Happy Birthday Tom Morello: Rage Against the Machine and Other Essential Rap-Rock Albums

Happy Birthday Tom Morello: Rage Against the Machine and Other Essential Rap-Rock Albums

Tom Morello is, to put it mildly, a pretty interesting guy. A graduate of Harvard University, the nephew of the former President of Kenya, comic book author, former exotic dancer, and of course, one of the most celebrated guitarists of the last 30 years. A brilliant political mind, Morello sought to build music around his views, teaming with vocalist and rapper Zack de la Rocha to form Rage Against the Machine. Rage exploded onto the scene in the early 1990s with their aggressive, highly political debut album. It also introduced the world to Morello's inventive guitar technique, something that has remained as an identifying trait throughout his entire career, including his tenure in projects like Audioslave and The Nightwatchman. To recognize the influence Rage Against the Machine had on the genre, and to help Tom celebrate his 59th birthday, we've compiled a list of some essential rap-rock vinyl records.

Rage Against the Machine (1992) — Rage Against the Machine

We're kicking things off with Tom's most well-known project. Rage Against the Machine's debut album listens like a punch to the face. Frontman Zack de la Rocha's aggressive rapping perfectly complements Morello's inventive guitar playing in an explosive spin on the burgeoning rap-rock genre. Morello throws all guitar conventions out the window, treating his guitar more like a mixing board. His mastery of effect pedals and feedback allow him to play entire guitar solos on just one string. The album's highlight is the band's signature song, "Killing in the Name", a scathing, forceful rebuke of police brutality.


Blood Sugar Sex Magik (1991) — Red Hot Chili Peppers

Having achieved modest success with their previous releases, Blood Sugar Sex Magik was the album in which Red Hot Chili Peppers began to truly define their iconic sound. Leaning heavily on guitarist John Frusciante, the group departed from their metal-tinged earlier work, focusing on cleaner, more melodic riffs. Flea provides the backbone with his typical virtuosic bass playing, while vocalist Anthony Kiedis provided his signature aggressive brand of poetry, most notably on hits like "Suck My Kiss" and "Give It Away."


The Money Store (2012) — Death Grips

Death Grips is one of the more exciting and inventive groups working today, nearly impossible to fit into a single box. The group experiments with multiple genres, drawing influence from punk rock, heavy metal, and old-school hip-hop, while incorporating elements of noise and sound art. Death Grips' live shows are something to behold, an energetic, almost frantic experience that almost always ends with frontman MC Ride shirtless and dripping with sweat. The Money Store is the group's debut album, and serves as an appropriate introduction for fans to get to know their innovative brand of music.

Hybrid Theory (2000) — Linkin Park

Linkin Park represented the next phase of the rap-rock genre after groups like Rage and the Chili Peppers. They presented a more polished product in the realm of radio-friendly alternative rock while paying homage to their influences. Their debut album, Hybrid Theory was a tremendous success, blending elements of rap, nu-metal and new wave, with vocalist Chester Bennington's emotional lyrics resonating with listeners. Hits like "In the End" and "Crawling" still receive major radio play more than two decades after the album's release. 


Licensed to Ill (1986) — Beastie Boys

With the release of Licensed to Ill, the Beastie Boys introduced listeners to their brand of tongue-in-cheek humor and iconic Brooklyn flair. Ad-Rock, MCA, and Mike D's punk roots are on display, with distorted, thrashy guitars accompanying the group's rapping. The Beastie Boys parody the popular glam metal genre with songs like "Fight for Your Right", while Slayer's Kerry King makes a guest appearance on one of the group's signature songs, "No Sleep till Brooklyn." The Beastie Boys immediately gained status as New York icons, and continued to release albums until MCA's death in 2012. 

The Real Thing (1989) — Faith No More

Faith No More had been trying to find their sound when they recruited Mr. Bungle vocalist Mike Patton in 1989. Patton's prolific lyricism and nasally vocal tone helped the group create The Real Thing, their most commercially successful album. Traditional rock hits like "From Out of Nowhere" meshed seamlessly with the rapped vocals on songs like "Epic", as the group developed somewhat of a rivalry with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, arguably the two biggest bands in the rap-rock genre during the early 1990s.


Indicud (2013) — Kid Cudi

Kid Cudi has always been an experimenter, entering the scene as a hip-hop artist who wasn't afraid to inject elements of psychedelia and soul. Throughout his career, Cudi has dipped his toe into rock, even releasing an entire alternative rock album in 2012, and combined his influences with the release of Indicud the following year. Indicud was an ambitious project, entirely self-produced, spanning multiple genres, and featuring nearly 75 minutes of music. Cudi collaborates with artists across the musical spectrum, from RZA to Haim to Michael Bolton to create an album that is difficult to fit into one neat box. 

Cracker Island (2023) — Gorillaz

Gorillaz were a unique experiment when they were launched in the late 1990s. An entirely virtual band, made up of fictional, animated members that achieved major, mainstream success. Behind the scenes, the band is the brainchild of Blur frontman Damon Albarn, who has worked with a host of collaborators across multiple albums. Cracker Island is the group's latest release, featuring collaborations with artists such as Stevie Nicks and Thundercat. 

Supernova (2022) — Nova Twins

Nova Twins are one of the best modern bands you may not have heard of. A unique fusion of punk rock and rap, Nova Twins received a coveted seal of approval from Tom Morello himself. Their sophomore effort, Supernova, is an energetic blend of multiple genres, showcasing their musicianship and featuring lyrics that reflect struggles for racial justice. The Nova Twins are just getting started, and it will only get more exciting to follow their trajectory. 


King of Rock (1985) — Run–D.M.C

Arguably the record that started it all. Run–D.M.C. owned hip-hop upon the release of their debut album in 1984, so why not try to conquer another genre, as well? King of Rock was an effort to fuse rap and rock to bring hip-hop to the forefront of music. The album was a resounding success, with heavy, distorted guitars and rapped vocals creating an entirely new genre. The eponymous single is a fun, boastful song detailing how Run–D.M.C. were now the kings of rock and rap, serving as the center of the music world.