Hip Hop in Classic Rock and Oldies

Classic rock took influences from everywhere. Hip hop/rap started in the late 70s, but it influenced classic rock musicians in the 80s and later. Let’s see how classic rock influenced hip hop and how it incorporated hip hop. So what were hip hop’s influences? Looking at the chart from School of Rock, it seems like it came from disco and funk, which took influences from R&B and doo-wop, and from there the blues. We can see that this is true because many rappers have sampled soul, funk, and r&b songs like Isaac Hayes’ “Theme From Shaft”, Ohio Players’ “Funky Worm” (this song reminds me a lot of early hip hop and I can see how it is influential), James Brown’s “The Payback”, “Between The Sheets” by The Isley Brothers, “Amen Brother” by The Winstons, and “The Harlem Shuffle” by Bob & Earl. Many more have been sampled and we can go on and on. A good resource if you want to check and see what has been sampled or what used samples is http://www.whosampled.com/. Turns out that in a way School of Rock was right!

Even before funk, disco, R&B, and soul music, there was talking blues. One of the earliest examples of talking blues is from the 20s. This was a time before the LP record, a time before television. Mind you, the sound quality isn’t great because they didn’t have the best recording technology at the time. Chris Bouchillon is “The Original Talking Blues Man”. His father was a banjo player. His first talking blues song was recorded in 1926 and released in 1927. The idea of him talking instead of singing was born from the recording director telling him to talk instead of sing. He made a sequel to the song in 1928. This sub-genre of blues inspired musicians like Woody Guthrie and Bob Dylan. From the blues came genres like soul and R&B, so talking blues is an ancestor of rap, when you think about it. So is rap really almost 90 years old? Or is it even older than that?

Actually, according to some sources, there were roots of rap before talking blues. In West Africa stories were told rhythmically and blues music came from work songs and African-American spirituals. By the 20s during the Harlem Renaissance there was jazz poetry, and in the 50s and 60s, beat poetry. According to Elijah Wald, hip hop is “the living blues”. The Last Poets, poets and musicians who came out of the black nationalist movement in the 60s and 70s were influential to many hip hop musicians. Their music was political, and their rhythms were tight. I like the drums in “When The Revolution Comes”, from 1970. The Last Poets formed in 1968 in Harlem and were influential to Gil Scott-Heron and later on hip-hop musicians.

An important part of ska music was “toasting” which is making sounds, repeating words, rhyming, and talking over the beat of the music. Ska music started in the 60s in Jamaica and has spread all over the world and is an important part of the skinhead subculture in Britain. Toasting is a precursor to rap.

Here’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues”, by Bob Dylan from 1965. This is one example of talking blues that’s a bit more contemporary.

A lot of people pit different genres against each other. Many musicians from all different genres have a lot of respect for each other. So these supposed rivalries are a bit fabricated. You also can like more than one genre. There’s a lot of stereotypes about rap, such as “Rap has no meaning.”, when really, a lot of early rap had a meaning and was very political and very intelligently and poetically written. This stereotype is not true at all. Let’s find out what classic rock and oldies musicians have been influenced by the genre or influenced the genre.

Gotta Let You Go:

In 1950, blues musician Joe Hill Louis rapped in the song “Gotta Let You Go”. He was a one-man band and only one of a few one-man bands to record in the 50s. He also was a session musician for Sun Records. He died in 1957 at the age of 35.

Apache: From The Shadows to The Sugarhill Gang:

In 1960 British rock band The Shadows released their most famous song, Apache. Now most people wouldn’t associate this song with hip hop, but this song really influenced the genre. Thirteen years later, in 1973 Michael Viner’s Incredible Bongo Band covered the song and added, you guessed it, bongos! The Sugarhill Gang took influences from the 1973 version and released “Apache (Jump On It)” in 1981. Not only were The Sugarhill Gang influenced by this song, but The Incredible Bongo Band’s version was sampled in many hip hop and dance tracks from the 80s. The Sugarhill Gang were the first rap group to have a top 40 hit on the Billboard charts. They were signed to Sugar Hill Records, which was founded by Joe Robinson, Milton Malden, and Sylvia Robinson. Sylvia Robinson was half of Mickey and Sylvia, who were known for the 1950s top 20 hit “Love Is Strange”. That song was covered by Lonnie Donegan, Buddy Holly, and Paul McCartney.

