Run-DMC were one of the most impactful groups of the 1980s and remain iconic today. Comprised of Rev Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay, the Queens-based trio were untouchable in their prime. With the acute business acumen of record producer and businessman Russell Simmons behind them, the collective quickly obtained an unfathomable level of stardom and are now permanently in the hip-hop history books. However, with such renown, it’s hard to believe that the group initially rejected one of their most iconic songs, ‘Walk This Way’, featuring Aerosmith.
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.
Rubin knew rock music and knew Aerosmith’s popularity was declining in the ’80s, but he loved their material nonetheless. In contrast, Run-DMC were a group on the rise. Having already perfected the rap-rock hybrid as the executive producer of both Run-DMC and King Of Rock, Rubin immediately saw the chance for a mutually beneficial crossover single. Speaking with Louder Sound, DMC (real name Darryl McDaniels) recalled that they had found the sample but initially didn’t know who it was.
Reminiscing on the studio session, McDaniels explained, “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.”
Although DMC and Rev Run liked the track, when Rubin suggested Run-DMC re-do the song, DMC remembers a hefty amount of pushback from himself and others, recalling, “Me and Run were like, ‘You’re taking this rock-rap shit too far, you’re going to ruin us. That’s going to be fake. Nobody in hip-hop is going to like it!'” However, despite their reservations, Rubin got the lead singer of Aerosmith, Steven Tyler, on the phone. Still, he was apprehensive about the collaboration and told Rubin, “Y’all motherfuckers! We’re going to be ruined!” With both collectives not enjoying the idea, McDaniels recalls an intense three-way argument. However, eventually, Tyler agreed to meet Rubin at Magic Ventures Studios in New York.
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. We walked in, and Joe Perry was playing his riff, Steven Tyler was in the booth doing the lyrics. Me and Run knew we had to step our game up. [Jam Master ] Jay was like, ‘Yo, don’t think of the record as “Steven Tyler and Joe Perry’s record”, think of those lyrics as Run-DMC lyrics’. So we went in the booth, and that went so good that Steven said, ‘Yo, let me get in with y’all’.”
Following the recording of the track, Rubin played it. McDaniels detailed how as soon as it came out of the speakers, “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.” Once he saw his counterpart Jam Master Jay and Rubin going crazy, he knew it was a hit. ‘Walk This Way’ peaked at number four on the Billboard Hot 100 and gifted Aerosmith a minor comeback. Yu can listen to the Aerosmith and Run-DMC versions of ‘Walk This Way’ in the videos below.