Screenshot from the music video for Papa Roach’s 2000 hit “Last Resort.” Credit:

Rap-Rock in the Aughts and the Black Woman It Left Behind

In the early 2000s, genre-bending in music was all the rage, as artists like Kid Rock and Linkin Park contributed to a record number of chart-topping singles for the rap-rock genre. So why wasn’t Black fusion rock artist Res a part of the success story?

Kimberly Joyner
Published in
8 min readMay 30, 2021


It seems every decade has a group of artists known for taking over the music charts with their genre-bending sound— and in the late 2010s, 19-year old singer and songwriter Billie Eilish was that artist. Mixing darkwave vocals with pop, electronic, and hip-hop beats, Eilish’s sudden popularity harkens back to the Second British Invasion in the 1980s when synth-pop-meets-soul acts like Culture Club, Dead or Alive, and Spandau Ballet traipsed their way into the American mainstream.

What also makes Eilish’s mainstream success so remarkable is her not-so-mainstream appearance. At last year’s Grammys ceremony, Eilish accepted the award for Song of the Year in an oversized black pantsuit and green undershirt to match her black and neon green-striped hair. Thirty years earlier, Boy George of Culture Club and Pete Burns of Dead or Alive had stood out from the new wave pop pack with curious androgyny and a full-on embrace of camp.

Bold as they were, these artists are considered genre-bending musicians ultimately because they are white and have integrated their sound with Black music. Black artists who mix rap and soul with music deemed white don’t often achieve the level of commercial success or accolade within the industry that white artists do because whiteness is central to the appeal of genre-bending music.

The rap-rock fad in the early 2000s, much less scrutinized than British Invasion or blue-eyed soul from decades earlier for mining Black music, is especially emblematic of the role whiteness plays in which artists are considered genre-bending. Bands like Linkin Park, Limp Bizkit, Papa Roach, and P.O.D. weren’t rap-rock simply for their embrace of vocal styles conceived in Black communities, but for the meaning assigned to their willingness to cross into a definitively Black and counter-cultural genre. They were seen as rebelling against whiteness — specifically white Christian America — and thus appealed to young white audiences angling to do the same. But for the most part, these artists only embraced the aesthetics of rap and not the politics. In contrast, Black artists, especially Black female artists who performed commercially accessible rock-fused pop and soul music like Res, were considered difficult to market to mainstream audiences and did not see the success that white rap-rock artists did.

The Fad in Rap-Rock

To call rap-rock’s popularization in the early 2000s a fad is not to suggest rap-rock artists were musically inferior, but rather to emphasize the genre’s chief goal of remaining marketable to white audiences all the while thumbing its nose at the white establishment. Moreover, not all rap-rock artists back then were the same. Linkin Park was rap-rock in its most literal sense, with Chester Bennington and Mike Shinoda splitting vocal arrangements between Bennington’s nu metal angst and Shinoda’s nod to conscious rap. In contrast, rap made little more than a cameo appearance in Papa Roach’s earlier singles, including the 2000 hit “Last Resort” and 2002’s “She Loves Me Not,” before the band set its identity firmly in alternative rock. And of course, there were rappers from Lil Wayne to Kanye West sampling well-known rock songs throughout the decade, harkening back to Run-D.M.C.’s 1986 remake of the Aerosmith hit “Walk This Way,” perhaps the most famous crossover in rap-rock’s history.

Music video for LFO’s 1999 single, “Summer Girls”

The “fad” in rap-rock also refers to turn of the century groups like LFO that inserted rap into otherwise conventional boy band pop. Again, there was nothing particularly substantive about white artists’ use of the rap style, and it’s tempting to view them as having aided in the popularization of Black music to the benefit of Black artists seeking a wider audience. But as Wesley Morris wrote for the New York Times in 2019 on the popularization of blue-eyed soul in the 1970s and 80s, when white artists perform traditionally Black music, “[A] kind of gentrification tends to set in, underscoring that black people have often been rendered unnecessary to attempt blackness.”

Unlike blue-eyed soul artists, however, rap-rock artists in the early 2000s weren’t committing themselves to careers as white artists making Black music. On the contrary, many of them, like Kid Rock, abandoned rapping altogether as other types of genre-bending rock (namely pop-punk and emo) turned mainstream later on in the decade. For these artists, rap was an accessory, a demarcation separating them, the outcasts and troublemakers, from the privileged white kids who consumed their music. Their embrace of rap was an affront to white Christian America, but their disinterest in rap as a political protest identity showed they were not necessarily racial progressives.

White Artists Rebelling Against Whiteness

Because so much of rap-rock in the early 2000s did not embrace the political protest elements of rap, it’s difficult to pinpoint a reason as to why so many white artists at the time found refuge in rap or why white audiences loved it when they did. But there were reasons for white artists to want to set themselves apart from other popular sounds at the time and to seek out the increasing commercial appeal of Black rappers in order to do so.

