In 1986, Run-DMC released one of their most iconic songs, ‘Walk This Way’, featuring Aerosmith. Comprised of Rev Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay, the Queens-based trio received critical acclaim for the track, which debuted at number 4 on the Billboard Hot 100, becoming Run-DMC’s biggest hit. However, the legendary producer Rick Rubin was an integral individual in the creation of the song.
The rise of Run-DMC is closely correlated to the ascent of the epic musician Rick Rubin. A famed producer, Rubin was just a master of music with a talent that knew no limits. Akin to renowned beatmaker Larry Smith, he was highly involved with the group. However, Rubin was affiliated to such an extent that he founded Def Jam Records alongside Russell Simmons. With his initial love being rock music, the legendary DJ Jazzy Jay of the Zulu Nation taught Rubin the ropes of rap instrumental production, and before long, he was fusing the two.
In an interview with Louder Sound, DMC (real name Darryl McDaniels) recalled how Rubin created the beat, explaining, “We were in the studio one day looping the beat, and [producer] Rick Rubin walks in. He’s like, ‘Yo, do you know what that is?’. And me and Jay were like, ‘Yeah, that’s Toys In The Attic’. We didn’t know the group, we just went off with what was on the cover. He was like, ‘This is Aerosmith, Walk This Way’ – he was giving us the 411 on Aerosmith.”
Rubin has always had an eclectic taste in music which is what made his sample choices so obscure. In an interview with Lauren Laverne for BBC Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, the 1980s legend cited the Icelandic pianist Víkingur Olafsson and The Ramones among some of his influences and disclosed that the importance of punk rock in his youth paved the way for his immersion in hip-hop. Other rock bands and acts that Rubin highlighted include Simon and Garfunkel, LCD Soundsystem, Roberta Flack and Neil Young.
The producer knew of Aerosmith and had their records. Initially, he was thinking of sampling the track. However, he decided that in order to bring hip-hop to the masses, it would be a good idea for the two groups to collaborate. Detailing the session, DMC told Louder Sound, “We went into the studio and laid down a weak version because we didn’t want to do the record and left. Eight hours later, we got a call to come back to the studio.”
He continued, “We walked in, and Joe Perry was playing his riff, Steven Tyler was in the booth doing the lyrics.” Rubin beefed up the track a bit by beefing up the drums and adding that extra punch and according to DMC, once the producer played it, “Everybody flipped out. Me and Run were so puzzled because the reaction was overwhelming. We didn’t think it was going to be a big hit, but people were loving it.”