On paper, hip-hop and metal shouldn’t work together — two polarizing genres with very different intentions and attitudes. However, thanks to a new wave of outfits in the late ‘90s and early 2000s bravely merging the two contrasting flavors at the same time, nü metal was born.
While this hybrid genre enjoys a renaissance at the skillful hands of bands including Tetrarch and Wargasm, we’re looking back to the formative years of nü metal to see where it all began. From outfits synonymous with nü metal well into the present day to artists who have left their grinding past behind them, here are the 20 key players in the creation and mutation of a genre that’s seen many guises over the last 20 years.
The indisputable pioneers of nü metal’s brutal inclinations, Iowan exports Slipknot laid out a blistering blueprint for nü-metal’s second coming as it shifted into the 21st century with their goring self-titled debut in 1999. As a result, you’d be hard-pressed to find a nü-metal band that haven’t been influenced by their industrial-esque percussion, punishing riffs and Corey Taylor’s harrowing vocals over the last 20 years. Ever since the malevolent “(sic)” and the genre-bending “Surfacing” hit the scene, blended with their signature tech-y infusions and filthy grinding bass, the face of nü metal transformed into a mask worthy of the 9.
Without the genre-defining talents of Limp Bizkit, metal may never have fused with contrasting hip-hop inflections to create a match made in aural heaven that’s lasted over two decades. Stirring up cross-genre trouble in 1997 with songs such as “Pollution” and “Counterfeit” from their debut Three Dollar Bill, Y’all, nü metal had found its perfect 50-50 split between the polar opposite genres. That’s thanks in part to the inimitable presence of vocalist Fred Durst, whose attitude-laden raps blended so seamlessly with dirty riffs, it’s impossible to imagine the meteoric rise of nü metal without Limp Bizkit at the helm. After all, it’s their way or the highway.
Storming onto the scene at the turn of the millennium with a debut album like Hybrid Theory, it’s no wonder Linkin Park so quickly established themselves as frontrunners of nü metal. A step-by-step guide to merging the contagious elements of confident hip-hop with metal’s heavy yet self-deprecating foundations, Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda’s dual vocal discourse met the masterful swipe of turntables and cleverly placed samples to craft a record that is, quite simply, the most nü metal that nü metal has ever been. The band carried that same indistinguishable spirit through seven albums over 17 years and guided their genre into the mainstream. Linkin Park removed the novelty from the collaboration of two polarizing musical niches and placed nü metal firmly in the history books.
Tura Satana arrived in 1996, injecting the first flush of girl power into a heavily patriarchal scene, with slickly produced industrial sounds layered onto hip-hop tinges and grinding nü-metal riffs. The band were sadly all too short-lived and disbanded the following year. However, this pioneering outfit packed a punch with the help of gritty instrumentals and the honeyed tones of Tairrie B, who would later front My Ruin after breaking open nü metal’s closed ranks.
One of the earliest examples of nü metal in its full unashamed form. Korn’s disturbing self-titled debut in 1994 launched a fusion of two genres that had otherwise co-existed in blissful ignorance. Where hip-hop puffed its chest and flaunted its positives to whoever would listen, metal fostered a critical self-reflection and a disdain for those around it. Jonathan Davis’ hard-hitting lyrics and vocal delivery sweetened the temptation of grunge-y industrial instrumentals carrying hip-hop beats. It led to a love affair with the Bakersfield crew’s evocative approach that’s lasted nearly three decades.
Nü metal’s unspoken allegiance with industrial metal solidified with the arrival of Static-X. The band acted as diplomats between two genres created with similar intentions and slick hip-hop-esque grooves. Ever since their sinister debut, Wisconsin Death Trip, in 1999, their trademark grinding riffs and addictive rhythms have perfectly complemented Wayne Static’s iconic vocals. With a sound akin to White Zombie meeting Coal Chamber in a dark alley after a Korn show, Static-X led an industrial revolution that would prove to be an instrumental precursor to the success of System Of A Down and Mudvayne. It would also provide a helping hand to lead nü metal into a darker future.
Thrusting 2000s alternative visuals and a relentless club feel into the nü-metal psyche, Canadian outfit Kittie guided the genre into the next generation with a firm hand and a sharp claw with their debut, Spit. Holding a mirror up to a scene that took itself a little too seriously, Kittie’s boisterous presence helped nü metal out of its introspective rut. In the process, they welcomed in a new era where topics such as sexism and bullying could finally be broached openly.
Over the last 33 years, Deftones have continuously evaded the shackles of definition. No sooner had the scene hesitantly planted them in the nü-metal cardboard box had they burst out of it and regenerated, as if the mere thought of belonging to a genre gave the Sacramento group a bad case of hives. However against their will, the efforts of 1995’s Adrenaline and, to some extent, Around The Fur two years later, showcased a dalliance with techy riffs, sinister vocals and contagious hip-hop sensibilities. The raw edges on “7 Words” and “Engine No. 9” expose the foundations of a nü-metal act that could have pushed the genre into new realms. Yet, eluding that fate in favor of pursuing their own progression fostered a band that still keep listeners guessing three decades on.
System Of A Down
While their expertise would later meander away from their nü-metal roots, System Of A Down built their reputation as metal forefathers in the proving grounds of hip-hop meeting metal. Beyond the mind-boggling style of their self-titled debut in 1998, follow-up Toxicity cemented their approach. They merged two competing niches by simply mind-fucking them both with politically charged lyrics and baffling instrumentals. Unpredictable, unapologetic and unrivaled, the Armenian onslaught proved that a recklessly theatrical vocal delivery and brain-frying riffs were all nü metal needed to kick-start a revolution, even with an incomprehensible song called “Chop Suey.” Needless to say, we all grabbed a brush and put a little makeup, and we haven’t put it down since.
