The History of Nu Metal

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For a brief moment in the late 90s and early 2000s, New Metal dominated the airwaves with releases such as Korn’s “s Follow the Leader,”  Limp Bizkit’s “Significant Other”  and Linkin Park’s “Hybrid Theory.”

 Thanks to Gen Z,  the genre is back and making moves all over again.

Nu Metal fused together many different musical elements that was once thought to be incompatible, moving  us closer to the modern musical landscape, where rigid genre’s no longer exist.

Let’s take a look at how it all began.. That  moment that rock music first interacted with rap in a meaningful way was all because of Run DMC. The rap trio had mixed session rock guitar with their flows all the way back in 1984’s “Rock Box.  Run DMC hit the mainstream with “Walk This Way” which was  their 1986 collab with the rock band, Aerosmith.

Thanks to iconic producer Rick Rubin finding Aerosmith’s “Toys in the Attic” LP in Run DMC’s record crates, the meshing of the rock and rap genre made sense to him.

 Darryl DMC McDaniels recalls  “Our thing was, go get Toys in the Attic  and play number four. We had no idea that there was singing or what the song was, but we knew the beat. It was a hard break beat.”

That song #4 was “Walk This Way” which was written all the way back in 1975. The structure was more funk driven than the rest of their work, with guitarist Joe Perry inspired by the song, “Sissy’s Strut.” Singer Steven Tyler, being a drummer first, vocalist second, used his lyrics in a percussive fashion, half singing at speed with an emphasis on syllables rather than melody. The song was perfect for a crossover. The drums and guitar worked as a break beat in the same way most hip-hop artists were using samples, and the rapid-fire lyrics could be easily rapped. The ever so charismatic Ruben managed to get Tyler and Perry to come into the studio to record on the collaboration in spite of some initial hesitance on the part of Run DMC. Due to racial bias, at the time rap music was rarely played on radio or MTV. “Walk This Way” changed all of this. With well known white rock musicians on the track, it was able to become a massive crossover hit.  This song gave new life to Aerosmith’s  fledgling career while simultaneously giving visibility to a burgeoning genre of music.

At the time other rap artists used rock music in their songs. LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” used staccato guitar stabs in a similar way to Jay-Z’s 99 Problems two decades later. The Beastie Boys, whose “Licensed to Ill” used samples of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath and AC-DC. As well as getting Slayer’s Kerry King to solo on “No Sleep Till Brooklyn.” All these tracks, as well as Slayer’s “Raining Blood” were produced by Ruben, ostensibly making him the godfather of rap rock.


80’s metal mos def shaped what nu metal would become. While the mainstream MTV “metal” of Poison or Motley Crue was actively raged against, the more underground, fresh metal bands like Metallica, Slayer and Sepultura gave nu metal bands a sound to strive for sans the guitar solos, focusing more on the lyrical   heaviness.  The metal band that had the greatest impact on nu metal was Anthrax.

While “Walk This Way” collab was considered Rap Rock, Anthrax was pure metal, combine that with the hard hitting lyrics of Public Enemy you have the proverbial egg drop of the nu metal genre.

In 1991,  Public Enemy and Anthrax covered “Bring The Noise.” The two groups’ collaboration was coincided with an American-European tour through 91 and 92, with Anthrax’s  encore consisting of  Public Enemy coming on stage to perform “I’m The Man” and “Bring The Noise.”

 Karang editor Paul Rees said in 2017, “They were out there on that rebellious anti-establishment fringe. The mainstream press didn’t like them, so that endeared them to metal fans.”

These kind of collaborations would continue throughout Nu Metal’s reign. With Linkin Park and Jay-Z’s “Collision Course.” Then you had Exhibit, Method Man, Red Man and DMX appearing on Limp Bizkit’s “Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water.”

Some musicians felt that alternative rock, bands like The Pixies and Dinosaur Jr. were too lightweight, but that Metallica and Slayer were too heavy. Then alternative metal entered the chat. A lot of those bands would influence Nu Metal in their own way, the alternative metal band that defined the down-tuned, crushing riffs that Nu Metal would adopt was Helmet. Just listen to Paige Hamilton’s pile-driving guitar on tracks like “In The Mean Time” and you can hear where Korn’s or Limp Bizkit got their ideas. The band would further the Nu Metal comparison with their partnership with House Of Pain for the 1994 Judgment Night soundtrack, a compilation filled to the brim with rock rap crossovers.

