RUN-DMC – Raising Hell LP

Legacy Celebrates 30th anniversary reissue LP

Without attempting to get too colorful or indulgent about it, Run-D.M.C.’s third album, Raising Hell, is one of the most important and influential albums to come out of the second half of the twentieth century. That fact is beyond dispute; it was Raising Hell which really got producer Rick Rubin noticed by a whole crew of hip tastemakers when the album was released in 1986. It was Raising Hell which got hip hop its first crossover hit with rock fans thanks to the cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Finally, Raising Hell basically planted the seeds which would blossom into the whole rap-rock movement which began in the late nineties, and that cover of “Walk This Way” got Aerosmith on MTV in addition to buying them another few years of financial solvency before Get A Grip saved them again in 1993.

On top of all that, it was Raising Hell which won Run-D.M.C. its first Grammy aAward – thereby getting the group out of the park and onto an international stage. That ledger full of great achievements can all be traced back to one point and it is at the release of Run-D.M.C.’s third LP. That’s an incredible thing – but even more so is the fact that Raising Hell still sounds awesome, thirty years later. To commemorate the anniversary of its release, Legacy Recordings (the catalogue department of Sony Music) has made Raising Hell one of the first in its newly-established Legacy Celebrates line, pressed as a picture disc in high-quality vinyl.

Sinking a stylus into the A-side of this reissue, listeners are met first by emcees Run and Darryl McDaniels trading lines with the fluency of one mind just like they used to do in the park back in the day. Even thirty years on, the interplay between the two is unbelievable: the lines “Peter Piper picked peppers, but Run rocks rhymes/ Humpty Dumpty fell down, that’s his hard time/ Jack be nimble, what, nimble, and he was quick/ But Jam Master was faster, Jack saw Jay’s dick” will still have listeners’ eyes darting from side to side as they attempt to follow the emcees’ performances before the beat kicks in. When it does though, everything rests at center and relief will be achieved.

After that first introduction, Run-D.M.C. gets to work. “Peter Piper” sees the group start rolling along, and the desire to fall into their rhythm is undeniable. See, right off, the dynamic between Run and McDaniels is laid out neatly and, three albums in, the group pretty much has it down to a science. With an 818 holding down the beat, Run and McDaniels trade lines with a raw ferocity that feels live – even if it was very scientific. At the time, that Run was basically a hype man while McDaniels was the key songwriter was not yet common knowledge – and that made the obvious assumption that songwriting duties were split 50/50 easy to understand. For their part, the emcees sold the labor split that way; throughout “Peter Piper,” both emcees spit hard but smooth and PROVE that the five years and two albums which came before Raising Hell were absolutely leading to what we’re hearing here. This is both the logical extension of and the pay-off for a tremendous amount of work.

Following “Peter Piper,” the hits just keep on coming with the sly and slippery party anthem “It’s Tricky” and “My Adidas” – the first song which used the shoemaker’s name in song (and the only one before Korn turned the company’s name into an acronym). In both of those cases, the flow between the two emcees remains astounding, even thirty years later; while there were lots of other groups balancing similar talents and multiple emcees at the time (Beastie Boys had just broken through, as had Ultramagnetic MCs), none had the interplay that Run-D.M.C. did.

It didn’t sound like they were throwing a mic back and forth between them; the rhymes were too fast for that. For it to be coming as fast as it does on “It’s Tricky,” for example, the image which leaps to mind is one of the emcees standing nose-to-nose to get the timing right and calling each other out – begging one another for the next line. That interplay is infectious, and it bleeds over into Jam Master Jay’s performance too; on this new pressing of Raising Hell, listeners can actually hear the audio distortion (bends) in the sample of The Knack’s “My Sharona” which gets used. That sound illustrates just how hard Jay is manhandling his decks in order to get the timing right for the samples. In that, it’s also expressed how hard the DJ was working to help present the emcees in the perfect light.

Running through those first three songs can still make jaws drop to this day but, of course, the A-side of Raising Hell is still far from done. Track four is the honest and true showstopper: Run-D.M.C.’s cover of “Walk This Way” by Aerosmith. Now, in the thirty years previous to this point, lots of great stories have been told about the making of this song – how Run-D.M.C. had been playing around with it for a while and had actually thought the name of the band who made the song was Toys In The Attic but it was Rick Rubin who really pushed the group to do it because he heard “crossover appeal” in it, how Steven Tyler and Joe Perry hadn’t exactly understood how it was supposed to work and had asked who was going to do the bass line and drums when they arrived at the studio to re-record some of their parts – but all of that falls away and/or is made perfectly irrelevant by the performance of the song here.

To this day, hip hop’s first cover tune sounds incredible – particularly on this reissue, where it’s more likely to hear it as perfectly virgin (read: no pops, no dust, no scratches, no nothing). Both Run and McDaniels sound hard and full of pomp as they knock the lines from a modern standard back and forth between them, backed by Steven Tyler (who sounds like he’s yowling just to be remembered on his own song) and Joe Perry (who’s guitar solo sounds confused and aimless, but not bad). Simply said, for its moment and for all time, this performance remains phenomenal and, just as it always did, it really does stop the show.

To this day and on this new pressing, both “Is It Live” and (the far more meandering-in-tone) “Perfection” really prove that “Walk This Way” should have been the final song on this side because both of the songs after it are regarded as deep cuts at best (for those who really know the album well) and well-kept secrets for all the rest. In the end, the A-side sounds fantastic for the singles, and the other cuts are just there.

The B-side suffers from the same problem as its counterpart, to a certain degree, although there are far fewer songs which might be mistaken for singles. Simply put, the A-side has all the sparkle on the album and the B-side has a whole lot of filler. Songs like “You Be Illin’” (a song warning about the problems of alcohol, drugs and excess – delivered at a snail’s pace), “Dumb Girl” (self-explanatory) and “Proud To Be Black” (same) all sort of waffle under the weight of Run-D.M.C. trying to insert some social conscience into their music in a way that hip hop had not yet reached. In 1986, the music was still reveling in its “big new thing” status, and most of North America hadn’t quite reached a conclusion yet – so, while not bad, all of these tracks are a little too far ahead of their time.

Even with that said though, nothing can take away from Raising Hell‘s importance in both the context of hip hop as well as that of pop – and the singles remain some of the finest fare in music history, regardless of genre. For those reasons, this new picture disc reissue is a valid and exciting reissue in addition to being a pretty kick-ass collectible. Trying to find an original-press copy of this album which hasn’t been marked scratched and worn to hell is likely a complete impossibility – but this new picture disc (which is pressed into a weighty 150 gram platter) is definitely an obvious “next best” alternative.

(Arista/Legacy/Sony Music)


Bill Adams is Editor-in-Chief of Ground Control Mag.