Walk This Way.

When Rap met Rock: The “Walk This Way” collaboration of Aerosmith and Run DMC

Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” is notable for helping the band break into the mainstream in 1975. In ’86, this iconic track also aided the development of a whole new subgenre: rap rock, when it was famously covered by Run DMC. This post will cover what is so brilliant about “Walk This Way” (both the original and cover), the rap rock movement and the beauty of hip hop experimentation in the 1980’s.

The Story behind Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”

Aerosmith in 2003.
Aerosmith performing at the NFL in Washington, DC in 2003.

The song’s lyrics are concerned with a boy losing his virginity. After spending the night in a hotel in New York, Steven Tyler wrote the song’s lyrics but left them in a cab on the way to the studio the next morning. He got into a panic, grabbed the cassette with the song’s instrumental track and disappeared into the stairwell of the Record Plant studio. After taking in a pencil but no paper, he ended up writing the lyrics on the wall.

Steve Tyler.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith.

The song is famous for Joe Perry’s iconic guitar riff and the rapid lyrics of Steven Tyler, who gave his vocals a drum-like rhythm. Now, you can see why the latter helped its rap adaptation in 1986!

The 1986 cover by Run DMC

Before the collaboration, Run DMC enjoyed freestyling over Aerosmith’s album, Toys in the Attic. The group used to loop the first few seconds of the original track, but had never listened to the rest of the song until Rick Rubin (co-founder of Def Jam Records) persuaded them to produce a cover version.

Run DMC’s cover is even regarded as more successful than the original. It helped hip hop break into the mainstream market. It was the first hip hop track to hit the top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100. A year after its release, the track won the “Soul Train Music Award for Best Rap – Single” in 1987 for both Run DMC and Aerosmith, reviving the latter’s fame.

Run DMC in 1986. Ricky Powell.
Iconic 1986 photo of Run DMC in Paris (by Ricky Powell).

The fascinating world of Rap Rock and Hip Hop experimentation

From the beginnings of hip-hop in the late 70’s to its mainstream prominence, the movement remained anchored to the break, that magical drum solo so sought after by DJ’s. Most instruments including the singer took a breather and let the drummer do his thing! He had 2 bars to shine and shine he did! It would be that tiny part of a record that would become the beating heart of hip-hop. Skilful DJ’s would manipulate two copies of the same record, extending the break. The resulting manipulation created a magical, distorted backdrop for MC’s and break dancers to ‘do their thing’. One strong feature of early hip-hop was the fact that no matter what the genre or style was, if the drum break sounded cool, it was utilised. Rock LP’s were a constant go-to due to the use of heavier than usual drums for DJ’s.

The Handover from Turntable to Sample

Sampling would later gain prominence, but by that time the use of rock elements in hip hop was a well established fact. In fact, samples could be taken from a multitude of genre’s and would be made to fit amazingly well when placed into rap based music. Some notable examples are: Bruce Hornsby’s “The Way it is” (a rock song) in Tupac’s “Changes”, Labi Siffre’s “I Got The…” (a funk number) in Eminem’s “My Name Is” and David Axelrod’s “The Edge” (a jazz, funk and soul track) for Dr. Dre’s “The Next Episode”.

Run DMC’s rock experimentations occurred before they even covered “Walk This Way”. In 1984, they released “Rock Box” (below), which is a vibrant blend of hip hop and hard rock. This track did not only famously set the sound for Run DMC, but also contributed to the start of the rap rock movement.

Delving further!

Run-DMC again revisited rock with the heavyweight Jam-Master Jammin’ in 1985. A ferocious mix of booming drums, rock guitars and rap. The mixing of rap and hip hop with rock continued to flourish. Later in ’86, the former punk band Beastie Boys ventured into the hip-hop genre, incorporating their hardcore rock sound with their new hip hop experimentation. LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells” also fused rap lyrics over a hard rock musical sound. Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Antony Kiedis even rapped on the band’s 1984 debut album. Back in 1980, Blondie’s playful “Rapture” was the first rap song to top the US charts, in which Debbie Harry namechecks Grandmaster Flash and Fab Five Freddy. This hybrid genre has an unexpected amount of depth!

Hope you enjoyed this tantalising journey through “Walk This Way”, a song that certainly packs a punch within both its music and context. Let’s enjoy it once more…


From Sophia with Love x

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