30 Years Ago: Anthrax Mix Metal and Rap With ‘I’m the Man’
Following the abrupt halt of a European tour opening for Metallica in September 1986 after the tragic death of Metallica's Cliff Burton, Anthrax took the unexpected free time on their hands to finish the long-gestating song “I’m the Man,” which came out in the form of the six-song I’m the Man EP on Jan. 1, 1997.
Those hoping for an extension of the band’s 1985 thrash classic Spreading the Disease were in for a head-scratching treat out of left field. Anthrax embraced their love of the Beastie Boys and Run-DMC for the first ever rap-metal hybrid, one that would provide the platform for the 1991 collaboration on “Bring the Noise” with Public Enemy.
“'I'm the Man' was written basically as an homage,” guitarist Scott Ian told The Quietus. "’Here's the type of rap music we're listening to. We're gonna do our best to basically write a song that represents what we're into.’ To my mind, as a fan and a critic, it fails miserably because it's so infantile compared to Licensed to Ill or Raising Hell. But at the same time, the spirit and the energy is there.”
The track features lyrics about draining the lizard, flatulence, the smell of feet and has a clueless individual who can’t quite finish each verse properly. Sample misstep: “And wipe my butt with your…” “Face!” comes the reply, “Toilet paper!" is the correction while Ian implores, “Yo, watch the beat!” Bassist Frank Bello delivers the comical chorus with a high-pitched, “I'm the man! I'm the man! I'm so bad I should be in detention!” as a riff on the traditional Hebrew folk song “Hava Nagila” swirls in the background.
To round out the I’m the Man EP, live versions of “I Am the Law” and “Caught in a Mosh” were added, as was a crunching cover of Black Sabbath’s “Sabbath Bloody Sabbath.” When it was initially performed live, frontman Joey Belladonna would be on drums, as he wasn’t involved in the track’s composition and didn’t have any lines in it. Drummer Charlie Benante would jump to the forefront, joining Ian and Bello as unlikely b-boys jumping around the stage.
It turned out to be one of the biggest hits for Anthrax, at a time when rap was exploding into the mainstream and metal was primarily underground. There was a mixture of both genres represented on it, both Metallica’s “Master of Puppets” and Run-DMC’s “You Talk Too Much” are sampled, but the song could’ve been even bigger if the original idea had come to pass.
“Originally, the Beastie Boys were going to do the rap on 'I'm the Man,'" Benante told Rolling Stone. “We had conflicting schedules and couldn't get it together, and then we just ended up doing it.”
“We had reached out to them and asked those guys, "We're writing this song, it's going to be rap-metal-whatever and would you guys like to be on it?" said Ian. “They were like, 'Hell, yeah. Where and when? We'll totally do it.' Then we finished recording it and we were just so happy with it. We didn't really know where there would even be room to have them on it. In retrospect, I kinda wish they would've been on it because it would've been amazing to document that."
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