Nu Metal: The Marriage of Hip-Hop, Funk and Heavy Metal

This week I will continue on with the theme of Heavy Metal, this time diving further into the genre to explore subgenres.  Heavy Metal’s sheer number of subgenres really makes the genre unique.  There are quite a few widely known subgenres such as Black Metal, Alternative Metal and Glam Metal, while there are also some more bizarre subgenres like Christian Metal, Crust Metal and Stoner Metal. Within these subgenres there are even more specific (and bizarre) sub-subgenres of Heavy Metal. Heavy Metal’s strict codes bring into question the validity of the classification of these subgenres. I have doubts that all of the subgenres can differentiate themselves from one another, but still fit within the narrow lines drawn by Heavy Metal code. One sub-subgenre that comes in to question is Nu Metal. Nu Metal is a subgenre of the subgenre Alternative Metal that combines Heavy Metal and Hip-Hop and Funk Music. It features considerable female and African American influence, Pop Music structure, and urban clothing styles. These defining characteristics of Nu Metal break fundamental metal codes and nullify its classification in the metal genre.

The development of Nu Metal was heavily influenced by females and African Americans—two groups that are excluded by Heavy Metal code. Traditionally, Heavy Metal has been performed and enjoyed by younger, working class white males to the exclusion of females and other races. While Heavy Metal has roots in Jazz, very few African Americans have made substantial impact on the genre. The code practically dictates that performers be white males, so the genre continued to conform until the rise of Nu Metal in the 80s. Nu Metal drew from the traditionally African American styles of Hip-Hop and Funk, giving African Americans significant impact on the genre and attracting a more ethnically diverse crowd to metal. In addition to ethnic diversity, Nu Metal features gender diversity. In many Nu Metal bands such as Evanescence, Flyleaf, and Otep, females are featured as vocalists. Per Heavy Metal code, females are usually groupies, and occasionally accepted fans if they conform to all other parts of the code. However, never are females band members; Let alone in the arguably most important position of vocalist. The use of female vocalists in Nu Metal is egregious enough break from Heavy Metal code on its own, but this in combination with the heavy African American influence severs Nu Metal’s ties to Heavy Metal

The structure of Nu Metal is another break from code. It follows a Pop Music structure instead of a metal structure. Really, besides the occasional guitar solo required by Heavy Metal code, there is not a specific structure to the genres’ music. Rather, the structure is created by individual artists based on the topic of their song. One thing that Heavy Metal music structure is not is Pop Music structure. However, Nu Metal draws on Pop Music structure rather than unique Heavy Metal structure. Pop Music structure features a verse-chorus style that is characteristic of most other musical genres. This style encourages fans to sing along, but Heavy Metal is not meant to be sung. In fact the lyrics, in terms of the words themselves, are not even meant to be understood. Its sounds that the words make and the emotions that these sounds evoke that matters. Nu Metal’s use of sing along verse-chorus structure creates a large break in its Heavy Metal foundation.

The final blow to any remaining ties that Nu Metal had to Heavy Metal is the code-breaking clothing worn by Nu Metal fans and artists. Heavy metal code has a very explicit dress code. In general the fans and artists’ uniform includes concert t-shirts, jeans and other street clothes, spandex, anything black, leather jackets, denim jackets, long hair and tattoos. In contrast, Nu Metal fans and artist opt for a more Hip-Hop look. Their style includes football and basketball jerseys, cargo pants, crew cuts, baggy shirts, hoodies, track suits and sweatpants. While black is worn, it is not worn exclusively. White and other colors are also commonly worn by Nu Metal bands and fans. This final break of the metal dress code completes the isolation of Nu Metal from Heavy Metal.

While metal is marketed as being broad in the sense that it is comprised of many subgenres, the classification of those subgenres as Heavy Metal is questionable at best. Nu Metal in particular should not be included under the umbrella of Heavy Metal because it breaks fundamental gender, ethnic, structural, and fashion codes.

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