Although The Shadows didn’t write Apache, they were shown the song by Jerry Lordan when they were touring with him and recorded it. Without this song, it’s likely that this early hip hop song wouldn’t exist.

Here are videos of the three songs, so you can hear how “Apache” evolved from an early 60s rock instrumental to a hip hop song.

Plastic Fantastic Lover:

Jefferson Airplane released this song in 1967 on the album Surrealistic Pillow. Could this be an example of rap?

Castles Made of Sand:

A Jimi Hendrix song from the 1967 album Axis: Bold As Love. Recently a producer named Eddie Kramer said that Jimi Hendrix would have pioneered rap had he not died in 1970. Kramer described Hendrix as “a musical sponge”. This song is a little taste of rap, probably influenced by talking blues. A great listen indeed. Jimi Hendrix even worked with The Last Poets. Here’s the story.

Bummer In The Summer:

From Love’s Forever Changes. It’s a combination of folk rock and talking blues. Great vocals by Arthur Lee and one of my favourite tracks from the album.

Year of the Guru:

This was a song by The Animals from 1968, written by Eric Burdon. He raps in the song, and I think it’s pretty neat that he mixes psychedelic music with rap (well at least what we now know as rap).

James Brown:

The Godfather of Soul also was an inspiration for hip hop musicians, therefore he was often sampled. Ice Cube even said that “we wouldn’t have rap music without James Brown.” He utilised call-and-response and his music was backed with break beats. Songs such as “The Payback”, “Funky Drummer”, “Get On The Good Foot”, “Make It Funky”, “Funky President”, “Get Up Offa That Thing”, “Soul Power”, “Get Up, Get Into It, Get Involved”, and countless others have influenced rap and hip hop. In the 80s he was interviewed and asked about his thoughts on rap. He even collaborated with Afrika Bambaataa, on a duet called “Unity” in 1984. The song even sampled some of James Brown’s older songs. James Brown was a fan of rap and hip hop.

Joe Tex:

He was James Brown’s musical rival and also rapped in many of his songs. His music ranged from soul to funk, but some of his songs were influenced by country music and gospel. He would often tell a story through rap and then continue to sing. Even just doing a Google search for “Joe Tex rap”, I found that the Texas Hall of Musical Excellence called him “The First Rapper”. Some of his songs that incorporated rap in some of the verses were “I Gotcha,” which went to #2 on the pop charts, “Under Your Powerful Love”, a Northern Soul favourite, “Set Me Free”, and “Skinny Legs and All”, a top 10 hit.  He retired in 1979 and died in 1982.

He’s Gonna Step On You Again: The first sample in music?

As you may know, an important part of hip hop and rap is sampling. Sampling is when you take an already existing recording and use it in a whole new song. According to the Guinness Book of World Records, the first sample used in music was in 1971. “He’s Gonna Step On You Again” was written by South African John Kongos and Cypriot Chris Demetriou. You can easily hear the African drumming in the background.

Isaac Hayes:

An influential soul musician who was signed to Stax Records. He started off as a songwriter for the record label, but later on started recording albums. He wrote the hits “Soul Man” and “Hold On, I’m Comin'” performed by Sam & Dave. His music ranged from jazz-influenced to funk to blues to soul to disco. He used the term rap in 1970 with the song titled “Ike’s Rap I” from the album …To Be Continued. Isaac Hayes spoke over piano in that song. The album, Black Moses, featured medleys where one part was a monologue such as “Medley: Ike’s Rap II/Help Me Love” and “Medley: Ike’s Rap III/Your Love is So Doggone Good”. “Theme From Shaft” was sampled in many rap songs. Isaac Hayes and Millie Jackson released the album Royal Rappin’s. The album combines disco and funk with a little bit of rap.

Gil-Scott Heron:

Soul and jazz poet best known for the spoken word composition “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”, recorded in 1970 and released as a single in 1971. He was born in Chicago to a Jamaican father who played football (soccer) and a mother who was an opera singer. He went to secondary school in New York City. He was very inspired by The Last Poets after seeing a performance of them at his university and said he wanted to start a group like that. He did not just influence rappers, but also rock musicians and indie musicians. Another song I like is “Save The Children”. “The Bottle” made it to #15 on the R&B singles charts. Many newspapers dubbed him the “Godfather of Rap”, however, he did not like this title and called his music “bluesology”.


