I hear you out there. Yes, you in the front, you in the back, and you there off to the side. You’re all yelling the same thing at me: “FLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASH! This is NOT a NEW ALBUM!!!” Shut up ya whiners. The original version of “Raising Hell” may be coming up on a two-decade anniversary, but Run-D.M.C. is just as funky fresh now as they were back then. In fact given the way that pop culture likes to recycle everything old as new again, I’m surprised Adidas sneakers and black fedora hats haven’t made a bigger comeback. After all I just saw Stan Smith wearing a Flavor Flav clock on American Dad. (Next episode they should up the ante by having him in Kwame style polka dots, rocking a hightop fade worthy of Christopher ‘Kid’ Reid.)
Now suffice it to say a 20th anniversay re-release of this timeless hip-hop classic would be a noteworthy moment in and of itself. It’s also a fitting tribute to the man who created their sound with turntable wizardry and dope beats, the legendary Jason Mizell b.k.a. Jam Master Jay. It’s nice to see though that Legacy Recordings (ostensibly Sony/BMG) decided to go the extra length with this “Deluxe Edition.” First and foremost all of the tracks have been remastered. It’s hard to explain just how vital this is until you realize that in the 1980’s cassette tapes reigned supreme and vinyl was still a fairly viable format. Compact disc technology was available but cost-prohibitive, and even when compact discs were made they were often transferred straight from analog tape with no attempt to clean up the format and take adantage of the crisp digital clarity CD’s could provide.
I can hear the complaints already: “BUT FLAAAAAAAAAAAAAAASH! I thought you LOVED the dusty analog sound of vinyl!” Don’t get me wrong. Vinyl is great when you’re listening TO vinyl. When you’re listening to a compact disc, it should take full advantage of that media’s potential. When you listen to “Raising Hell (Deluxe Edition)” the reasons why are abundantly apparent. The cymbals and drums on “Perfection” have never sounded so crisp and clean, and since the only music on this track IS a drums, it makes an already historically important old school song that much better. It’s so good it makes me want to go find a trap set and go to town on the kick and snare, and Run and D’s lyrics are all crystal clear. Speaking of which, it can’t be understated how much better D.M.C.’s raps sound on “Hit it Run,” complete with trademark echoing introduction “I’m the KIIIIIIIIIIIIING of ROCK!” The lyrics are simplistic by today’s standards, but by 1986 standards they were the pinnacle of dope:
“It’s called, gangsta hard rock, non-stop hip-hop
And it’s headed for the top by the rhymes I pop
For every race place color country county or creed
and all of the places that I emceed
B-Boy badness to the highest degree
And it can’t b-a-boy unless you be D
You can’t bust a cherry or crush a grape
and if you ain’t got this tape you’re in bad shape
Beats flow from Joe and never stop
Better get yourself together, let’s (ROCK!)”
It’s not just beats and rhymes which benefit from the new and improved clarity though. The rocking bells of “Peter Piper” bang to the highest degree and may inspire new debate about the enduring legend that they ripped off the idea from a demo of LL Cool J’s “Rock the Bells.” (The version on “Radio” was a remix, but you can find the original with the bell sound in tact on various compilations.) Joe Perry’s fat guitar riffs have a newfound razor’s edge on “Walk This Way,” and Steven Tyler’s lyrical bravado rocks as much as Run and D’s. It was an inspired combination back then, and it’s still great today. The hard rock sounds plays a strong role throughout though, adding bombastic furor to the title track and tons of attitude to “It’s Tricky.” Hearing Jay scratch the guitars on the breakdown just brings a tear to my eye and reminds me that his untimely passing will deny a whole generation the chance to see him cut and slice.
Suffice it to say the original 12 tracks would be reason enough to own this release, especially in their new improved format. They don’t call this a “Deluxe Edition” without good reason though. Five bonus tracks have been added to the end of the album: an amazingly fresh “A Cappella” version of “My Adidas,” the demo version of “Walk This Way,” commercials for the “Raising Hell Tour” and a “Live at the Apollo” performance, and the previously unreleased song “Lord of Lyrics”:
Run: “Droppin MC’s, with just one punch
Cause it’s the baddest on the vocal, call me Captain Crunch
Slayin MC’s, make ’em walk the plank
(What’s next?) Swab the decks while I count my bank
Sophisticated sound, not soft or sour
Servin you suckers sellin dreams in the shower
Rockin this party, hour after hour
If a girlie tried to diss me (oh my God!) I won’t allow her!”
Hard as it was for me to believe, the respective parties involved in this release took one of the greatest albums fondly remembered from my childhood and made it that much greater. Even if you already own this CD, trade it in and get the “Deluxe Edition” instead. You can bank on it being money well spent.