That said, Run-D.M.C. was the first rap act that made me stand up and pay attention. They had so much more to offer than most of the other artists that I ended up paying more attention to those other rap artists that I had dismissed. They seemed to have all the right pieces in place to break the ethnic and industry barriers that had segregated rap music for years. They weren’t obsessed with violence, which seemed to be a requirement of the genre (and still seems to be). The beats are tight and clean, thanks to the legendary skills of Jam Master Jay and, on Raising Hell, studio legend Rick Rubin. And, their seamless mix of funk, rock and metal was fully fleshed out without oversaturating the sound.
They, beyond all other rap artists save the Beastie Boys, were responsible for bringing rap music to the most profitable and influential sector of the music-buying public, the all-powerful 18-34 year old white male. Run-D.M.C. was found to be acceptable to the masses of white America, and that’s what rocketed them to success and laid the foundation for generations of future rappers. It’s not because they were necessarily groundbreakers of the genre (though of course they were); mainly, they just presented the style in a way that appealed to white people. Rap culture occupied a narrow niche for a long time and was waiting anxiously to break a lot of barriers. Single-handedly, these guys, and specifically this album, paved the way for the monumental success of acts like LL Cool J, Public Enemy, N.W.A. and scores of gangsta rappers to come.
Raising Hell starts out with a booming one-two punch. First up is “Peter Piper,” an excellent salute to the sadly departed Jam Master Jay. The follow up “It’s Tricky” is still one of the all-time great rap songs, sampling “My Sharona” and flowing beyond the then-fledgling rap/rock genre.
But the icing on this cake, and the track that pushed them over the edge into greatness, is nothing less than genius. Some bands sample rock songs; Run-D.M.C. took it step further and actually brought in half a rock band, namely Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, for a ripping cover of “Walk This Way” that exploded on the charts. Rock stations played it, rap stations played it, and MTV just couldn’t get enough of it. Better than reinventing it, Run-D.M.C. revitalized a song as tired and overplayed as any song ever recorded and gave it new life.
The true power of Raising Hell is that it’s just fun as hell to listen to. The lyrics have plenty of macho swagger but they’re intelligent too, combining the best of rap and rock. The guys can write about something as potentially inane as “My Adidas” without it coming off as novelty. In fact that song, ostensibly about style, is really about independence and success, something these guys knew plenty about. If you want to listen to the moment when rap music left the hood to seek its fortune, look no further than this album.