Why the ‘Judgement Night’ Soundtrack Is Rap Rock’s Greatest Work

Stefan Bollmann, Attribution, via Wikimedia Commons
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America was on the precipice of a cultural seachange in 1993. 

It wasn’t because portions of Los Angeles went up in flames after four police officers were acquitted of beating a black man within an inch of his life on video. It wasn’t because Bill Clinton had won the presidency on the strength of the black vote. It had nothing to do with governmental accountability or new economic opportunities for people of color. Black communities still languished at the hands of the C.I.A. sanctioned crack epidemic and the roots of institutional racism borrowed deeper by the day.

No, this was a cultural seachange on only the most superficial level. It was a time where Yo! MTV Raps, Headbangers Ball, and 120 Minutes dominated the late night MTV schedule on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday nights, respectively.

It was a time where Danzig and Cypress Hill were both enjoying mainstream commercial airplay on alternative radio. It was a time where cynical marketing executives realized that there was a way to simultaneously capitalize on the burgeoning outsider rock and hip-hop movements.

The writing had been on the wall for a few years. After all, Run DMC were instrumental in reinvigorating Aerosmith’s career with their “Walk This Way” collaboration. Public Enemy and Anthrax had a degree of success with “Bring The Noise.” Rapper Ice-T’s band Body Count courted well publicized public condemnation with “Cop Killer.” Beastie Boys had long since shifted their sound from hardcore to hip-hop. The funk metal of Fishbone and Faith No More dribbled into the mainstream. Hell, look no further than the lineup for the 1992 Lollapalooza tour (featuring Red Hot Chili Peppers, Ice Cube, Soundgarden, and Cypress Hill) for a snapshot of the time.

In between early rap-rock flirtations and nü-metal’s total synthesis of the sound came the first full scale experiment in genre merging, the soundtrack for the 1993 film Judgment Night. While the movie itself might have fallen into relative obscurity (Emilio Estevez, Cuba Gooding Jr., and a couple of other middle aged suburban dads get stranded on the south side of Chicago and witness a crime committed by Dennis Leary and Everlast’s street gang. Chasing ensues), the album associated with it has become the singular defining moment in rap-metal history.

Brainchild of Immortal Records head honcho Happy Walters, the Judgment Night soundtrack features notable collaborative tracks from Helmet and House Of Pain, Teenage Fanclub and De La Soul, Slayer and Ice-T, Biohazard and Onyx, Faith No More and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E., and a parade of others whose pairings seemed nothing short of revolutionary at the time. 

Happy told Billboard in 1993 that the inspiration for the soundtrack came because “a lot of alternative artists dig hip-hop and a lot of hip-hop artists like alternative. It kind of made sense to do something that brings the two together.” He could not have been more right. 30 years later, music has never been the same.

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