There have been many awesome, and many less-than-awesome crossover collaborations between hip-hop and rock and metal over the years. Aerosmith and Run DMC, Anthrax and Public Enemy on the game-changing Bring Tha Noize. Eminem and Marilyn Manson.Linkin Park and Jay Z. Amazingly, Dillinger Escape Plan and Jarren Brenton released this incredible song back in 2014, and most recently, Chance the Rapper and Death Cab For Cutie shared a mutual affection for another.
But there is one band who reign supreme in the wonderful world of rock-metal collaborations.
That band is Korn. Yes, Korn. The band who made white dreadlocks and eyebrow piercings inexplicably cool in the mid-90s. The Godfathers of nu-metal and probably its premier practitioners and the band behind some of the hits that defined that era.
Korn have long enjoyed a healthy relationship with hip-hop, with a remarkably high number of collaborations and crossover hits under their belts across the past two decades as well as their own members dabbling in the genre themselves (See: bassist Fieldy and his hardcore hip-hop album Rock’n Roll Gangster all the way back in 2002).
As one of the most popular metal bands of the last two decades and a band who pioneered a genre owing as much to rap as it does to metal and one that reached the zenith of its popularity while they were in their prime, it’s no surprise that Korn frequently worked with some of hip-hop’s biggest names.
These are five of their best collaborations:
Children Of The Korn ft. Ice Cube
Having covered Ice Cube’s Wicked 20 years ago, Korn would eventually get the chance to directly collaborate with Cube, who was evidently a huge influence of theirs, to create one of the better rap/rock collisions of all time.
For a song about how parents don’t understand ‘loud’ music with copious cuss words, forget Will Smith and ‘his good clean raps’, Ice Cube and Korn were the polar opposites.
Both artists were known for their defiant individuality and their liberal approach to freedom of speech. Just look at Ice Cube and his days in the NWA if you want to know whether or not he backs down (he doesn’t). Korn were also no stranger to waking up each morning and pissing off the world in a time where their profane and oftentimes dark lyrics raised the ire of many conservatives. Children Of The Korn is a great mix of both of them doing what they do best.
Play Me ft. Nas
Reviewing Nas’ extensive back catalogue, it might be easier to list the very few artists he hasn’t had dealings with. Most are at least loosely connected to the wider sphere of hip-hop (although we’re still scratching our heads in bewilderment at his turn with Posh Spice on the abhorrent Full Stop). It makes sense then that Nas and Korn would have broke bread at some point and Play Me was the end result. Korn frontman Jonathan Davis reminisced on the call to Nas that got the ball rolling:
“I called [Nas] up and asked him if he wanted to be on the album. He said he was a fan of Korn and he’d love to do it.” He added, “It’s very heavy, it’s not anything to do with hip-hop at all, and he’s such a great lyricist that he has something to say. He’s really deep, and it comes across well.”
Nas delivers his usual dope bars and chants the chorus, showing no sign at all that he was out of his depth in another genre. Like most of his collaborations with other artist, the Illmatic one brings out the best in his partners and Korn were no exception.
Coming Undone Wit It ft. Dem Franchize Boyz
While I fundamentally hate myself for liking this one, it is near impossible not to it’s that damn catchy.
Originally, titled Coming Undone, the song was written by Korn for the hypere-industrial The Matrix soundtrack. When Dem Franchize Boyz did a mash-up of it with their track Lean Wit It, Rock Wit It, it gave birth to Coming Undone Wit It.
Produced by hip-hop heavyweight Jermaine Dupri and Scott Spock from The Matrix’s production team, this is the only Franchize Boyz song I have listened to on my own merit, and pray that it’s the last.
“Rock and crunk, they the same thing,” Franchize Boyz’s Apollo said at the time. “It’s just two different names for it.”
“It’s all energy,” Davis added. “Crunk music’s like heavy hip-hop, so it mixes right. It’s perfect.”
Fight The Power ft. Xzibit
Probably the most interesting of all of Korn’s rap collaborations for better or worse, the band taking one of the most politically charged tracks ever released by seminal posse Public Enemy.
The original version was also a theme in Spike Lee‘s classic, yet controversial 1989 film Do The Right Thing, making it seem almost taboo for a bunch of white guys from Cali to help cover it.
All political elements aside though, the combination of Korn and Xzibit somehow kind of works on a purely sonic level, X’s idiosyncratic gruff and gritty delivery blending perfectly with hard-hitting Korn.
Fuck Dying – Ice Cube ft. Korn
Topping the list is another collaboration between Korn and Cube, this time with the former playing the role of featured artists on the fiery Fuck Dying.
The track comes from Ice Cube’s War & Peace Vol. 1 album. It is a record that emanates dark, demonic vibes throughout, and Korn’s presence brought it to a whole new level, ramping the intensity up until it infinitely more palpable than every other track. An absolutely perfect mesh, both Korn and Ice Cube deliver peak performances here.
Hip-hop purists probably appreciate Fuck Dying more given that it’s a metal band guesting on a rapper’s track instead of a rapper trying to fit in with a metal band. Korn more than hold their own in Ice Cube’s domain and it’s a shame they didn’t collaborate more while they were still producing on a consistent basis.
While Korn’s history of collaboration with hip-hop artists is largely quite good, it would be disingenuous to suggest that they weren’t guilty of a couple of stinkers along the way:
Wake Up – The Notorious B.I.G. ft. Korn
An awful mash-up of Korn’s Wake Up and Biggie Small’s If I Should Die Before I Wake. To its credit, the majority of the posthumous duets album it was featured on was pure trash and near exploitative at worst but this one felt particularly egregious.
I don’t know who let this one slide on an almost perfect track record for Q-Tip but I sure hope they’re now fired.
Overall though, rap and rock collaborations are something I hope we hear more and more of as hip-hop becomes even more mainstream in the 21st century and resultantly blends easier with other genres (though metal bands like Korn are unicorns in this age). Rumoured collaborations between Chance The Rapper and Death Cab For Cutie seem like they might be great on paper, but I much prefer my rap/rock crossover to bristle with the same intensity and fire that Korn and Ice Cube once brought.