The soundtrack to the 1993 film Judgment Night was groundbreaking in the crossover between rock and hip-hop. The 11 tracks contained collaborations from some of the biggest names in each genre at the time, including Pearl Jam, Faith No More, Cypress Hill, and Run DMC.
Released 30 years ago, it remains a seminal crossover album for good and bad reasons. On one hand, it showed us the potential that fusing rock and roll and hip-hop music could offer. On the other, the fresh new sounds of the record set the stage for the nu-metal music of the late 1990s and early 2000s, which was the beginning of the end of rock and roll’s mainstream popularity.
While the Judgment Night soundtrack is an essential marker along the story of music, it wasn’t the first time rock and hip-hop crossed paths. Run DMC and Aerosmith literally and figuratively broke down the wall between the two genres in their video for “Walk This Way” back in 1986. Public Enemy and Anthrax collaborated on “Bring the Noise” in 1991. The Beastie Boys were already straddling the line between rock stars and MCs. Rage Against the Machine’s first album, released in November 1992, was already turning heads.
Where the Idea Came From
But the Run DMC/Aerosmith and Anthrax/Public Enemy partnerships were one-offs. No one previously attempted to make an entire album from collaborations between rock bands and hip-hop artists.
The idea for the Judgment Night soundtrack can be traced back to Happy Walters. Happy is a fascinating guy who negotiated six-figure NBA contracts for Dwight Howard and Jimmy Butler, and he is one of the inspirations for Happy Gilmore. But in the context of this article, he was running Immortal Records and managing House of Pain and Cypress Hill in the early 1990s.
Both of those bands had dabbled in rock music before. They were both part of Lollapalooza in 1992, where they got exposure to the alternative rock scene. Pearl Jam became friends with the members of Cypress Hill during those shows and invited them to play the Drop in the Park show in Seattle. Members of Pearl Jam joined Cypress Hill on stage, and watching those two share the stage got Happy and members of Cypress Hill thinking that they needed to start working together.
House of Pain worked with Butch Vig on a rock remix of “Shamrocks & Shenanigans” in 1992. Then Everlast landed a part in Judgment Night, and Happy Walters signed on as executive producer of the soundtrack. According to B-Real from Cypress Hill, DJ Muggs, and Everlast started talking to Happy about collaborations with rock artists. The idea was planted.
Making the Judgment Night Soundtrack
Here are the 11 pairings that appear on Judgment Night:
- Helmet / House of Pain
- Teenage Fan Club / De La Soul
- Living Colour / Run DMC
- Biohazard / Onyx
- Slayer / Ice-T
- Faith No More / Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E.
- Sonic Youth / Cypress Hill
- Mudhoney / Sir Mix A Lot
- Dinosaur Jr. / Del the Funky Homosapien
- Therapy? / Fatal
- Pearl Jam / Cypress Hill
Each pair of collaborators who agreed to appear on the album had to figure out how to work together creatively. For many of the hip-hop artists, it was the first time they recorded anything with a live band. Some of the alternative groups weren’t used to working with looped beats or the syncopation of rhyming. They had to combine their styles, recording habits, and sometimes cultures. For example, Page Hamilton from Helmet told Rolling Stone that the guys from House of Pain thought their studio was low-tech because it didn’t have isolation booths. Then when Hamilton stopped by House of Pain’s studio to record some vocals, he was surprised to see that they kept adult movies playing while they were working.
We can only imagine what Judgment Night would have sounded like if Happy Walters had gotten every artist on his wish list to participate. He says he wanted Kurt Cobain, Ministry, Metallica, Public Enemy, Biggie Smalls, and Ice Cube, but they all turned it down for several reasons. Tool and Rage Against the Machine agreed to record a track and cut a demo of a song called “Can’t Kill the Revolution”, but they never submitted it for the album (although you can find the demo online, and it’s worth checking out).
The collaborations that did appear on Judgment Night took different approaches to the project. Some artists worked together in person, while others did their parts separately and let the producers weave them together.
Onyx and Biohazard had a leg up on the other pairings because they had a history of working together. The two groups collaborated on the “Bionyx” remix of Onyx’s 1993 hit song “Slam”. The two groups became friends, and Onyx immediately thought of Biohazard when they were asked to do a track for Judgment Night.