Arguably the band from the 80s old metal scene that had the greatest influence on Nu Metal was San Francisco’s Faith No More. Fronted by the ever so charismatic  Mike Patton with his impressive vocal range and music video ready good looks the band would make rap metal a legitimate thing with their 1990 top ten hit “Epic” which was once said to be  about Patton’s disinterest in sexual intercourse, the track’s video made them MTV famous. With his rap verses and soaring chorus, it would no doubt inspire Linkin Park on tracks like “In The End” and “Numb.” Faith No More’s focus wasn’t on flamboyant solos but on  drum and bass grooves, that kachunk that flavoured their best songs. As Faith No More’s bassist Billy Gould said in 2006, “…guitar players have a tendency to drive the whole show and bass and drums back that up, but we’re the opposite of that.”


This alternative metal status would be a rallying cry for those that hated the flashynesss  and lack of substance of most MTV metal. Korn’s Jonathan Davis said, “‘Faith No More’ made it so that you could play metal and not be a hair metal or glam band. They truly started to change things.”

The band would follow up the real thing with “Angel Dust”, as Entertainment Weekly called it, probably the most un-commercial follow-up to a hit record ever, which I’m sure filled Mike Patton with childlike glee.  A mixture of metal riffage, obscure samples, and  a cover of John Barry’s theme to Midnight Cowboy. Initially seen as a commercial failure, but like all pioneering albums it has   since become highly regarded.

In 2003, Kerrang rated it as the most influential album of all time. “Angel Dust’s” anything goes approach would inspire the more creative of nu-metal bands, System of Down, Slipknot, Deftones, and even Math Metallers’ Dillinger Escape Plan. Plus their left-field cover choices would be taken to similar extremes by pretty much every nu-metal band.

As well as being alt-metal, Faith No More also led the charge of funk rock acts that were gaining bands-to-watch status in 1989-1990. The movement was signified by a focus on groove and influence from 70s funk acts like virtuoso bass playing, danceable beats, and a rhythmic vocal style. Chili Peppers’ Anthony Kiedis told Penthouse in 2004, “We were early in creating a combination of hardcore funk with hip-hop-style vocals. We became maybe an inspiration to Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock, Linkin Park, all these other bands that are doing that now.”

By the 90s, listening to hip-hop had spread to the suburbs, and anything that shocked the mainstream attracted teenage listeners and inspired the first waves of nu-metal and their imitation rapping. NWA’s “Straight Out Compton”, Cypress Hills’ “Black Sunday” and Dr. Dre’s “The Chronic” being specific calling points, also deserving a mention for its combined controversy and metallic backing is Ice-T’s “Body Count” and their band single, “Cop Killer”, written as a reaction to the police beatings of Rodney King.

Politically minded in a way that few nu-metal bands would be, Rage Against the Machine’s self-titled album is packed with left-minded sloganeering, combating police brutality, government oppression, and capitalism. The band’s signature song, “Killing in the Name”, combined the punk-rock anger of the Sex Pistols and Public Enemy with militant funk metal, cribbed and refined from Faith No More. A searing attack on the LAPD in the aftermath of the 1992 LA riots. Years later, Rage bassist Tim Comerford said, “I do apologize for Limp Bizkit. I really do. I feel really bad that we inspired such bullshit.”


Then, Along came Korn  and nu-metal existed. Their debut in 1994 kick-started with “Blind” and it’s shit-starting opening. It was argued that Coal Chamber were the first band that could be correctly assigned the term, being that Korn’s Jonathan Davis never rapped, but their metallic hip-hop sound was still a template for every band yet to come.

Deftone’s debut came out in 95 before Limp Bizkit, Snot, and a million other mildly disenfranchised scenesters jumped onto the bandwagon. There were def high points,  Deftones entire catalogue, Hybrid Theory’s high-caliber pop-metal nearly two decades on, and System of a Down‘s  “Chop Suey” is perhaps the genre’s sole perfect moment.

But the low points were a many and they were inescapable. Too much of the genre was defined by its key listeners, who merely needed a soundtrack to piss off their parents. At times the music rarely exceeded that specification. By 2005, most of the first wave of bands had either become aself-parody or turned their back on the genre altogether. Nu Metal, as dismissed as it was, was the next step in rock music. A continuation of grunge which forced its self-hatred outwards onto anyone and anything that it would make sense for your average suburban kid to despise. It was the anger of punk and hip-hop, but unfocused and mixed with the unrefined heaviness of metal. While the music itself had limited weight, its popularity tells us something about the music listeners of the era. Bored by the glossy, manufactured pop that was being peddled on TRL, this uncompromisingly ugly music was a genuine alternative to the Hansons, Spearses and NSYNC’s  of the  mainstream.

Nu Metal’s influence is still felt today in acts like Bring Me The Horizon, Little Peep ,Little Uzi Vert, DROPOUT KINGS and Falling In Reverse. 

Thanks to TikTok and Gen Z there is a nu metal renaissance and we can’t wait to see what the next generation of nu metal-ers have in store for us. 


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