Wax Is For Anthrax: Drummer Charlie Benante On 8 Anthrax Rap Experiments


The unstoppable, zombie-slaying Anthrax album Worship Music is their first in 21 years with classic vocalist Joey Belladonna, and naturally, it’s full of thrash that hearkens back to the halcyon days of Jams shorts and up-flipped caps. However, if rap fans check out “Devil You Know,” they might discover a different old school:

“If you don’t know… now you know.”

That callback to Biggie’s “Juicy” was suggested by drummer and diehard hip-hop fan Charlie Benante, whose get-wicked drumming propelled Anthrax through a number of ground-breaking hip-hop experiments in the ’80s and ’90s. Back in 1987, when suburban rock radio DJs were full steam ahead on “RAP SUCKS” sentiment, Anthrax was rocking Public Enemy shirts on stage and injecting their live show with the Beasties-style snotrocket “I’m The Man.” Early fans of groups like Run-DMC, LL Cool J and Boogie Down Productions, Anthrax were rap’s most vocal supporters in the world of metal. “I remember in 1989, we did a photo shoot and I wore my De La Soul shirt with the flower pot,” recalls Benante. “Everybody was like, ‘What the fuck?'” Obviously the confusion ceased after they did “Bring The Noise” with Public Enemy in 1991, the undisputed finest hour in what would ultimately be a rocky history for rap-rock.

Take a look back with Benante at eight awesome times Anthrax toyed with hip-hop. In their immortal words: “Well, they say rap and metal can never mix, well all of they can suck our…” Uh, Charlie, watch the beat!

1. Anthrax, “I’m The Man” (1987)

Was your beat modeled after the Billy Squier break?

“Big Beat”? It really wasn’t based on that. It was more based on, “What beat can we put behind ‘Hava Nagila’?” The original idea for that song was to have the Beastie Boys do the rap on it. I remember we were all at the same show at the Felt Forum, Metallica was playing in 1986. And I remember Ad-Rock saying, “What’s going on with the track.” It was just a scheduling thing. They were busy and we were busy and it just never worked out scheduling-wise. I bet those guys don’t even remember that. We ended up doing it on our own… That song was just a B-side in England and Europe, that’s all it was meant to be. Then it took on a life of its own. It just took off. It got to the point where, it’s like, “I don’t wanna fucking play this any more live.”

Was it hard for you guys to rap on it?

We were just mimicking the Beastie Boys at that point, because that was our reference as far as rapping goes. We couldn’t really sound like Run-DMC. Our voices weren’t as deep.

Was the “Hava Nagila” riff a tribute to the Beasties and Anthrax’s Jewish heritage?

[Laughs] You could say that.

2. UTFO ft. Anthrax, “Lethal” (1987)

I wasn’t involved in that. Aw, man. This is gonna come out bad, but I didn’t wanna be involved in it. It just wasn’t what I thought was… good. I really have no idea how it came out. I just know that I passed on it. To be honest with you, I can’t even tell you what it sounds like. Nothing against them guys, it’s just I didn’t think the track was right. [It could have been good] if it was a real collaboration, maybe? And we had some input?

3. Anthrax, “Who Put This Together” (1990)

I did this B-side called “Who Put This Together” that was basically my impersonation of the Bomb Squad, where I just took things and put it together, cut ‘n’ paste. It was a European B-side of “Got The Time.” Tons of [samples]. I did it with my Akai 950. It was difficult to do, synced up a lot of drum machines and just did it in the studio. I had to fly in stuff and make it all match up. Ugh, what a pain.

4. Anthrax ft. Public Enemy, “Bring The Noise” (1991)

This started when Scott was wearing the Public Enemy T-shirt at shows, correct?

Well, it goes back before that! We used to have friends who worked at Def Jam. The first time I met Chuck D before [Public Enemy’s debut] Yo! Bum Rush The Show was even out. Our friend Scott Koenig, who used to work there, used to hook us up with Def Jam shirts, jackets, whatever. We would sport it because we were so into Run-DMC, LL Cool J—the whole thing was just great. Scott would wear the Public Enemy shirt on stage and it was all over the place. Chuck D saw it and he name-checked us in “Bring The Noise.” And to pay thank you to him we wanted to do a cover of “Bring The Noise.”

What was the session like?

Chuck wasn’t into it at first. Then we sent him over the track and then he said, “This is slammin’. I gotta be a part of it.” We did the video together in Chicago. As a joke, I said to Chuck, “Man we should take this on the road and do a tour.” He’s like, “Let’s do it.” Boom, the tour was all set up. It was a great time. The thing about Chuck that he appreciated from us was that we weren’t fairweather rap fans. He could tell it was real. When we did the tour, there’d be great little jam sessions. I used to have a little kit set up in the room that I’d practice on. And Flavor would come in. I would play beats and Flavor would just start rapping over that. Chuck would come in. This was every day. It was such a great vibe and it would translate out to the stage.

5. Anthrax, “Startin’ Up A Posse” (1991)

You sample KRS-One on this.

Those first two Boogie Down Productions records were always played on the bus. “My Philosophy” was just a great fucking track. So ahead of its time.

6. Anthrax ft. Terminator X, “1000 Points Of Hate” (1993)

My only regret on that [Public Enemy] tour was that I never quite learned how to transform. [Terminator X] would show me how to do it and I, god, I’d just watch it. Oh my god. It was such an amazing sound and I just couldn’t get it. I asked him to do a little thing for us on Sound Of White Noise. He came to the studio with two turntables and I watched him get down. I was just amazed once again. I said to him, “You could totally take this a step further if you hooked up some stomp boxes, do the wah when you transform.” Nobody really got into that. Mixmaster Mike, sure, but this was back in 1991.

7. Anthrax, “Looking Down The Barrel Of A Gun” (Beastie Boys cover) (1993)

That was done for Beavis & Butt-Head sountrack. Basically, we didn’t have any material to give them. This was an idea to redo that song and revisit the Beastie Boys thing again. That was put together really quickly. When Paul’s Boutique came out, I remember that being one of my favorite songs and then a month later I never played it again—because I was way more into some of the other songs. “Three Minute Rule”? What a fucking great album. About a year after Paul’s Boutique came out, someone slipped me a version of it with no vocals. Just instrumentals. I was in heaven. I even said it to Mike D. And he was like, “How’d you get that?”

8. Anthrax, “Devil You Know” (2011)

Joey drops “If you don’t know, now you know” like Biggie in this one.

Since the lyrics were written, there was this gap in that section, and I always heard that line. It just fit well with “the devil you know”—”and if you don’t know, now you know.” But it’s taken from Biggie Smalls who, for me, was the greatest rapper. My favorite song is probably “Warning.” Every time I put that song on it just takes me to 1993 New York. Just that vibe. Everything on that record was so versatile and had this variety of great things from “Gimme the Loot” to “Warning,” the whole record is him talking about suicide and it’s fucking crazy. That record could be the last great rap record.