Faith No More and the Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. worked together in the studio and later gave an interview with MTV where they talked about the chemistry they had. They brought their sounds together instead of just combining rhymes with rock and roll music. Faith No More always tried different things in their music, and Boo-Yaa T.R.I.B.E. were a rare hip-hop group that played their own instruments. Both of them talked about their chemistry when they got into the studio together, and the result is one of the best songs on Judgment Night.
Helmet and House of Pain worked in person to develop “Just Another Victim”, but it sounds like two songs were welded together. The first half would work on Helmet’s “In the Meantime” before the track transitions to more of a hip-hop beat in front of some Helmet riffs, and Everlast starts rapping. It’s a fantastic song but constructed differently than the Faith No More/Boo-Yaa cut.
Conversely, Vernon Reid said Living Colour and Run DMC recorded their parts for their song independently, and Jam Master Jay put it all together. As incredible as this pairing sounds on paper, the final version of “Me, Myself, & My Microphone” isn’t as good as I expected it to be, and we don’t know if the result would have been stronger if they had worked together in the studio.
Several of the tracks on the album have a dotted line connection to the nu-metal scene that would start a half dozen years later. “Just Another Victim” is certainly one of them. “Come and Die” by Therapy? and Fatal is another, although this one is overflowing with over-the-top testosterone that was so prevalent in nu metal. It even opens with a guttural “Yeeeahh! Hahahaha!” that sounds like a precursor to Korn’s “Aaaarrreee yooooouuu readdddy?!”
The songs that don’t sound like the precursors to bands like Papa Roach and Limp Bizkit are the weirdest and most interesting ones on the album. “Missing Link” combines music from Dinosaur Jr. with Del the Funky Homosapien’s smooth rapping style. Sonic Youth contributes some cloudy shoegazer guitar behind Cypress Hill in “I Love You Mary Jane”. De La Soul and Teenage Fanclub created a slower, melodic song on top of a sample from “Free Fallin’” by Tom Petty.
Two songs on Judgment Night sound like the hip-hop artist is fronting the rock and roll band. The first is Slayer and Ice-T doing a medley of songs from the Exploited. Ice-T sings on the track instead of rapping, and it’s no surprise since he had already released an album with Body Count before Judgment Night. The other is Mudhoney and Sir Mix-A-Lot. Mix-A-Lot told Rolling Stone it was the first time he had ever worked with a live band, and he enjoyed filling the frontman role.
The last track had the biggest hype around it when it came out: “The Real Thing” by Cypress Hill and Pearl Jam. Both of these acts were huge in 1993 when the soundtrack came out. Black Sunday from Cypress Hill came out earlier the same year, and Vs. from Pearl Jam came out a few weeks after the soundtrack. Unfortunately, we don’t hear the full measure of both groups because Eddie Vedder wasn’t interested in participating and went surfing when they recorded the song. Pearl Jam winds up being the backing band for B-Real and Sen Dog.
The Impact of Judgment Night the Record
The Judgment Night soundtrack was weird and cool and ahead of its time. Several artists who appeared on the Judgment Night soundtrack continued to crossover into other types of music. Cypress Hill released the nu-metal album Skull & Bones in 2000, and B-Real said being involved in the Judgment Night soundtrack prepared him to be a member of the Prophets of Rage. Everlast has had a second career as a rock and roll musician after House of Pain split up. Del the Funky Homosapien had a hit appearing on “Clint Eastwood” by the Gorillaz.
Behind the scenes, Happy Walters used the Judgment Night soundtrack as a blueprint for other crossover projects. The 1997 Spawn soundtrack combined rock bands with electronic acts, and the Blade II one partnered techno artists with hip-hop. Neither of them was as impactful (or good) as the Judgment Night soundtrack.
The Judgment Night soundtrack also blazed the path that led the evolution of rock and roll into nu-metal of the late 1990s and early 2000s. That phase of music wound up being one of the death throes of rock and roll being a significant part of mainstream music. Maybe that isn’t such a good thing after all.
Bruce Kramer is a co-host of the Prisoners of Rock and Roll podcast on the Pantheon Podcast Network and has been writing professionally for over 20 years.
Christopher R. Weingarten, “Oral History of the ‘Justment Night’ Soundtrack: 1993’s Rap-Rock Utopia”, Rolling Stone, 13 September 2018.