The Top 10 Uses of Guitar in Hip-Hop

So you think rap and the six-string are mutually exclusive? Time to do your homework—which includes reading this list!

Be it sampling or guest appearances, there have been countless cool matchups of axemen, MCs and turntablists over the years. After all, hip-hop, at its best, is a musical culture that's all about experimentation and the commingling of styles.

(These 10 mentions only scratch the surface; to dig deeper, look for Buckethead's work with the Invisbl Skratch Piklz or Charlie Hunter's recordings with the Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy.)

10. Eminem, "Lose Yourself"

It's not the most interesting example of a riff in a rap context, but thanks to 2002's 8 Mile, this song was huge. Not since the Run-D.M.C.-Aerosmith tag team had a totally guitar-driven rap song been such a big deal. Interestingly, 50 Cent nicked Ol' Potty Mouth's hooky D-minor riff for his own hit "In Da Club."

09. Ice-T, "The Girl Tried to Kill Me"

Already prone to throwing Sabbath samples in his jams, this O.G.—that's "original gangsta"—provided a taste of things to come when he had guitarist Ernie C. throw down the incessant lead lines and crunchy power chords on this blush-worthy rhyme from 1989's Freedom of Speech...Just Watch What You Say.

08. Mos Def, "Rock 'n' Roll"

Keeping up the East Coast underground tradition of rap and rock crossover, this MC-cum-actor waxes lyrical about the history of African-American rock to a background of sparse yet chimey funk guitar—at least until the piping-hot hardcore beatdown kicks in.

07. Time Zone, "World Destruction"

Formed by original hip-hop DJ Afrika Bambaata and producer Bill Laswell, this early rock-rap alliance found Bambaata matching words with original punker John "Rotten" Lydon. New York session man Nicky Skopelitis' power chords and dive bombs helped put meat on the tune's bones.

06. The Beastie Boys, "No Sleep Till Brooklyn"

The garage-rockin' riff from the smash platter "Fight for Your Right" gets the most recognition, but it's Kenny King's spastic, out-of-left-field lead that steals the show on the band's 1986 debut, Licensed to Ill.

05. Geto Boys, "Mind Playing Tricks on Me"

For all the controversy that has dogged them, these Houston heavyweights did boast some pretty top-drawer sampling. For this number, they conjured the vibe of classic Seventies funk, a la Curtis Mayfield, by mixing layers of octave double stops and choral melodies.

04. The Roots, "The See 2.0"

They were a live rap band from the start, but with Phrenology, they really brought the guitar to the forefront of their sound. This Stonesy riff, played by Cody Chestnutt, is pure bait and hook.

And he's not the only player to get in on the action; free-jazz-rock monsters James Blood Ulmer and Jef Lee Johnson also make an appearance on the disc.

03. The whole Judgement Night soundtrack from 1993

At some point during the Nineties, someone finally noticed the kinship between alt-rockers and rappers, and so assembled a whole disc's worth of collaborations, including Helmet/House of Pain, Faith No More/BooYa T.R.I.B.E., and Cypress Hill/Sonic Youth.

02. Public Enemy, "She Watch Channel Zero?!"

This may be the coolest sample in music history: Slayer's "Angel of Death" recontextualized into angry funk. PE had already taken Run-D.M.C.'s influence to heart when they featured Vernon Reid on "Sophisticated Bitch" from their 1987 debut. Later, with Anthrax, they rerecorded their own "Bring Tha Noize" as a thrash-metal meltdown, with surprising success.

01. Run-D.M.C., "Rock Box"

Pioneers? Hell, yeah! The D.M.C. were the first band to use hard-rock riffs in their raps.

Eddie Martinez's searing lead work puts this track from the group's 1984 debut over the top—and ahead of its time. It stood to reason that Run D.M.C. could raise Aerosmith's career from the toilet with a fresh take on "Walk This Way" (from Raising Hell, whose title track featured Rick Rubin's brawny power chords.)

Also, check out the early nugget "King of Rock." Point taken? Word.

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Guitar World Staff

Since 1980, Guitar World has been the ultimate resource for guitarists. Whether you want to learn the techniques employed by your guitar heroes, read about their latest projects or simply need to know which guitar is the right one to buy, Guitar World is the place to look.