Recommended Listening: Run-DMC "Raising Hell" (Profile Records 1986)

January 13, 2012 5 min read


Truthfully, everyone should know about this record and you probably should have already heard it, but I try not to be in the business of making assumptions. As someone said in the last blog in this series, some of these lend more to “Required Listening” than recommended, but you get the point.

Point blank this record was huge! And that was with great reason. Two years prior they released their debut, self-titled, album, which was groundbreaking on multiple levels. It was the first rap record heavily supported by MTV. That resulted in a huge breakthrough to Suburban America. Run-DMC’s stripped down fashion made them very relatable to the common fan. Plus they redefined the Rap album format, which was critical in shifting Rap labels focus from a singles market to an album one.
The following year they dropped the follow up album, “King Of Rock”, creating another classic album that continued to break the mold, knock down doors, and amass a rapid growing fan base. After those two powerful album statements, they needed to come back strong…

“Raising Hell” was the perfect answer to that. While the strength of the album certainly relies on the vocal talent of Run-DMC, turntable and musicianship (keyboards and percussion) of Jam Master Jay (R.I.P) and production of Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons*, there’s no doubt that some marketing genius is at work that pushed it to extraordinary levels.

The first single for the record was “My Adidas”. With the exception of Kangol Kid of U.T.F.O who effectively did this with his name, I can’t think of any other Rap song previously that so blatantly aligned itself to a particular brand. The song was a direct reflection of that “common-man” look that I referenced earlier. The average Rap fan could certainly relate to a song about their favorite tennis shoes… even if you didn’t own a pair of Adidas. When Run-DMCperformed it at Madison Square Garden, as the first-ever headlining Rap group, and asked the crowd to hold their Adidas in the air the executives of Adidas took notice. They knew they had new direction to take in marketing. That kicked opened a door for Rap artist sponsorships.

Quite honestly “Walk This Way” was always the clear song personally to skip on the album. Although, I’m sure I have, I can’t recall every listening to that song all the way thru…at least not on purpose…ha. For me, they captured the Rap/Rock fusion better on tracks like “Rock Box”, “King Of Rock”, and even the title track for this album. However, I’m sure when they made this track they didn’t have me in mind as the demographic. This was a way to capitalize on that rising MTV fanbase and it was a slam-dunk, touchdown, and homerun all in one. You want to talk about taking it to the next level… Few songs did that in the way “Walk This Way” did. Beyond being a mega-hit, the song is credited for giving Aerosmith’s career a jump-start, proving the power of Hip Hop on multiple levels**.

Even with this breakthrough hit, aimed outside their core audience, Run-DMC was able to completely to maintain the respect and support of the hardcore B-boys/girls. The bulk of the record spoke directly to them. There’s plenty of heavy bassed up Roalnd TR-808, hard percussive scratching by Jam Master Jay, and classic B-Boy breaks a la “Peter Piper”. Essentially, for every “Walk This Way” or “It’s Tricky” there was a “Hit It Run” or “Proud To Be Black”, my two favorite album tracks, to keep things in balance.

“Hit It Run” was just that raw verbal assault. It features Run on the Human Beatbox while DMC rips it solo on the verses and marks his own greatness with such rhetorical questions as “How devastating can a MC Be?” or categorical statements such as “B Boy badness to the highest degree!”

[audio:|titles=07 Hit It Run 2]

“Is This Live?” has a bouncy Roland TR-909 Go-Go styled sound. It’s one part playful, but laced with some hardcore lyrics. “Perfection” comes off like a mic check and in some ways I think it would have been a good album opener or maybe better as a closer, but seems a bit misplaced in the middle. “You Be Illin” represents the sense of humor of the crew, as well as their rarely shown knack for being a bit abstract. “Dumb Girl” takes a bit of a overly-simplistic lyrical approach to message rap, but there’s not denying the enjoyment of that excellent Roland TR-808 programming and tuning.

The title track, “Raising Hell” is just bare bones raw and I would definitely cite it as the lyrical highlight***. Particularly when DMC goes in, “It’s highly appraised with the hell is raised/So demanding and commanding that you all stand dazed/The unbelieving receiving prophecy so true/I cut the head off the devil and I throw it at you!” That imagery is just ill! In fact, so ill that it’s easy to miss the next line which is equally potent, “My mighty control already bought his soul…”. What??!! His mic skills are affording purchases of the Devil’s soul, that’s just bonkers.

[audio:|titles=08 Raising Hell]

“Proud To Be Black” is the album closer and one thing immediately comes to mind with this song. Namely, is this a strategic front-end response to any potential backlash from “Walk This Way” being seen as them trying to focus on a White audience? Regardless, it’s a great track. It takes you on a history of important figures in Black History, but does it over a raw Hip Hop beat and with their signature hardcore composure****.

The "Raising Hell" Deluxe CD Version contains some cool bonus pieces as well. There’s the “My Adidas” Acapella to get your remix or scratch skills on. There’s a “Walk This Way” Demo. The brightest jewel of them all is the “Lord Of Lyrics” Demo. It’s a rock laced, 808 backed, all out battle track. It has some of the lyrics from “Raising Hell”, so it’s safe to assume this is the track that eventually inspired the title track. There are also a couple Run-DMC commercial promo spots that are cool to hear as well. Basically, you get some great bonus additions to an already classic album.

If you enjoy Rap from the comfort of your home, IPOD, car, restaurants, radio, or wherever else then you owe some credit to this album. You owe it it a listen...

Written By Kevin Beacham


*With a touch of help from Sam Sever with drum programming on “Is It Live?”

**There’s a few great books on the history of Def Jam that cover this and more amazing stories including The Def Jam 25th Anniversary Book and The Big Payback by Dan Charnas!

***My homie, Eddy a.k.a T.N.T of 3D Crew, loved this track so much that he got us crew shirts made that had some of the lyrics on the back. His said “Lord Of Lyrics” and mine said “Duke Of Discussion”! (SEE BELOW)

****It’s essentially a more hardcore and condensed version of their “Black History” song that was released as a free cassette tape in select Jheri Curl boxes a few years previous. This was a fourteen-minute history lesson over a bit of a cheesy beat not really reflective of the Run-DMC sound. I speak about that track HERE.


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