The Official Report on the Intransitionalist Chronotopologies of Kenji Siratori: Appendix 8.2.3 is an AI-generated, xenopoetic “glitch novel” of sorts, with a good portion of the book also given over to a randomly written and ordered set of strange and beautiful footnotes that were submitted by the 60+ members of the Ministry. This is a futuristic work on all fronts, and in order to contrast with the digitally obtrusive writing, and to play into our belief in“technological mutualism”, our packaging design and visual aesthetic is of a more analogue and DIY, old school cut and paste nature. What we have here then is a work of art that bridges past and future, but is firmly embedded in the NOW!
Andrew Wenaus explains:
The result is a work of xenopoetic emergence: a beautifully absurd, alien document scintillating with strange potency. Official Report on the Intransitionalist Chronotopologies of Kenji Siratori: Appendix 8.2.3 is a xenopoetic data/dada anthology that documents the activities of the artist collective The Ministry of Transrational Research into Anastrophic Manifolds. The anthology results from an experimental approach to impersonal literary composition. Similar to surrealist definitions, but on the scale of a technical document, members of the Ministry-poets, musicians, novelists, painters, curators, artists, scientists, philosophers, and physicians-were asked to offer a microfiction, poem, essay, fictional citation, or computer code, in the form of a footnote or annotation to a glitch-generated novel by iconoclastic Japanese artist Kenji Siratori; however, each participant wrote their contribution without any access to or knowledge about the nature of Siratori’s source text. After collecting the contributions, the “footnotes” were each algorithmically linked to an arbitrary word from Siratori’s novel. Bringing together algorithmically and Al-generated electronic literature with analogue collage and traditional modes of literary composition, the Ministry refuses to commit solely to digital, automated, or analogue art and instead seeks technological mutualism and a radically alien future for the arts.
Accompanied by a groundbreaking original score by electro-acoustic duo Wormwood, the anthology offers the radical defamiliarization and weird worlds of science fiction, but now the strangeness bites back on the level form. Readers should expect to discover strange portals from which new ways of thinking, feeling, and being emerge. A conceptual and experimental anthology, Official Report on The Intransitionalist Chronotopologies of Kenji Siratori inaugurates collective xenopoetic writing and the conceit that the future of art will consist of impersonal acts of material emergence, not personal expression. Consume with caution.
Book written by Kenji Sartori.
Footnotes by the Ministry of Transrational Research into Anastrophic Manifolds: Rosaire Appel, Louis Armand, David Barrick, Gary Barwin, Steve Beard, Gregory Betts, Christian Bök, Mike Bonsall, Peter Bouscheljong, Maria Chenut, Shane Jesse Christmass, Roy Christopher, Tabasco “Ralph” Contra, Mike Corrao, R.J. Dent, Paul Di Filippo, Zak Ferguson, Colin Herrick, S.C. Hickman, Maxwell Hyett, Justin Isis, Andrew Joron, Chris Kelso, Phillip Klingler, Adam Lovasz, Daniel Lukes, Ania Malinowska, Claudia B. Manley, Ryota Matsumoto, Michael Mc Aloran, Andrew Mcluhan, Jeff Noon, Jim Osman, Suarjan Prasai, Tom Prime, David Leo Rice, Virgilio Rivas, David Roden, B.R. Yeager, Andrej Shakowski, Aaron Schneider, Gary J. Shipley, Kenji Siratori, Sean Smith, Kristine Snodgrass, Sean Sokolov, Alan Sondheim, Simon Spiegel, Henry Adam Svec, Jeff VanderMeer, R.G. Vasicek, Andrew C. Wenaus [Ministry Director], William Wenaus, Eileen Wennekers, Christina Marie Willatt, Saywrane Alfonso Williams, D. Harlan Wilson, and Andrew Wilt.
All music composed by Andrew Wenaus and Christina Marie Willatt.
Performed by Andrew Wenaus, Christina Marie Willatt, and Kenji Siratori.
Packaging design and artwork by Colin Herrick.
Produced by Andrew Wenaus and Time Released Sound.
WARNING!! AS IS STATED ON THE BACK OF THE BOOK:
“Loved ones of those that disappeared reported that prior to their detainment, the victims were sent an unmarked envelope. The envelope contained a letter whose contents consisted exclusively of 317 black rectangular glyphs. Due to the still uncertain nature and status of this Appendix, Time Released Sound would like all readers to be aware of this history!”
Those of you that purchase the Limited Edition version will very possibly be sent one of these envelopes as well, sometime after you have received the book, so please be careful when ordering it!
