Tomorrow, stoner-rock heroes Monster Magnet come to the Music Hall of Williamsburg to play their debut album Spine of God in its entirety. As career-making as that album was, talk of looking back on the group’s legacy calls to mind their biggest hit, 1998’s “Space Lord.” While the song has since be remembered as one of the last purely traditional rock songs of the ’90s, as well as immortalized as an ironic music cue in movies like Talladega Nights: The Legend of Ricky Bobby, revisiting its place in history reveals the song’s video to possibly be the missing link that bridged the gap for the rock-rap explosion of the late ’90s.
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While plenty of rock-rap hybrids predate the song, namely Anthrax collaboration with Public Enemy, Biohazard’s remixing an Onyx song and and the entirety of the Judgment Night soundtrack, the extra-genre crossovers were somewhat of a passing fad. Going back even further, as much as Aerosmith helped usher Run-DMC and rap as a whole into the MTV generation’s collective consciousness, there wasn’t a whole lot of cross-genre overlap. Even though the 90s had music festivals often slotting token rap acts as well as the first wave of post-rap rock producers and groups like Ross Robinson and KoRN incorporating elements of hip-hop production into their (not to mention Puffy signing rock band Fuzzbubble to his Bad Boy imprint in effort to expand his musical empire), the two worlds were still lacking that first visual cross-over. Enter: Monster Magnet.
Rock music wasn’t as visible in 1998 as it was in previous years. Of the top 10 best selling albums over the course its 12 month span, the closest thing to an entry from the genre is the City of Angels soundtrack. For Monster Magnet lead singer Dave Wyndorf, there were no more “rock stars” in rock. As he told Vibe in November of that year, the only real rock stars he saw were in rap. While witnessing the excess of rappers in Las Vegas at the height of the shiny suit era, he penned “Space Lord.” When it came time to shoot a video, he had only one stipulation: he wanted to make it a rap video in Las Vegas.
Wyndorf gave instructions to veteran video director Joseph Kahn, who had recently shot a video for Bad Boy rapper Ma$e a few weeks prior. Eager to please, Kahn tracked down the actual locations Ma$e used in his Hype Williams directed “Feel So Good” video and, unbeknownst to Wyndorf, recreated more than a handful of scenes shot-for-shot. Once Wyndorf discovered how much of the “Space Lord” clip was a direct reference, he feared Ma$e wouldn’t be happy. Fortunately, Ma$e seemed to enjoy the video, as he told MTV during a celebration of hip-hop’s 25th anniversary the following year, his friends called to inform him a rock artist was re-doing his video. He thought it was a trip.
“Space Lord” found its way into regular MTV rotation. While the video opens as an homage to Metallica’s iconic “Enter Sandman” video, the first bombastic chorus transforms the visuals into one ’98 rap trope after another. From the bright colors to the synchronized dancers to even how a cameo from then-Marilyn Manson guitarist Twiggy Ramirez was shot, Wyndorf got his wish. What he may not have anticipated was how viewers were interpreting the video and the song as a full-blown rock/rap combination. Its appearances on the network’s fledgling “Total Request” countdown was accompanied by the clip’s supporters stating how cool it was to hear “rapping in a rock song.” While Wyndorf’s own confrontational vocals may have more in common with the aggressive but melodic flows that were popular in rap at the time than, say, Matchbox 20, the song itself was taking off on rock radio, eventually hitting No. 3 on the mainstream rock charts.
Was “Space Lord” the first overtly visual marriage between rock and rap that set the stage for the beginnings of the nu-metal explosion by the end of the year? Following “Space Lord,” both KoRN and Limp Bizkit (whose hip-hop influences were much more overt) became mainstream darlings and even brought along hip-hop heavyweight Ice Cube for the inaugural Family Values tour. Soon Kid Rock, who married the excesses of both rap and rock that Wyndorf admired, became one of the biggest names in music, allowing both the genres’ participants and their fanbases to have a more open relationship. It’s a testament to Kahn’s direction that, almost 15 years later, the video holds up without the immediate shiny suit rap landscape to compare it to. While it may still be up for debate whether “Space Lord” was the first step toward the late 90s rock-rap collision, today it holds the unique position as the last snapshot of how one unaffiliated genre viewed another.