Album: Raising Hell
Label: Profile Records
Producer: Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons
Rick Rubin's partnership with Russell Simmons yielded an immediate benefit for Rick; he got to work with Simmons' main clients, the most popular and groundbreaking rap group of the day, Run-DMC. Remember, folks, that Rubin was still a college student when Simmons enlisted him to pitch in on a few tracks for their 1985 album, King of Rock.
By the time Run-DMC got to work on their next album, Rick Rubin was crew. He had made his bones with L.L. Cool J.'s first album, Radio. And he put his creative stamp on the entirety of Raising Hell.
Angry callers flooded rock radio stations that dared play the song, which they saw as a desecration and a threat. But the racists lost.
Run and DMC say that they themselves produced the tracks that comprised the album. Rick recalled to me that he was in the studio “every day.” And those two realities aren't necessarily incongruent: Rick's production value was in his ear for arrangement as much as it is in programming a beat. But there is one song on Raising Hell that could not and would not have happened without Rick. And it is the song that sold the album and changed the world.
Aerosmith's “Walk This Way” was not only a childhood favorite of Rick's, it was also a staple of Run-DMC's early lives—albeit in a different way. Run, Dee and Jay were familiar with only the first four bars of the song, a bare drumbeat that Jay and other DJs would often loop via turntables for MCs to rap over. Rick managed to unite these two ways to savor “Walk This Way” — as a song and as a beat. He invited Steven Tyler and Joe Perry to collaborate, and they were game. It was Run and Dee who needed to be convinced.
But the session yielded one of the most iconic and successful collaborations in all of American music. Run-DMC's version of the song actually sold more copies and rose higher than the original, thanks to MTV and a brilliant, iconic video that made a huge statement about rap's power to break down white racism. Real life, of course, was stickier: angry callers flooded rock radio stations that dared play the song, which they saw as a desecration and a threat.
But the racists lost. The song triumphed, as did the album—which became the first rap record in history to be certified multiplatinum at 3 million units sold.
“Walk This Way” was Rick Rubin's very first pop hit, hitting No. 4 on the pop charts in September 1986.