Thursday, June 25, 2009

June 25: Run-D.M.C., "Raising Hell"

Artist: Run-D.M.C.
Album: Raising Hell
Year: 1986
Label: Profile

From the earliest days of hip hop music, there was little question of whether it would eventually become mainstream. Though there were large numbers of artists who tried, in the end, the breakthrough only needed three performers and six letters. Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizzel, better known as DJ Run, D.M.C., and Jam Master Jay brought hip hop music to the masses as the seminal hip hop group, Run-D.M.C.. It is hard to name a group that has had the overall impact on the music and style that is equal to Run-D.M.C., and they remain one of the most highly respected groups in music history. Though they had already gained an underground following and small hits from their first two amazing records, it was their third record, 1986's Raising Hell, that catapulted them to superstar status and made hip hop music truly mainstream.

Run-D.M.C. dominated hip hop music throughout the 1980's, yet there are a number of aspects that sets Raising Hell aside from their other work. First and foremost, alongside Russell Simmons (DJ Run's older brother), Rick Rubin stepped in to handle production duties. It is Rubin's knowledge and love of hard rock that can be heard throughout the album, including its breakthrough hit. While most people know the song, few realize that the underlying riff on the legendary "It's Tricky" is, in fact, "My Sharona" by, The Knack. However, even with the success of "It's Tricky," Raising Hell gained most of its mainstream acceptance from the albums' lead single, "Walk This Way." Run-D.M.C. had used the riff to rap over for years, but this time, they did the entire song, and Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (who were just re-forming the band) came in and laid down new vocals and guitars. The truth is, the Run-D.M.C. collaboration reached #5 on the charts, while the original 1975 release never made it into single digits on the same charts. Further helping the single was the presence of EmpTV, and the video is now considered an absolute classic. Both of these tracks, as well as tunes like "Peter Piper" and "You Be Illin'" helped Raising Hell to go all the way to the top of the charts, selling over three million copies and firmly proving that hip hop would not just be a passing fad.

Setting aside the brilliant re-working of "Walk This Way," the remainder of Raising Hell set the blueprint for 1980's hip hop both musically and lyrically. The truth is, if the album were only about that single track, it would have been seen as a "novelty" and ever reached the success and impact that it did. The reason it moved beyond just a single is largely because, along with Rubin and Simmons, Jam Master Jay simply creates more musically than had ever been heard on a hip hop record. Raising Hell moved beyond just a simple display of beats, rhythms, and scratching, and flawlessly infuses "true" musical elements, mostly courtesy of live guitars. The metal-based guitar riff and solo (played by Rubin) that backs the beats on the title track is a perfect example of how the group found the perfect fusion of the two styles. This is where the difference lies, the rock and metal music are not simply being looped or scratched, they are truly part of the music. Also lending his talents to Raising Hell, drum programmer extraordinaire, Sam Sever, creates some of the most simple, yet hard hitting beats of the time. Even with all of the amazing beats and music, Run-D.M.C. takes it all the way back to hip hop's origins, presenting a simple beat-box and vocal, with the quick rhyme, "Son Of Byford." The songs flow perfectly into one another, and it is very much this flow, between the different styles, that makes Raising Hell such a sensational and landmark record.

With their amazing vocal delivery, DJ Run and D.M.C. prove to be, by far, two of the most talented emcees in history. Unlike a majority of emcees of the past two decades, Run-D.M.C. were of the school of rappers who never found it necessary to raise their voice to get their rhymes across. Delivering each verse clearly and powerfully, the pair set the standard in both what they said as well as how they said the rhymes. Yet, the brilliance of Run-D.M.C. goes beyond the tenor in which they rap, it is what they say and how they work with one another on the songs. While most rappers before and since were satisfied with trading verses, or perhaps sentences with their counterpart, the duo ups the ante by often trading words. Taking loads of concentration and listening to the other, it makes their rhymes and sound absolutely top notch. Raising Hell's opening song, "Peter Piper," displays all of the characteristics that make Run-D.M.C. so brilliant, as the pair rap quickly, yet clearly, in and around one another, along with the legendary backing beats and music. While on "Peter Piper," the group mixes in rhymes from Mother Goose, their lyrics range from the more risqué suggestions of "Walk This Way," to rhymes about the pride of their heritage ("Proud To Be Black"), to their own greatness as emcees and a group overall. Of course, one cannot overlook the fact that Raising Hell also contains one of the greatest brand endorsements in history, as Run-D.M.C. dedicates an entire track to their legendary open-laced shoes with, "My Adidas." This track, along with their famous black track suits and hats, as well as their trademark gold chains, would become massive fashion trends within hip hop as well as mainstream culture throughout the world. From their lyrics to the way in which they rapped, Run-D.M.C. and Raising Hell simply set the standard on what could and should be done within the hip hop aesthetic.

Perhaps as well known for their style and image as they were for their rhyming expertise, Run-D.M.C. make the case for being the most important hip hop group of all time. The flawless, shrewd rhyming of DJ Run and D.M.C. took the artistry of rapping to a whole new level, and the way in which they interacted with one another on the tracks remains unmatched. Thankfully free of the modern, boring lyrics about drugs, drinking, women, and such, Run-D.M.C. bring some of the most clever and original rhymes that rap has ever heard, and their approach set the standard for all the artists that followed. Jam Master Jay's pristine work with the turntables, and influence from Rick Rubin help to make the record the first truly musical hip hop album. When it comes to "landmark" records, there are very few that can stand with Raising Hell, as it forever altered multiple genres of music, as well as many elements of culture and society. From the metal-fused songs to the more traditional beat-based tracks and everything in between, the reality is that even today, Run-D.M.C.'s 1986 masterpiece, Raising Hell, still rocks hard as hell!

Standout tracks: "It's Tricky," "Walk This Way," and "You Be Illin'."

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