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When Alt-Rockers Start Rapping

by Dan Weiss

When Alt-Rockers Start Rapping

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Everyone knows about rap and rock's famous marriages, like Anthrax and Public Enemy, and Aerosmith and Run-D.M.C. But sometime in the '90s, alternative rock developed its own relationship to rapping, which occasionally had the chutzpah and irony to offend purists -- people who don't have much use for Cake's deadpan robot-declaiming on the surprising hit "The Distance" or Chumbawamba's thick-brogued bar limericks on the even more surprising and even more out-of-nowhere "Tubthumping."

It seems classic rhyming in the alt world came apropos of nothing; where did Beck's generation-defining "Loser" come from? Or for that matter, Sugar Ray's corny-blissful "Fly"? Meanwhile, Barenaked Ladies made comedy out of doubled- and tripled-up flows on "One Week"; Everlast, the purveyor of the traditional "Jump Around," turned his rhymes into muddy blues for a career resurgence with "What It's Like"; and the late Bradley Nowell of Sublime sang a positive skip-roper with "What I Got." Many of these were massive hits, either because of or despite the fact they were predominantly white, predominantly rock-oriented artists taking a stab at their own kind of rhyming and beatmaking. But they really all started with paradigm-shifting godparents Debbie Harry (on Blondie's well-known scene tribute "Rapture") and Lou Reed (on the more obscure, goofy condom PSA "Original Wrapper").

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