In 1972, Pete Townshend released his first solo album Who Came First. Pete Townshend collaborated with musicians Ronnie Lane of the Small Faces/Faces and Billy Nicholls. “Evolution”, a Ronnie Lane composition, had a talking blues influenced sound to it. The song was a reworking of the Faces song “Stone”.

Trans Europe Express: 

Kraftwerk were very influential in general. One journalist, Neil McCormick, described them as “the most influential group in pop history”. Famous fans of this band include Joy Division, Depeche Mode, New Order, and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark. Kraftwerk still are influential to this day influencing acts from the 1990s and 2000s like BjĂśrk and Daft Punk. Rock stars and rappers equally love this band. They started out having a very experimental sound in the early 70s, but by 1974 their sound changed to a more electronic one with the album Autobahn. Vocoders, synthesisers, and electric drums were used. The title track is the only one with lyrics. The song is in German, but many Anglophone listeners mistook the lyrics “Wir fahren fahren fahren auf der autobahn” as “fun fun fun on the autobahn”. Three years later, the very influential Trans Europe Express came out. Afrika Bambaataa sampled the title track on “Planet Rock”.

The Magnificent Seven:

The Clash took influences from everywhere, including hip hop and they released this song in April 1981, making them amongst the first white musicians to try their hand at hip hop. They weren’t just a punk band and their discography has something for everyone. By the early 80s, hip hop and rap was picking up in popularity and The Clash definitely were fans of it. This song was inspired by early hip hop musicians The Sugarhill Gang and Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. Mick Jones was a big fan of the genre and even carried a boom box around. However, Joe Strummer wrote much of the lyrics. The song relied a lot on the bassline done by Norman Watt-Roy from Ian Dury and The Blockheads. This song has one of my favourite bass lines from that era of rock music, the early 80s. Much like many hip hop songs, this song has a message about consumerism and capitalism.


Song by Blondie released in 1981. Unlike the song by The Clash, this song wasn’t completely rap. This song went to #1 in the US and is notable for being the first number one to feature rap. In the song Debbie Harry name drops and mentions rappers Fab Five Freddy and Grandmaster Flash. This song didn’t just have rap influences, but also disco and funk, which were popular even in the early 80s. I wouldn’t say this was the best attempt at rap by a rock musician, but this song is very important in the history of rock/rap crossovers.

Wordy Rappinghood and Genius of Love:

Both songs were released by Tom Tom Club in 1981 and are heavily disco influenced. Tom Tom Club were founded by Talking Heads members Tina Weymouth and Chris Frantz. “Word Rappinghood” is inspired by rap and is partially rapped by Tina Weymouth and her sisters. This song came out just a month after Blondie’s “Rapture”. “Genius of Love” was sampled in quite a few rap songs such as “Genius Rap” by Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde, “It’s Nasty” by Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five, and “Fantasy” by Mariah Carey.

Under Pressure versus Ice Ice Baby: 

Queen and David Bowie released Under Pressure in 1981 and this was a big hit in 1982. This song came about when David Bowie did a collaboration with Queen. The intent was that he would do vocals on another song, but that didn’t work out well.  The song originated partially from improvisation and jam sessions. One of the most iconic moments in the song was the bassline by John Deacon.

Not even a decade later, Vanilla Ice released “Ice Ice Baby”. Vanilla Ice claimed that he didn’t lift the bassline from Queen because he added a note, but he settled out of court and paid royalties to Queen and David Bowie since it was clear that it was plagiarism. This is why you see Queen and David Bowie in the songwriting credits. Every time a song is sampled, the writers of that song are in the songwriting credits.

Duck Rock:

“Buffalo Gals” is considered the song that brought rap to Britain and made the genre mainstream there in 1982. It surprised me because Malcolm McLaren is not the first British musician to make a foray into rap (see above where I mention The Clash). Malcolm McLaren was best known for managing the Sex Pistols. Not only did he work with punk musicians, he also worked with Vivienne Westwood (his girlfriend at the time) to outfit The New York Dolls and he worked with Adam and the Ants. In 1983 he worked with producer Trevor Horn (of Buggles and Yes fame) and rappers The World’s Famous Supreme Team on an album called Duck Rock. It was more than just a hip hop album. It was a mix of new wave, world music, and hip hop.


You wouldn’t expect prog-rock band Genesis to be influenced by rap. A drum machine was used in the song and drum machines were also used in rap and hip hop. In particular, Phil Collins’s influence for the laugh (at 2:38 in the video) was from Grandmaster Flash’s “The Message”. But even before that, back when Peter Gabriel and Steve Hackett were in the band, Peter Gabriel speaks in the song “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”. Great song and one of my favourite Genesis songs! Phil Collins also is a fan of R&B music and plenty of Genesis songs take influences from R&B music such as “Get ‘Em Out By Friday”, “No Reply At All”, and “Anything She Does”. (I want to thank my friend, William, for the information).

All Hell’s Breakin’ Loose:

This song was on the Kiss album Lick It Up, which was released in 1983. It was released as a single in 1984. It did not chart. They incorporated rap in this song, combining it with hard rock. Not all of the song was rap, however.

Picking Up Sounds:

John Deacon had an interest in disco, R&B, and hip hop. It’s why fans call him Disco Deaky. Some of his favourite musicians include Gonzalez, Tower of Power, Chic, Michael Jackson, and Stevie Wonder. He co-wrote this song called “Picking Up Sounds” with former Hummingbird guitarist Robert Ahwai and Man Friday from funk group Funkapolitan. Also playing on this track are: Scott Gorham of Thin Lizzy, Simon Kirke and Mick Ralphs of Bad Company, and Martin Chambers of The Pretenders. Was Bruno Mars “24K Magic” inspired by this song? I think so. Don’t just take my word for it. Give the song a listen. It’s really good, probably my favourite solo song from any member of Queen.

Sun City:

A song made in 1985 protesting Apartheid in South Africa. In the late 70s in South Africa, Sol Kerzner built a resort called Sun City. In the resort there was a stadium where musicians would play. He would pay good money to musicians to come and play at Sun City. Many musicians turned it down because going there would be supporting the Apartheid government because they would be spending money there. Musicians from all genres worked together on this song, not just rappers and rock stars. The rap musicians who performed on this song include DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Melle Mel, The Fat Boys, Run DMC, Afrika Bambaataa, and Kurtis Blow. Rock stars who performed on the song include Bob Dylan, Joey Ramone, Pete Townshend, Keith Richards, Ringo Starr, U2, Jackson Browne, Peter Gabriel, Lou Reed, and of course Steven Van Zandt who wrote the song. As you can see, they come from all different genres of music and sub genres of rock. There were jazz musicians like Miles Davis and Herbie Hancock, R&B/soul musicians such as Eddie Kendricks, David Ruffin, Gil-Scott Heron, and Bobby Womack. Ska musician Jimmy Cliff and Funk musician George Clinton also played on the song. The song opens up with the lyrics “We’re rappers and rockers/united and strong/We’re here to talk about South Africa/We don’t like what’s going on”. This song shows that rock stars and rappers can and do collaborate and the fusion that results is pretty awesome!

Walk This Way:

Originally released by Aerosmith in 1975, it was from their album Toys In The Attic. It was the second single to be released from that album, after “Sweet Emotion”. “Walk This Way” was influenced by funk, especially The Meters, famous for  “Cissy Strut” and “People Say”. This song was #10 on the Billboard charts. Eleven years later, Aerosmith collaborated with Run-DMC and remade the song into something completely different with Run-DMC rapping the lyrics and Steven Tyler and Joe Perry doing vocals and guitar, respectively. This marked a comeback for Aerosmith and the 1986 version charted higher than the original. This was an important rap song that helped bring the genre to the mainstream.

Magic Carpet Ride:

Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five cover Steppenwolf’s 1968 song “Magic Carpet Ride”. The song was on their final album, On The Strength. This was not the first time Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five incorporated classic rock. They have sampled Tom Tom Club’s “Genius of Love”, Blondie’s “Rapture”, The Shadows’ “Apache”, and Queen’s “We Will Rock You”.

Roll The Bones:

A Rush song from the 1991 album of the same name. Not a rap song, but part of the song is rapped by Geddy Lee whose voice was made lower with effects. The lyrics were written by drummer Neil Peart and the song is about taking chances in life. He was influenced by rappers like LL Cool J and Public Enemy and experimented with rap in the song. As you may guess from the album cover it’s an expression for rolling dice. In the video, the rap starts at 3:13.

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