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It might surprise you to learn that the first rap song to bring the genre to a wide mainstream audience wasn't even originally a rap song.
That's right. This track is a straight-up cover of a 1975 Aerosmith hit. It doesn't just sample the riff and the chorus—the lyrics are also almost identical to the original. Rap went rock, and the crowd went wild. (This might be a good place to mention that heading in the direction of rock and roll isn't always met with a positive response: Bob Dylan literally got booed off the stage the first time he performed "Like a Rolling Stone.")
But there's more going on here. Run-DMC emcees Run and DMC hadn't even wanted to record "Walk This Way." They felt (unsurprisingly) that covering a song they didn't even particularly like for the sake of attracting a bigger audience amounted to selling out. Even once their Def Jam producers convinced them to do the cover, they tried to draw attention away from it.
Music history had a different plan. This is one of those unusual cases in which a song that might have been forgotten entirely as a failed crossover attempt is remembered, instead, for the great service it did to a genre. In fact, this song did exactly what Def Jam hoped it would do. It brought rap into the mainstream. And the mainstream would never be the same.
|Artist||Run-DMC & Aerosmith|
|Writer(s)||Stephen Tyler, Joe Perry|
|Producer(s)||Rick Rubin, Russell Simmons|
|Musician(s)||Run/Joseph Simmons (vocals), DMC/Darryl McDaniels (vocals), Jam Master Jay (DJ), Stephen Tyler (vocals), Joe Perry (lead guitar)|
|Learn to play|
Wu Tang Clan
Red Hot Chili Peppers
Rage Against the Machine
Ronin Ro, Raising Hell: The Reign, Ruin, and Redemption of Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay (2005)
Ro gives an excellent, personal, and detailed story of the band's history that manages to put you right there next to the musicians as they revolutionize hip-hop.
Jeff Chang, Can't Stop Won't Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation (2006)
If you ever find yourself asking why something happened in hip-hop, read Jeff Chang's book, which explores the geographical, socioeconomic, political, and historical context of how hip-hop came to be and what it has become.
Marcus Reeves, Somebody Scream!: Rap Music's Rise to Prominence in the Aftershock of Black Power (2008)
Reeves tells the story of hip-hop through ten artists, from Run-DMC to Eminem, and explores the politics of the black generation that grew up after the Civil Rights Movement and Black Power.
Aerosmith: Toys in the Attic (1975)
This classic of American rock has the familiar hits "Walk This Way" and "Sweet Emotion."
Run-DMC: Raising Hell (1986)
Critics consider Raising Hell, with "It's Tricky," "Walk This Way," "My Adidas," and the title track, among others, to be Run-DMC's best release. For your money you'll get clean rhymes, screaming guitars prefiguring rap rock, and the beginnings of Afrocentricity in "Proud to Be Black."
Run-DMC: Greatest Hits (2002)
"It's Tricky," "Walk This Way," "Christmas in Hollis," "Rock Box," "Sucker M.C.s." It's hard to find so many goods songs in one place, period.
"Walk This Way" Cover
This was the single art for Run-DMC's "Walk This Way."
Raising Hell Cover
When it was released, it was the biggest rap album ever.
From left to right: Run, Jam Master Jay, and DMC.
The Run-DMC logo even appeared on Adidas shoes during the 1980s!
Steven Tyler has a famously big mouth.
Well, maybe not that big.
Joe Perry has been known as a riff magician, as hit after hit of Aerosmith's have been based on his guitar lines.
The full band never recorded the new version of the song.
Aerosmith have gone on to do many great things, and new things, too, like releasing a version of Guitar Hero.
Run-DMC: Live at Montreux (2001)
Watching Run and DMC hype each other and battle brings back the magic of these classic hits.
Aerosmith: You Gotta Move (2004)
Aerosmith is a blast in concert. Steven Tyler runs around stage like a monkey ninja, Joe Perry literally beats his guitar with a sash, and the band comes together for hit after hit in this concert DVD.
Run's House: Season 1 & 2 (2007)
Yeah, this happened. Think you like Run? Watch him juggle family life, preaching, and making a comeback rap album in this MTV original series.
Run-DMC Official Site
Read about the band and get more information on their website.
Aerosmith Official Site
Keep up to date with Aerosmith as they continue to tour and produce albums into their fourth decade together.
Run-DMC Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Biography
In 2009, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inducted Run-DMC, only the third rap group ever to make it in.
Aerosmith Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Biography
Learn about Aerosmith's tumultuous journey from American garage band to biggest American rock group ever.
Run-DMC: "Walk This Way"
This is the famous video for the groundbreaking collaboration between Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry and Run-DMC.
Aerosmith: "Walk This Way" (Original)
Listen to the original version of "Walk This Way" from 1975. Even without Run-DMC, this mean guitar track is no slacker.
"Walk This Way" at the MTV Music Video Awards in 1987
It's the 1980s, and people in the audience—not to mention Stephen Tyler—are wearing some pretty fun getups.
Kid Rock Walks This Way, Too
Kid Rock featured Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and a rendition of "Walk This Way" in his 1999 set at the MTV Music Video Awards.
Super Bowel XXXV Halftime
In 2001, Aerosmith teamed up with 'N Sync, Britney Spears, Nelly, and Mary J. Blige for this star-studded version of Run-DMC's cover of the song.