A wave of rap-rock is rising — and it’s far removed from the boorish, white-washed strain that dogged the genre’s turn-of-the-millennium heyday led by acts like Limp Bizkit. Hyro the Hero, a black artist from Houston, spent 11 weeks on Billboard’s Mainstream Rock Songs chart in late 2018 with “Bullet,” a cry against police brutality. Fire From the Gods, an Austin mixed-race metal band, worked rap and antiracist messaging into two recent albums for hard-rock standby Rise Records.
But no act is better capitalizing on this trend than Los Angeles-based FEVER 333, whose incendiary single “Made an America” recently spent 20 consecutive weeks on Mainstream Rock Songs and earned a Grammy nomination for best rock performance. The song’s lyrics attack state-sanctioned violence (“Cop cars, true killers and they still at large”), and its video shows frontman (and director) Jason Aalon Butler forced into shackled labor and a minstrel-like song and dance while a white audience looks on. (The 3s in the band’s name represent C, the third letter in the alphabet, and stand for community, charity and change.)
“Punk rock and hip-hop have always shared DNA,” says Butler, a 33-year-old Inglewood, Calif., native who is half-African-American, half-Scottish-American. “They’re challenging and subversive. A lot of hip-hop has been looking at punk rock and adopting its ideals sonically and aesthetically.”
FEVER 333 formed in early 2017 after a chance encounter between Butler and Blink-182 drummer Travis Barker, who has worked with rappers like Juice WRLD and Kid Cudi. After Butler’s old band broke up, he was selling vegan cookies in an upscale Calabasas, Calif., supermarket to support himself and his pregnant wife. Barker, who recognized him from seeing his band play, struck up a conversation. “We were talking about Bad Brains, Rage Against the Machine, what was missing from rock music,” remembers Barker. “I said, ‘We should create something.’ ”
After adding guitarist Stephen Harrison and drummer Aric Improta, FEVER 333 signed with Roadrunner Records and enlisted Barker and John Feldmann (5 Seconds of Summer, Underoath) for songwriting and production assists. Its 2018 debut single, “Walking in My Shoes,” spent 19 weeks on Mainstream Rock Songs, peaking at No. 8. “Made an America” followed, helping the band’s first album, Strength in Numb333rs, enter at No. 4 on the Heatseekers Albums chart in February.
Barker believes that groups like FEVER 333 are “creating a new genre of really heavy, aggressive music influenced by rap.” Says Butler: “If guitar-based music is going to survive, it has to evolve. There’s this weird backlash in a lot of purist rock, people who feel as though it shouldn’t go any further, and that’s the most dangerous thing you can do in any form of art.”
This article originally appeared in the March 2. issue of Billboard.