In 1986 Aerosmith and Run DMC banded together to produce one of the most groundbreaking songs in "Walk This Way" that music had ever seen.
The story behind this Platinum record begins at two very contrasting points in both the respective artists careers. Aerosmith had been in a long and drawn out slump. Their album sales had steadily fallen since their 70s peak, their last album "Done with Mirrors" was considered a flop and they hadn’t had a Billboard top 10 single since the original Walk This Way, a decade earlier. Run DMC however were on the rise ; they found early success in their teens with a debut single titled "It's Like That" which displayed the blunt and smooth delivery that would be a unique feature of their music for the rest of their careers. This was followed up with the track "Sucker MCs" which exploded on the rap radio and changed the game with their hard hitting lyrics over the now iconic instrumental produced by Terrance Balfour and Nathaniel S. Hardy, Jr. This instrumental was at first interestingly considered a meaningless bonus beat to "It's Like That". The rap duo of Run and DMC accompanied by their DJ Jam Jaster Jay had risen quickly from their inception in 1983 to a household name in the rap world in the mid 80s. (1)
The meeting of these two artists was instigated by none other than Rick Rubin in early 1986 who himself was still a film student at the New York University. He had already set up Def Jam in 1984 and was a new emerging face in the music world. He called Aerosmith's manager Tim Collins in early 1986, to talk to Collins about the idea of remaking Aerosmith's 1975 single Walk This Way with a rap group on his roster, Run - DMC. Before Rubin could go into any further detail, Collins cut him off to request a little clarification: “What’s rap?”
Run DMC were not totally unfamiliar with Aerosmith's work as Jam Master Jay had already been using the instrumental to Walk This Way on his decks for years, and Run had been rapping over it since he was 12. On Aerosmith's side Tyler was excited almost from the offset as he said : “I loved rap… I used to go looking for drugs on Ninth Avenue and I would go over to Midtown or Downtown and there would be guys on the corner selling cassettes of their music. I’d give them a buck, two bucks, and that was the beginning of me noticing what was going on in New York at the time.” Perry didn't know as much about the the genre and relied heavily on his 13-year-old stepson Aaron who schooled him on the need to knows of the genre. (2)
They weren’t the first act to attempt this rap-rock fusion . Rick Rubin had attempted to blend these two genres before ; first with The Beastie Boys’ AC/DC-sampling Rock Hard and then later with LL Cool J’s Rock the Bells. Run-DMC themselves had themselves played around with the rock-rap idea ; this most notably seen in the Russell Simmons-produced Rock Box and King of Rock. (3)
It took one studio session on March 9th 1986 at New York City’s Magic Ventures studio to create this iconic song and the rest was history.
The music video vividly depicts a shattering of the barrier between the two acts which is almost metaphorical looking back on it now. The success allowed Run-DMC to achieve mainstream popularity as the album "Raising Hell" with the track on it went three times platinum and the song revitalised a sleeping giant in Aerosmith and allowed them to jumpstart their career with their following album "Permanent Vacation" selling 10 times as many as its predecessor. Outside of individual success this track fully opened the doors of mainstream American culture to hip hop and rap. Now we have seen amazing collaborations across the genres such as Jay Z and Linkin Park's EP " Collision Course" which features hits such as "Numb/Encore" and "Izzo/ In The End". Songs such as the Gorillaz - Clint Eastwood, Mos Def's “Zimzallabim” and Lil Wayne's “Best Rapper Alive” continue to highlight the longstanding influence of Aerosmith's and Run DMC's hit song and also show that breaking barriers is the only way to continue the cycle of constant innovation within music.