Ranking Rappers Turned Rockers from Best to Worst

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The latest twist in the, um, unusual career of Lil B is his unlikely metamorphosis into a based rock god. The rapper unveiled his new guitar-toting incarnation earlier this week with the video to a new song called “California Boy,” in which he wanders around Guitar Center in LA and confesses his love for a terrified-looking passing lady. We have to be honest here: the song’s pretty terrible, making it the latest in a long line of ill-advised rap/rock crossover ventures. Not every rapper deciding to make a rock song/album has met with disaster, but plenty of them have — so we thought we’d make a handy primer of which such ventures to investigate, and which to avoid like threatening rabid animals.

Ice-T

It’s easy to forget just what an impact Body Count made when they blasted into the public consciousness in 1992. At the time, the most controversial things in music were rap, metal, and songs about doing nasty things to police officers — and, in a stroke of genius, “Cop Killer” managed to combine all three into one track, thereby ensuring instant notoriety and much hand-wringing from the likes of the PMRC and Charlton “Guns Don’t Kill People, People With Guns Do” Heston. Twenty years later, the song retains its power to shock.

Everlast

Who’d have thought that the guy who wrote “Jump Around” would greet the new millennium with an album of reflective, country-influenced introspection? It’s amazing what a brush with mortality can do, we guess.

Beastie Boys

Considering they started as a hardcore band, it’s not surprising that the Beastie Boys would eventually return to the idea of a guitar-centric release — and sure enough, it arrived in the form of 1996 album The In Sound from Way Out!, which consisted entirely of instrumental jams. It was good, too!

Kid Cudi

Apparently Kid Cudi’s label wasn’t big on the whole making-a-psychedelic-rock-album idea, which is a shame, as Cudi’s Wzrd project wasn’t terrible. The above track is probably the “rockiest” on the album — most of the record explored a pleasant border zone between rap and psychedelic funk, which goes to show that things are better if you don’t just dive straight into tapping solos and awful distortion effects.

Pharrell Williams

N*E*R*D started off as a Neptunes side project, but the group’s eclectic mix of rock, rap, and old school-y funk sounds proved to be just as popular with the general public as Williams and Chad Hugo’s production work (and, for what it’s worth, rather more popular than Williams’ solo work). They’ve never really approached the heights of their 2002 debut In Search of…, and last year’s Nothing stiffed royally in comparison to its predecessors, but still, the whole N*E*R*D project remains a rap-to-rock success story.

Lupe Fiasco

Perhaps the most appealing aspect of Lupe Fiasco’s rock side project Japanese Cartoon was its generally understated nature — instead of proclaiming himself reborn like a certain New Orleans rapper (who we’ll get to in due course), he recorded under a pseudonym, and the album was released with minimal fanfare. The music? Well, it’s, um, OK — we’re not sure about Lupe’s mockney accent, though.

Kid Rock

Oh yes, Kid Rock was a rapper alright. His 1990 album Grit Sandwiches For Breakfast was pretty much straight-up hip hop, and is chiefly remembered for the fact that playing his rather silly sub-2 Live Crew cunnilingus anthem “Yo-Da-Lin in the Valley” (above) netted a Detroit college radio a $23,750 fine. Sadly, there’s no record of any similar fines being handed out for stations playing “All Summer Long.”

Lil B

In fairness to Lil B, he’s so weird idiosyncratic that it’s impossible to ever know quite how seriously to take what he’s doing — but there’s no escaping the fact that this song, by any objective standard, is a pretty awful piece of work. Bless.

Lil Wayne

True story: my cat can play guitar better than Lil Wayne. Apparently the man decided to reinvent himself as a rock star because he was bored with hip hop: “I’m not going to say ‘so good’ at what I was doing, but it became such a regularity for me that I got tired of it.” Um, OK. If you say so. Actually, his entire rationale is worth reading as a lesson in hubris, privileged ennui, and complete detachment from reality.