In some ways, rap-rock bands were polar opposites of the pop boy bands that dominated the music industry from the mid-90s through the early 2000s. With their blonde-haired blue-eyed front men and monogamy-centric (as opposed to hyper-sexualized) lyrics, boy bands like NSYNC, Backstreet Boys, and 98 Degrees represented the conservative cultural norms of the white upper-middle class. In contrast, some of the most popular rap-rock songs of the early 2000s, including Limp Bizkit’s “Nookie,” channel rap’s free-wheeling attitudes toward sex and women. Moreover, Linkin Park’s hit singles “In the End” and “My December” from their 2000 album “Hybrid Theory” convey the emotional trauma of relationships, rather than boy band pop’s optimism about them. Similarly, P.O.D.’s 2001 number one single “Youth of the Nation” serves as something of an ode to disaffected teenagers in the wake of the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School.

Music video for Limp Bizkit’s 2000 single, “Rollin’”

These artists weren’t working with explicitly political themes by calling out police brutality, poverty, mass incarceration or drug epidemics in their communities the way Black rappers were. But they nevertheless shared rap’s alienation from white Christian America. In other words, rap was a natural ally to rock’s counter-culturalism, which in the early 2000s meant resisting the religious-driven social conformity and sex negativity of the George W. Bush administration. Ultimately, rap-rock was honest about the social inequalities that drove people to antisocial behavior and self-harm. And it revealed the hypocrisy of white Christian America, which claimed to embody Jesus’ message of love but instead sought to punish those who did not confine themselves to heteronormative versions of it.

But rap-rock, both as a specific genre and as a general influence on pop and metal in the early 2000s, was not without its own racial and gender blind spots. After all, the vast majority of artists considered to be rap-rock are white men. Moreover, Black and female artists who blended different styles of music were not generally seen as genre-bending artists but rather as Black-specific artists lacking the potential for mass appeal like their white counterparts.

Res and the Limits of the Neo-Soul Label

At the same time that rap-rock was becoming a staple of radio and music TV stations, neo-soul developed its own following on Black airwaves. Like rap-rock, neo-soul in the early 2000s was as much a physical aesthetic as it was a sound, with artists pairing big Afros and pan-African prints with bare-bones acoustic rock, R&B, and funk. But unlike rap-rock, neo-soul was dominated by Black women including Erykah Badu, India Arie, Jill Scott, Lauryn Hill, and Goapele.

Around this time, Black fusion rock singer Res released the single “They-Say Vision” from her 2001 debut album “How I Do.” The song itself was a commercial-friendly blend of dance-pop, rock, and edgy reggae-inflected soul while the music video provided an unforgettable punk aesthetic. The song and video were, in essence, everything the music industry had been looking for in the early 2000s, but the song only saw modest success on Billboard’s Top 40 chart (peaking at number 33) and Res largely faded from the airwaves afterward.

Music video for Res’ 2002 single “They-Say Vision”

I was 14 years old when “They-Say Vision” was released, and both the validation I felt seeing another Black woman on TV embody the punk rock aesthetic I loved and the bewilderment I felt over her sudden disappearance from the screen has stuck with me in the nearly two decades since the song’s release. In 2009, Res self-released her second album “Black. Girls. Rock!” on her website, where fans could download an mp3 version of the album for free. After 8 years I was excited to hear new music from Res, but was nevertheless gutted that her album did not have any major label backing.

Oddly enough, most of the curiosity around Res’ inability to top the music charts with her genre-bending sound ends up citing her music as the culprit. Perhaps she “just didn’t fit comfortably enough” into any one genre, a 2007 article from Entertainment Weekly proposed. But in an era that saw dozens of white rappers with rock bands release hit single after hit single, artists being too much of everything genre-wise just doesn’t cut it as far as explanations go.

Res didn’t enjoy the success white rap-rock artists did in the early 2000s because society doesn’t afford the same meaning to Black women breaking cultural norms that it does to white men. As far as the music industry was concerned in the early 2000s, being Black, not a Black rock musician, is what made Res different, a difference with little market value beyond Black audiences.

And yet according to her Spotify biography, Res views her own music as having “offered…an alternative to the neo-soul wave” of the early 2000s, which suggests that even in a genre dominated by Black women making music not fit for MTV, there were limits to what kind of music was deemed a good fit for Black audiences. Twenty years later, the many controversies surrounding rapper Lil Nas X — from whether his hit single “Old Town Road” should be considered country in addition to hip-hop, to whether his queer-inflected tousling with Satanic imagery in the music video for “Montero” would ever find acceptance in the Black community — reveal that there’s an ongoing struggle for Black genre-bending artists to find a home.



Kimberly Joyner

I write about American politics, current events, and gender/feminism in TV and film. Based in Atlanta, GA. Email: