Rap is a genre generally thought of to consist of non-organic elements, utilizing samples rather than instruments. While this might be true on some levels, there are actually some classic rap songs that feature excellent guitar work.
In disbelief? These tracks will open your eyes to how a guitar could be used in the context of a rap song.
While some of these songs utilize samples, many of them feature a real guitar recorded specifically for the song.
“Walk This Way” by Run DMC Ft. Aerosmith
Aerosmith topped the charts with their hit song, Walk This Way, in the late 1970s. However, the band’s popularity eventually waned slightly, that is until the 1980s rolled along.
This era would see one of the first instances of rock being incorporated with rap. Run DMC essentially covered this iconic Aerosmith song, which catapulted both groups into popular regard.
Really, this was quite a landmark occasion, as it lent credence to rap as a legitimate genre. It was also notable because Aerosmith was accepting of the idea, whereas many artists have had reservations about being sampled.
While it’s likely that rock and rap would meet at some point, this instance is one of the most important. It happened at a pivotal time in the history of society and paved the way for what was to come.
“Bring The Noise” by Public Enemy Ft. Anthrax
The song, Bring The Noise, contains one of the most unlikely musical combinations of all time. Nobody would have guessed that the metal band, Anthrax, would team up with Public Enemy.
Anthrax guitarist, Scott Ian, was spotted during a gig wearing a Public Enemy shirt. Word got to Public Enemy’s Chuck D., who then reached out to Ian.
As musicians are accustomed to doing, the groups paired up for a timeless collaboration. It even spawned an entire tour, which is something that really hasn’t happened since.
Public Enemy was already a massive musical force to deal with. Teaming up with Anthrax gave them a seriously aggressive edge that made their lyrics even more potent.
“Ride Wit Me” by Nelly Ft. City Spud
During the year 2001, you could not escape the music of Nelly. His debut album, Country Grammar, dropped that year to massive critical acclaim and commercial success.
Part of this was due to the song, Ride Wit Me, which topped the chart across the world. It has an iconic chorus that is still echoing throughout rap history.
The acoustic guitar part in this song is actually quite fundamental to the song’s overall easygoing sound. It consists primarily of 3 different chords, with a half-step slide into each for a unique and funky sound.
“Mo Money Mo Problems” by The Notorious B.I.G. Ft. Mase, Puff Daddy
The Notorious B.I.G. was an enigma in the rap scene of the 1990s. His smooth flow and vocal characteristics were unmatched by anyone else at the time.
One of the biggest rap releases of the late 90s is the track, Mo Money Mo Problems. It features a guitar part that is taken from the hit Diana Ross song, I’m Coming Out.
This iconic guitar part was originally written by the famous guitarist, Nile Rodgers. Because of this release, it’s equally associated with each song in their own respect.
Mo Money Mo Problems comes from the B.I.G.’s last album, released almost 2 weeks after his death. The title of the album is, ironically, Life After Death, which remains a classic rap staple.
“XXPlosive” by Dr. Dre Ft. Hitman, Six-two, Nate Dogg, Kurupt
When 1999 came along, Dr. Dre showed he had more to offer as an artist than in his previous works. The album, 2001, built upon the unique West Coast sound that was established at the time.
XXPlosive comes from this album, which features a truly funky guitar lead throughout. This short lead phrase repeats throughout the track, which is composed into a call and response with some synth.
The origin of this lead comes from the soundtrack of the movie, Shaft, written by Isaac Hayes. You’ll find it in the song, Bumpy’s Lament, which features the melody that was adapted to the guitar.
As is the case with most of the songs on Dr. Dre’s albums, XXPlosive doesn’t really feature Dre’s rapping. Instead, he utilizes other peoples’ talents while showcasing his own talent as a producer.
“Forgot About Dre” by Dr. Dre Ft. Eminem
The musical marriage of Eminem and Dr. Dre completely changed the face of music as we know it. This collaboration has done more for rap in a short period of time than perhaps any other artist.
Forgot About Dre is yet another standout track from the 2001 album, and is one of the most recognizable. The track starts off with some synth, which is augmented by a quacky guitar line.
This guitar line is, by far, one of the most famous guitar parts in all of rap music. Judging by the tone, it sounds as if it came from something with a single-coil pickup.
It was a joy to see these two performing this track at the 2022 Super Bowl Half-Time Show.
“Lose Yourself” by Eminem
Eminem has continually been a force to be reckoned with in the rap world. His fiery, and sometimes shocking, delivery continues to dazzle listeners to this day.
Part of what makes his songs so great is his production value. You can hear an example of this with the track, Lose Yourself.
This particular song has a simple, yet iconic, guitar line pervading throughout its entirety. The part adds quite a bit of tension to the song, yet elevates it at the same time.
You’ll have to give credit to producer, Jeff Bass, who played most of the instruments on this track. It might not have been the same song without this driving guitar line.
“Chonkyfire” by Outkast
Outkast was one of the groups that really put Atlanta on the map as a prime capital of rap music. When the group went to record their 3rd record, Aquemini, they decided to take a new approach.
Because of their past success, Outkast was able to have more resources at their disposal for recording a record. Perhaps the most notable decision here is that they chose to rely on live instrumentation, rather than samples only.
This definitely gives Aquemini more of an organic feel and ventures off into some unique territory for rap. The song, Chonkyfire, is a great example of this.
You’ll hear a fuzzed-out guitar playing through this track, giving it sort of a psychedelic edge.
“Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun” by Beastie Boys
As far as incorporating samples go, it cannot be denied that the Beastie Boys were one of the best. Their album, Paul’s Boutique, remains one of the greatest rap albums of all time.
Part of this album’s greatness is the minute detail spent on every moment of every song. You’ll hear recognizable samples, some of which only play a very small role in a track.
Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun is especially notable because it contains guitar samples from 2 famous songs. The most prevalent is from Time, by Pink Floyd, which is used in the track’s foundation.
To provide a sort of turnaround phrase, a sample was taken from the song, Mississippi Queen, by Mountain.
“I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me)” by Jay-Z
Jay-Z began to capitalize on his prior success at the turn of the century. The track, I Just Wanna Love U (Give It 2 Me), was quite popular upon its release in 2000.
It might not be as popular as his other tracks, but it did prove to be inspirational for many. Even Britney Spears found inspiration from this track, guiding her to work with the song’s producers.
This song has an iconic descending guitar part consisting primarily of chords played in a stuttering manner. The guitar sounds like it is equipped with single-coil pickups and has some crunchy overdrive.
“Sabotage” by Beastie Boys
The Beastie Boys hit a grand slam when they released Sabotage. This track essentially marries rap with punk rock in a very effective way.
What’s really unique about this track is that all of the members are actually playing instruments. If you’re in disbelief, check out their performances on late-night talk TV shows.
This track has been embedded in the common knowledge of pop culture. Even bands like Phish have covered this song, furthering its popularity.
“L Train” by Shootyz Groove
Unless you’re an avid rap fan, Shootyz Groove might be a bit of an obscure group for you. However, this is a notable group in the sense that they were actually a band with 2 MCs.
Their most famous track is L Train, which dropped in 1999. This is more akin to a reggae song that features rap lyrics.
The middle of the song has some excellent guitar riffs at play, which take inspiration from old funk music.
Nevertheless, L Train is a true relic from the turn of the century. It might have been overlooked, but it’s definitely worth taking a listen to today.
“The Next Episode” by Dr. Dre Ft. Snoop Dogg
One of the most iconic rap songs from the late 90s is The Next Episode. This is yet another standout track that comes from the epic Dr. Dre album, 2001.
Immediately from the start, The Next Episode features a signature plunky guitar line. As far as musical phrases go, this is one that truly defines the sound of the late 90s.
Again, this sounds as if it came from a guitar equipped with single-coil pickups. The tone seems too bright and quacky for a humbucker pickup to produce.
“The Message” by Nas
Nas shook up the rap world when he released Illmatic in 1994. While that album is still considered one of the best, it wasn’t his best-selling album by any means.
That distinction would have to go to his second album, It Was Written. Although he already had a reputation, this album was propelled to success largely because of the song, The Message.
The Message features subtle acoustic guitar lines that dance across the song’s sonic background space. This guitar line has a hefty dose of melancholy that really suits the song’s subject matter.
“SpottieOttieDopaliscious” by Outkast
Another standout track from Outkast’s album, Aquemini, is SpottieOttieDopaliscious. This is yet another song that features live instrumentation exclusively, rather than relying on samples.
As such, this song takes on a sort of funk and soul vibe, no doubt aided by its guitar part. This guitar line consists primarily of 2 different chords with a hint of a modulation effect, such as a chorus.
SpottieOttieDopaliscious is perhaps most notable for its horn line, which has become a staple in rap culture.
“Stressed” by Conway The Machine ft Wallo267
Conway The Machine’s track, Stressed, might be the newest track on this list. However, that doesn’t make it any less of a classic than the other songs featured here.
In all reality, Stressed contains some of the most emotionally honest and gripping lyrics in recent years. Subjects like depression, addiction, and the loss of a child are all dealt with here with no reservation.
It might not be readily apparent, but Stressed does feature a guitar in its simple instrumentation. This consists primarily of 2 notes, which are then responded to with a piano line.
Stressed is a true modern classic that really does not hold back in the message it delivers. Everyone has stress caused by their own unique problems, which we all need to remember from time to time.
“Heart Attack Man” by Beastie Boys
Heart Attack Man is yet another Beastie Boys track to feature guitar throughout its composition. Like Sabotage, Heart Attack Man takes a punk rock approach rather than solely being a rap song.
This song comes from the album, Ill Communication, which features many songs that the group played instruments on. Not every song on the album is punk-oriented, as they really do a deep dive into funk elements.
“Ms. Fat Booty” by Mos Def
The famous Mos Def track, Ms. Fat Booty contains a guitar line that might not be so readily apparent. In fact, it would take a learned ear to really discern whether the track’s melodic line is a guitar, or not.
It is deceiving, partly because the guitar is being palm muted and accented with a piano in the background. When combined, it creates a sound that is very much aligned with the rap sounds of the late 90s.
“New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme) by ICE-T
Have you ever seen the 1991 film, New Jack City, with Wesley Snipes? If so, you’ve heard the song, New Jack Hustler (Nino’s Theme).
This song definitely has the somewhat unpolished sound that was so prevalent in early 90s rap music. It features a single guitar chord stab on the downbeat, along with some funky vamping in the chorus.
Top Rap Songs With Guitar, Final Thoughts
While most rap songs tend to rely on piano/synth for musicality, the guitar is quite effective. In fact, many guitar parts have become some of the most defining musical lines in rap history.
These songs serve as proof that the guitar can be used in rap music, where it isn’t traditionally associated. This can definitely provide inspiration for anyone who needs to see the limitless possibilities of playing guitar.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!