens When Musical Genres Collide

Greater than the sum of their parts

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Music is wonderful in that, no matter how hard people try, it cannot always be put into little pigeonholes. For the most part, musicians and performers are creative souls. With creativity usually comes a sense of curiosity. “Will it work if I throw a 200bpm breakbeat over this ukulele?” Perhaps not, but genre crossovers are to be applauded. For the most part, anyway.

Think of the way Public Enemy and Anthrax teamed up for Bring The Noise, giving birth to what we know called rap-metal. That may have been a blessing or a curse, depending on your musical opinion, but its influence was undeniable.

With that in mind we wanted to shine a light on some examples of when 2 (or more) seemingly disparate musical genres collided. It doesn’t always work. Results on the negative scale vary from “nice try but it didn’t work” through to “what were you thinking?!!” But when it does work, magic can occur.

Public Enemy vs Anthrax – Bring the Noise

We’ll start with the aforementioned banger, which brought together Public Enemy from the world of hip hop, and Anthrax from the world of thrash metal. Originally, the track was a Public Enemy-only tune which featured on their 1988 album It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back. It featured a line giving a shout-out to Anthrax, a compliment returned by Anthrax’s Scott Ian who often wore Public Enemy t-shirts when performing. Naturally, the two bands’ paths crossed and a collaboration was recorded. This culminated in a joint global tour, and thus rap metal was born.

Now, say what you like about rap metal. It doesn’t seem too prevalent now so we can almost talk about it in past tense. It was uncouth, it was dumbed down, it was lowest common denominator. Sure, there may be something in all that. But the fact is that, for a long time, rap metal meant an awful lot to an awful lot of people. It also paved the way for some artists, wrongly lumped into the Nu-Metal genre, to reach a far wider audience.

There are also similarities with hip hop and metal. Or, more specifically, with hip hop and punk. Both share the same DIY attitude to taking care of business. Neither genre focuses on musical excellence or technical superiority. These genres shared energy and anger instead, giving young people a voice that they weren’t getting from radio-friendly music. So while the music may be different, the reasons for making that music share more than a few similarities.

Metallica – S&M

More than just a crossover track, Metallica went one step further a released S&M, an entire double album of songs chosen from their back catalogue. Only this time, the songs were all augmented by the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra.

The band’s original bassist, Cliff Burton, had long championed the crossover appeal of rock and classical music. S&M was the logical conclusion to this. On paper it sounded like Spinal Tap-esque folly, the result of a band with too much time and money on their hands. In practice, it sounded incredible. Those iconic guitar riffs and lead lines were given new life with the addition of soaring string sections and orchestral percussion. In short, it definitely worked.

Massive Attack & Horace Andy – Blue Lines

Moving away from guitar-related tracks, we can highly recommend the Blue Lines album from Massive Attack. While it’s nearly 30 years old now, it offers a great example of genre crossover by its inclusion of reggae legend Horace Andy of a good number of its tracks.

Horace Andy was well known within reggae circles for tracks like Skylarking and Don’t Try To Use Me. His voice, with its unique vibrato, had always seemed somewhat melancholic anyway and it suited the downbeat aesthetic of Blue Lines perfectly.

He went on to become a de-facto fourth member of Massive Attack, collaborating with them on many different albums and tracks.

Conclusion

Genre crossovers come in all shapes and sizes, and a variety of flavours. Ever considered doing one yourself? With a diverse selection of gear, the sky is the limit. For a guitar player, consider recording your guitar into a DAW or recording device and then experimenting with instruments you’d never normally touch. Even a basic setup like the Focusrite Scarlett Solo will enable you to capture your guitar signal and play over an existing song.

Alternatively, you could explore the world of MIDI. You can usually find MIDI interpretations of popular tracks online – take these and play them through a DAW like Ableton Live and then start changing out the instruments, tempos and effects. You never know what happy accident you might come across. Adding a MIDI keyboard to the setup, like the Novation Launchkey Mini, means you can add or embellish the tunes to your will.

We’re fortunate too in that musical notation, no matter the instrument, is universal. If you hear a nice line in a pop song, don’t be too proud to download the tab and reinterpret it to your own tastes.