This week marks 30 years since the release of RUN-DMC’s iconic Raising Hell album. While the duo’s self-titled debut is considered by most to be the first full-fledged rap album (as opposed to a collection of singles), their third full-length Raising Hell was the first to really show was an rap album was capable of accomplishing. Masterfully performed, flawlessly recorded and masterfully sequenced, Raising Hell’s success in every way an album can be measured makes it perhaps the most influential and important release in rap history.
While its monster success can be attributed to crossover blockbusters like “Walk This Way” and timeless standards like “It’s Tricky,” which appears in a disproportionate amount of teen comedies to this day, there’s a reason why Raising Hell as an album is a must-own rite of passage for everyone with even a passing interest in hip-hop. That’s because it’s an end-to-end banger. Miraculously just as fresh today as its release three decades ago, we at The Weekly thought it’s time to examine the deep cuts that make revisiting Raising Hell such a treat for all these years.
“Hit It Run”
The b-side to the Prince-inspired third single “You Be Illin’,” “Hit It Run” one one of Raising Hell’s many elements that, while presented in an accessible mid-80s music industry context, kept true to hip-hop’s street traditionalism. With Run’s beatboxing as an intricate part of the beat, DMC lets loose an established bravado rap that not just cements the group’s dominance in 1986 among their peers, but holds up as a testament to the duo’s raw power.
“Is It Live”
At a time when people were still floating the possibility that rap was a “fad” or a “niche” “trend,” RUN-DMC were the worldwide ambassadors for the genre, part of which was enhanced by the regional influences that Raising Hell assembled. As if it wasn’t enough that the three had brought Hollis, Queens to the world, they stopped by Washington DC for a little go-go flavor with “Is It Live.” Produced by Sam Sever and featuring go-go drums by Davy DMX, “Is It Live” is a testament for not only RUN-DMC’s willingness to bring other genres into their music, but their excellent ability to flip it and make it work.
Over just a live drum-set, Run and DMC really show just how excellent they were as MCs by making a track with the absolute bare minimum elements. With drums provided by Run’s then-teenage neighbor, Run and DMC go back-and-forth showing the tremendous range their vocals can reach in their boasts and narratives. More recent hip-hop fans may recognize the tribute to it in Atmosphere’s 2003 track “Shoes.”
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“Proud to Be Black”
The b-side to the fourth single “It’s Tricky,” as well as Raising Hell’s closer, “Proud to be Black” is innovative for being a motivating and educational track without the corny baggage that’s plagued “conscious rap” off-and-on for the last 30 years. The sheer zeal that Run and DMC have for their history, their family and their community is a running theme throughout Raising Hell, and for as much partying as the album’s certainly inspired over the years, “Proud to be Black” is a strong mission statement that happened to fit right-in on a pre-Public Enemy’s Chuck D’s Long Island radio show.
Run-DMC’s ability to transcend genre and introduce new listeners to this thing called rap dates back to the rock-influenced 1984 track “Rock Box” and only got bigger with 1985’s “King of Rock.” While many cite “Walk This Walk” as the third entry in this succession, it was actually Raising Hell’s title track that was first made to be the album’s “rock song.” With Rick Rubin himself on guitar, “Raising Hell” might just be the hardest track on the whole project, and the type of record only Run and DMC could get away with, being as cinematically bold without hitting the point of parody but still self-aware enough to fluidly transition into the album’s other topics afterward.