Just listen while I’m dissin’ cause you’re pissin’ me off
You gotta love Run DMC. No that’s not a figure of speech, it’s a command – I, 1537, do hereby decree that YOU have to love Run DMC on pain of excommunication from the flock. The 7″ of Run DMC Walk This Way, was the third (and arguably the best ever) single I bought, back in September 1986, hell I’d never heard of Aerosmith then. It was such a perfect hybrid of rock and rap, two great raw genres screwing with each other for kicks – not that I gave a shiny shit at the time, it had a great tune and made me want to freak out, dance and smash stuff up which was all I cared about. I also loved the story that the band’s involvement came via Rick Rubin contacting them because he couldn’t decipher the lyrics.
Run DMC’s Raising Hell was an album I got to hear early thanks to my dad being part of a postal tape lending library – it was my pick.; I only picked up my vinyl copy in 2001. I can still remember hearing it for the first time, loving ‘It’s Tricky’ and loving all the extra bits on the album version of ‘Walk This Way’. It sounded incredibly alien and exotic to me then, aged 14, listening to it in a farmhouse in rural Wales and totally unlike anything else I’d ever heard before. It wasn’t just the beat boxes, beat boxing and the delivery, it was the words – I can remember puzzling over the various bits of New York hip-hop slang and American references, night and day for years with Run DMC and, slightly later on, The Beastie Boys and Public Enemy. Bits of it fox me still.
Listening to Raising Hell today is interesting, there are bits of genius, mixed up with bits of the merely very good and straight filler. What still comes over though is just how new and exciting this all was, how Run DMC were starting to add real substance and textures to all the beats and rhythms, to take the music further. Russell Simmins and Rick Rubin (who also plays kick ass guitar on the title track) take a bow! It’s well-documented how much of a rock nut Rubin was and just by mixing his own personal tastes together, he created such a damn exciting hybrid. These early mixtures of rock and rap have always, and continue to, thrill me.
But Run DMC weren’t just formless dummies just waiting to be shaped by a pair of budding genius producers, their delivery is just absolutely flawless throughout. The best example of this to my mind is ‘It’s Tricky’*, the flow is brilliant, the ‘My Sharona’ sample perfectly chosen; ever tried to rap along with this? I have and like countless sucker MC’s before me, I pretty much put myself in the larynx ward of the local hospital. It’s just judged perfectly, the bragging never strays the wrong side of cuddly and you can hear them really enjoying themselves. ‘My Adidas’ is still, 28 years later, the reason I always choose Adidas when it comes to trainers – although I keep the laces in mine. ‘Walk This way’, as I may have mentioned and as I’m sure you don’t need telling, is a transcendent moment of cross-genre genius and the good news is that the LP version is even longer.
After the filler that closes the first side we, umm, hit ‘Hit It Run’, which tempers more good-natured boasting with some hilarious beatboxing, again it just stops everything getting too serious; they get 1537 bonus points for rhyming ‘Every race, place, colour, country, county or creed’ with ‘Emceed’.
The track ‘Raising Hell’ used to be the heaviest 5 minutes of music I owned, by far; possibly until Queen II came my way. I have to confess it elicited some spontaneous air guitaring from me just now too, much to my daughter’s alarm. I love their anger on this track, when they threaten to decapitate Satan they mean it, man! Much as I loved and lived, the later, Licensed To Ill it never had a track that could hold its head up to ‘Raising Hell’.
Fond as I am of the goofy ‘You Be Illin’, it all goes a bit downhill again towards the end. I love the sentiments and lyrics of ‘Proud To Be Black’ but just like Public Enemy’s later ‘Party For Your Right To Fight’, it’s a groove in need of a worthy tune.
You read about Malcolm X – in the history text
Jesse Owens broke records, Ali broke necks
What’s wrong with ya man? How can you be so dumb?
LIKE DR. KING SAID, WE SHALL OVERCOME!
Somewhere deep in a suitably super villain-esque lair THE MAN, thought ‘Hmm, this rap stuff, even white kids like it now, I can make tons of cash from it’ and popular music shifted a little on its’ axis.
Raising Hell doesn’t quite stand up the way slightly later LPs like It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back and 3 Feet High And Rising do, but as the artists concerned always admitted, Run DMC built the foundations for it all**. It’s value isn’t just as a historical artefact though, it’s a joyous, slightly padded out delight – just like me.
*I never liked opener ‘Peter Piper’.
**I know I’m simplifying grossly, but it’s broadly true in a late 80’s context. Eric B and Rakim will be dealt with later.