Washington Post national arts reporter Geoff Edgers takes a deep dive into the story behind “Walk This Way,” Aerosmith and Run-DMC's legendary, groundbreaking mashup that forever changed music.
The early 1980s were an exciting time for music. Hair metal bands were selling out stadiums, while clubs and house parties in New York City had spawned a new genre of music. At the time, though, hip hop's reach was limited, an art form largely ignored by mainstream radio deejays and the rock-obsessed MTV network.
But in 1986, the music world was irrevocably changed when Run-DMC covered Aerosmith's hit “Walk This Way” in the first rock-hip hop collaboration. Others had tried melding styles. This was different, as a pair of iconic arena rockers and the young kings of hip hop shared a studio and started a revolution. The result: Something totally new and instantly popular. Most importantly, "Walk This Way" would be the first rap song to be played on mainstream rock radio.
In Walk This Way, Geoff Edgers sets the scene for this unlikely union of rockers and MCs, a mashup that both revived Aerosmith and catapulted hip hop into the mainstream. He tracks the paths of the main artists—Steven Tyler, Joe Perry, Joseph “Run” Simmons, and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels—along with other major players on the scene across their lives and careers, illustrating the long road to the revolutionary marriage of rock and hip hop. Deeply researched and written in cinematic style, this music history is a must-read for fans of hip hop, rock, and everything in between.
In this rollicking and occasionally rambling history, music journalist Edgers tells the story of Run-DMC's 1986 hip-hop remake of Aerosmith's 1975 hit "Walk This Way." The aging, fractious, and drug-addled rockers weren't hip to new music, and the rising rappers thought the original's lyrics were "hillbilly gibberish." So when the members of Aerosmith walked into a studio in 1986 to help Run-DMC cover their song, it was hardly a meeting of the minds. Aerosmith front man Steven Tyler and guitarist Joe Perry showed up strictly for the $8,000 payday, while the already-platinum Run-DMC thought the song would be a way to break hip-hop into the white mainstream. Edgers has little to say about the faded rockers beyond the battles between the "Toxic Twins" Tyler and Perry and about the band's declining popularity and mounting money troubles (Perry is described as "a dope fiend on a twenty-dollar-a-day allowance"). Edgers's take on the rise of Run-DMC, "smart-ass kids" from Queens, meanwhile, is told more passionately ("What Run-DMC wore would usher in the era of brand marketing that eventually made millionaires out of 50 Cent, Jay Z, and Dr. Dre"); Edgers also covers other rap pioneers, downtown hipsters, and music producer Rick Rubin (the white Long Islander who saw rap as "black punk rock"). Run-DMC's version of the song helped revitalize Aerosmith's career, and, according to Edgers, was the "starting gun for every mashup, good and bad, that came later." Edgers, however, focuses less on the song's broader cultural implications than the entertaining awkwardness of the recording, as when an MTV interviewer asked each group how they felt about the other's music and received mostly blank stares. Nevertheless, this is a vivid snapshot of a unique moment in cultural history.