Run-DMC: Raising Hell (1986)

August 16, 2012

Raising Hell Run DMC album cover artRoll: 8-6-3
Album: Run-DMC, Raising Hell (2005 reissue)

Yeah, it’s the one with “Walk This Way” on it. Depending on your mood that’s going to be a selling point or a deal-breaker. When I’m standing in front of my shelves, the inclusion of the song is enough to make me pass over Raising Hell and reach for King of Rock or Tougher Than Leather instead.

At best the song’s a DeLorean set to hit 88 MPH and take you on a nostalgia trip; at worst it’s a portal to one of the more embarrassingly cheesy duets in pop-music history.

But lets imagine a world Marty McFly went back in time and somehow changed history so that  Run-DMC didn’t contact Aerosmith about collaborating on the cover. Actually, Marty would have to go forward a few months from 1985 to early 1986 to when Rick Rubin would suggest the pairing.

But assuming he accomplishes this goal, what would the fall out be?

First, Aerosmith probably would have continued down Has-been Road rather than taking a turn up Come-back Trail. Their album previous to this single was better than Permanent Vacation, but no one cared about it. This might not seem like a big deal. Whether the schlock-rock of  “Love in an Elevator” was quantifiably responsible for people gravitating towards punk and grunge in the early 90’s or not, it’s difficult to say.

Regardless, Liv Tyler probably wouldn’t have had a film career. Depending on your feelings about her role as Arwen in Lord of the Rings, this could be a good, bad or completely indifferent thing.

Second, and far more importantly, millions of white boys probably wouldn’t have discovered hip-hop through the Beastie Boys because Run-DMC and rap would’ve remained marginalized. “Walk This Way” is the reason old white men decided the rap game was something they could sell to the suburbs and was worth putting their hard, swindled money into. Without the Beastie Boys’ Licence To Ill getting promoted by what was still a white-dominated music industry, pretty much everything that’s happened in pop music since 1986 wouldn’t have happened. Not just no Vanilla Ice, Kidd Rock, House of Pain or Eminem, but no Public Enemy, no Jay-Z and no Snoop Dogg.

It trickles down from there to no Lady Gaga without the hip-hop influenced Madonna to model herself after. We’d also have no Beak> because there’d have been no Portishead. Björk’s music with the Sugarcubes and afterwards would have been vastly different which means we probably wouldn’t have Grimes and the like (we also might not have dubstep, but you can win ’em all).

Almost all pop-music being made today is informed in some way by hip-hop. Whether it’s as subtle as a recording technique or the use of samples, to a full-out indie/hip-hop hybrid, you can trace a record’s DNA back to this big-bang moment when rap and rock collided in the top 10. At best you could argue an artist has consciously tried to make their music be the antithesis of hip-hop, but it ‘s still being shaped by hip-hop in the negative. Their music wouldn’t exist (in its current form) without the golden age hip-hop explosion triggered by this single.

That’s the kind of historic pressure which can make a record nigh unlistenable 26 years later. And, believe me,  “Walk This Way” is pretty difficult to get all the way through. But what of the rest of the album?

Even considering the high esteem in which I hold Run-DMC, I was floored by how shockingly good it is.

Classic tracks like “It’s Tricky” and “You Be Illin’“are clever, crunchy, and deceptively complex where you expect (or remember) their old school flavour to be simplistic and corny. Aside from the guitar solo on the title track, which is a bit of a a glaring misstep, there’s nothing here that’s cripplingly 80’s. Instead, Raising Hell  is a fresh, adventurous, opinionated, and masterful slab of hip-hop history.

This 2005 reissue tacks on some unnecessary bonus cuts. The “Walk This Way” and “Lord of Lyrics” demos are painfully cheesy. An acappella mix of “My Adidas” highlights their vocal skills (and could be useful for sampling) but many acappella mixes are simply painful to listen to and this is no exception. The radio ads could only be more than vaguely interesting to hardcore fans.

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