Harboring every ounce of the teeth-baring attitude and boundless energy that make metal and hip-hop so addictive in their own rights, Papa Roach showed the scene what the hybrid genre could really do. Hitting the mainstream charts along the way, their sophomore release Infest demonstrated their abrasive slant to nü metal in its most theatrical form. It opened up a career that’s kept their origin genre in its heart ever since Jacoby Shaddix’s unmistakable vocals hit “Last Resort” a whopping 21 years ago. Times may change, but Papa Roach remain an unbridled nü-metal constant.
Where nü metal was widely known for its shallow, vacuous lyrics, Otep’s 2002 debut, Sevas Tra, used its platform to tackle serious topics such as child abuse and organized religion through the medium of devastating riffs and sinister vocals. Bridging the ever-closing gap between nü metal and brooding gothic metal, Otep showcased the genre’s expanding borders without forcing the issue. They favored crafting music that suited them instead of blindly pursuing trends.
Riffs firing hip-hop rhythms and rap-like vocals with a sinister industrial twang was Coal Chamber’s mission statement since their inception in 1993. In fact, their self-titled debut flaunted their unique hybrid four years later. Whether you were going “Loco” or on a ride in the “Big Truck,” the nü-metal misfits were hard to miss as the genre rose to prominence. That’s thanks to Dez Fafara’s distinctive image, giving us all an excuse to wear black eyeliner and crave dreadlocks while insisting it wasn’t a phase.
Rage Against The Machine
Rage Against The Machine’s politically charged rap-metal carried a hip-hop groove, starting with their 1992 self-titled debut. It was arguably the first inkling of what later became nü metal. The livid flow from “Bulls On Parade” and the iconic riff on “Killing In The Name” inspired the formula that brought about Limp Bizkit and System Of A Down. It foreshadowed the success of a genre that was a mere glint in Zack de la Rocha and Tom Morello’s eyes.
You won’t need to “Dig” very far into your psyche for memories of nü-metal chameleons Mudvayne. That iconic music video alone won’t leave your head anytime soon. The new millennium probably wasn’t prepared for their sonic onslaught of unrelenting hip-hop-esque riffs and menacing vocals, but it’s unlikely this brutal branch of nü metal gave a damn anyway. Judging by the unforgiving nature of their 2000 debut, L.D. 50, Chad Gray and co. had every intention of skewing your expectations of nü metal before the genre had even settled in.
Hard to define but pivotal to the genre’s development, Guano Apes’ 1997 debut, Proud Like A God, embraced the freedom to add a visceral grind to rap vocals and lead with smooth hip-hop rhythms and a hint of death metal to set it all off. Sandra Nasić’s definitive nü-metal voice solidified the German outfit’s place in history as the genre kicked off in boisterous style. Yet, they never seem to receive the credit they deserve for opening the genre to its rarest feature of all — a female vocalist, and a fantastic one at that.
Before they stormed the heavy-metal history books, Soulfly made their mark through distinctive nü-metal tones with their first three albums. Their early output, which created some of their most recognizable tracks such as “Eye For An Eye,” “Back To The Primitive” and “Jumpdafuckup,” showcased a hip-hop groove clashing with their heavy sensibilities, fully embracing the nü-metal movement as it gained traction. Although times have changed and their sound evolved beyond their earlier raging rhythms, you’ll still notice a glimmer of their roots beneath their new sound. You can take Soulfly out of nü metal, but you can’t take nü metal out of Soulfly.
Disturbed’s 2000 debut, The Sickness, brought about a grittier side to nü metal. That’s thanks to David Draiman’s unmistakable vocals, framed by grooving riffs and techy infusions, which built contagious anthems that would endure longer than the golden age of nü metal itself. Despite their eventual departure from their original genre four albums later, the distinct echoes of their nü-metal-defining sound perseveres through Disturbed’s heavy-metal output to this day.
What later became a gothic metal rejuvenation started out as a nü-metal adventure with Evanescence’s debut, Fallen. Exploring their bleak atmospherics and Amy Lee’s angelic vocals supported by the grinding riffs and contagious hooks that nü metal had already established, the outfit ushered in the genre’s dark age. From the swirling melody on “Going Under” to the iconic duet “Bring Me To Life,” Evanescence led the hybrid genre down a new path, opening the roles for women in a scene so heavily male-oriented.
New Jersey’s Ill Niño successfully dragged the genre kicking and screaming out of its comfort zone by 2001, bringing their melodic fusion of Latin influences and rap to a scene that had somewhat rigidly stuck to its blueprint. Demonstrating a refreshing change with “Unreal” and “What Comes Around” from their debut, Revolution Revolución, the introduction of the Spanish language widened horizons for bands inspired by influences outside of their genre’s limited history. It successfully brought a new audience to watch the story of nü metal unfold.
Not unlike their peers in Deftones, shoving (Hed) P.E. into a genre box has become increasingly difficult over the years. Their roots lie within the realms of nü metal all the way from their 1997 self-titled to 2004’s Only In Amerika. The techy atmospherics and turntable swipes on “Serpent Boy” and guttural riff through “Firsty” frames their trademark reggae-punk fusions with unmistakable nü-metal nuances that shaped the introduction of rap into a genre reveling in its hip-hop origins.