A beginner's guide to rap metal in five essential albums

Ice-T, Rage Against The Machine and Fred Durst
(Image credit: Getty)

While early team-ups such as Aerosmith and Run DMC on Walk This Way and Anthrax and Public Enemy on Bring The Noise flexed the potential of rock and hip hop when combined, as the 90s progressed, rap metal began to solidify its position as a vibrant, exciting subgenre worthy of celebration in its own right.

Kicked into gear by politically conscious firebrands Body Count and Rage Against The Machine and pushed into a mainstream-conquering behemoth courtesy of the nu metal explosion, rap metal has given us everything from the sublime to the ridiculous. Here, then, are five must-have albums that showcase its fascinating journey.

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Body Count - Body Count (1992)

Its legacy may be somewhat overshadowed by the controversy around LAPD-targeting anthem Cop Killer, but make no mistake about it: Body Count's debut album was one of the most forward thinking and boundary-pushing metal records of its day. Already a heavyweight contender in the hip hop scene, West Coast icon Ice-T's about-turn into heavy metal was as unexpected as it was riotously entertaining.

Melding off-the-rails thrash metal with socially conscious lyrics that covered everything from racism and police brutality to male sexuality and, er, voodoo dolls, Body Count might not be the tightest or most definitive take on rap metal, but it created a true crossover record and established Ice-T as a music figurehead that could straddle multiple styles with ease.

Rage Against The Machine – Rage Against The Machine (1992)

Just a few months after Body Count officially put rap metal on the map, a Los Angeles quartet came along and produced what may still stand as the genre's grandest statement. Rage Against The Machine's incendiary lyrics, colossal, groove-laden riffs and basslines and sprinklings of eccentric, futuristic noodling felt like a grenade being tossed straight into the heart of the metal scene.

Every single song on this debut is a classic and still stands up, from the generational Killing In The Name to the brooding Bomb Track; from the doomy Settle For Nothing to the searing Know Your Enermy with its unforgettable final lyrical refrain, absolutely nothing misses on this endlessly replayable ten-song stunner. Incredibly, Rage's following two LPs would keep the same standard, but nothing had the same impact as their first missive - in fact, when it came to metal in the 90s, few albums did.

Various Artists – Judgment Night (1993)

One of those where a film's soundtrack massively and deservedly overshadows the film itself, Judgment Night's bold and brilliant OST continued the legacy of rap metal's roots by bringing together some of rock and metal's biggest names and a host of hip hop heavyweights. It felt fresh, experimental and totally thrilling, and the results still slap; Slayer and Ice-T's furious run through a trio of Exploited tracks remains an absolute riot, Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.'s  Another Body Murdered is delightfully unhinged and Biohazard's collab with Onyx for the record's title track is suitably dirty and dingy sounding.

Paving the way for the kind of rap and metal crossover events that became commonplace in the nu metal era a few years later, Judgment Day proved once and for all that rap fans and metalheads needn't be at war with each other, and that there was endless common ground to be found between the two underdog genres. 

Limp Bizkit - Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water (2000)

While many understandably prefer the rawer, more full-throttle stylings of Bizkit's earlier material, there can be absolutely no doubt that Chocolate Starfish And The Hot Dog Flavored Water was the record that, even if only for a moment, confirmed rap metal as the biggest thing in music. Selling over a million copies in its first week alone, Fred Durst et al's obnoxious, hit-stacked classic took nu metal to its absolute apex as a commercial concern, crystallising the scene's lurch into a braggadocio, polished, hit-making machine.

Besides all that, though, it's easy to forget just how great an album Chocolate Starfish really is. For most bands of that era, a run of songs like Hot Dog, My Generation, Full Nelson, My Way, Rollin' and Livin' It Up would be enough to start collating a greatest hits set. For Limp Bizkit, that just represented one half of an album. Few connoisseurs would hold Bizkit's third record up as the most artistically credible offering rap metal gave us, but for taking it to the very top of the mountain? Nothing else came close.

Backxwash - God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It (2020)

After nu metal finally collapsed in on itself in the mid-2000s, it was a while before it felt like the merging of rap and metal had something genuinely new to offer. The emergence of trap metal in the 2010s, however, added a shiny new coat to proceedings, the likes of Bones, Scarlxrd and Ghostmane merging aggressive rapping with metallic riffs and industrial beats to breathe new life into the dynamic.

Arguably, though, it was Backxwash and her scintillating 2020 record God Has Nothing To Do With This Leave Him Out Of It that proved that the trap metal scene was amongst the most exciting and forward-thinking in all of heavy music. From the mutated flirtations with the likes of Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin and Nick Cave to Ashanti Mutinta's pained narration of her own transition and strained relationship with her family, it was unlike anything else in metal at the time. Backxwash has only continued to innovate further since then, but God Has Nothing... is the album that proved she was a star in waiting.

Merlin Alderslade
Executive Editor, Louder

Merlin moved into his role as Executive Editor of Louder in early 2022, following over ten years working at Metal Hammer. While there, he served as Online Editor and Deputy Editor, before being promoted to Editor in 2016. Before joining Metal Hammer, Merlin worked as Associate Editor at Terrorizer Magazine and has previously written for the likes of Classic Rock, Rock Sound, eFestivals and others. Across his career he has interviewed legends including Ozzy Osbourne, Lemmy, Metallica, Iron Maiden (including getting a trip on Ed Force One courtesy of Bruce Dickinson), Guns N' Roses, KISS, Slipknot, System Of A Down and Meat Loaf. He has also presented and produced the Metal Hammer Podcast, presented the Metal Hammer Radio Show and is probably responsible for 90% of all nu metal-related content making it onto the site.