It was a great discussion that covered the material in BDP and then used it as a jump-off point for other projects and concerns. Ytasha had just returned from Ghana a few days before where she toured the slave castles at Elmina and Cape Coast. Her stories, like so many other concepts we discussed, went backward to look forward. You truly missed a treat if you weren’t there.
This book, edited by Roy Christopher, is a moment. It is the deconstructed sample, the researched lyrical metaphors, the aha moment on the way to hip-hop enlightenment. Hip-hop permeates our world, and yet it is continually misunderstood. Hip-hop’s intersections with Afrofuturism and science fiction provide fascinating touchpoints that enable us to see our todays and tomorrows. This book can be, for the curious, a window into a hip-hop-infused Alter Destiny—a journey whose spaceship you embarked on some time ago. Are you engaging this work from the gaze of the future? Are you the data thief sailing into the past to U-turn to the now? Or are you the unborn child prepping to build the next universe? No, you’re the superhero. Enjoy the journey.
Boogie Down Predictions also features contributions from Omar Akbar, Juice Aleem, Tiffany E. Barber, Kevin Coval, Samantha Dols, Kodwo Eshun, Kembrew McLeod, Chuck Galli, Nettrice Gaskins, Jonathan Hay, Jeff Heinzl, Rasheedah Phillips, Steven Shaviro, Aram Sinnreich, André Sirois, Erik Steinskog, Dave Tompkins, Tia C.M. Tyree, Joël Vacheron, tobias c. van Veen, and K. Ceres Wright.
Roy Christopher’s dedication to the future is bracing. Boogie Down Predictions is a symphony of voices, beats, and bars messing with time, unsettling histories, opening portals. — Jeff Chang, author, Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop
The study of hip-hop requires more than a procession of protagonists, events, and innovations. Boogie Down Predictions stops the clock—each essay within it a frozen moment, an opportunity to look sub-atomically at the forces that drive this culture. — Dan Charnas, author, Dilla Time: The Life and Afterlife of J Dilla
How does hip-hop fold, spindle, or mutilate time? In what ways does it treat technology as, merely, a foil? Are its notions of the future tensed…or are they tenseless? For Boogie Down Predictions, Roy Christopher’s trenchant anthology, he’s assembled a cluster of curious interlocutors. Here, in their hands, the culture has been intently examined, as though studying for microfractures in a fusion reactor. The result may not only be one of the most unique collections on hip-hop yet produced, but, even more, and of maximum value, a novel set of questions. — Harry Allen, Hip-Hop Activist & Media Assassin
Boogie Down Predictions offers new ways of listening to, looking at, and thinking about hip-hop culture. It teaches us that hip-hop bends time, blending past, present, and future in sound and sense. Roy Christopher has given us more than a book; it’s a cypher and everyone involved brought bars. — Adam Bradley, author, Book of Rhymes: The Poetics of Hip-Hop
I’m on Talk Your Talk with my man Alaska this week. I’m the first guest on this spin off from his usual show, Call Out Culture with Curly Castro and Zilla Rocca, on which I was also the first guest. I did the artwork for their Michael Myers/Nas-themed “Killmatic” episode, too.
In this new one, we talk about my books, new, old, and not-out-yet, as well as a few high-minded social-science theories… and the raps, of course.
Ian MacKaye is a lot of things, but he’s best known as the co-founder of Dischord Records and the bands Minor Threat and Fugazi. One of the ways he came to punk practices was through skateboarding, which he describes as a discipline, a way to reinterpret the world. Punk, as he explains below, is also a way to reinterpret the world. If languages are our lenses, then these are his native tongues.
I found Minor Threat in high school, after they’d already broken up. I got both of their cassettes at a record store in a mall on a trip through in Huntsville, Alabama. From there, I followed Ian through string of bands—Egghunt, Embrace, Pailhead—but when Fugazi came together, it was clear that something else was going on. My friends and I didn’t know that their first self-titled EP was the beginning a phenomenal 15-year run, but we knew it was something special. Where Minor Threat helped define the genre of hardcore, Fugazi was beyond that, a little bit outside of the genres we knew at the time. I remember driving to the skatepark in my 1973 VW Beetle shortly after getting that first tape. My friend Sean Young sat in the passenger seat rewinding “Waiting Room” over and over the whole way there. The opening chords of that song sound as fresh now as they did then.
Fugazi went on an indefinite hiatus the same year that MySpace launched. The timing is significant because MySpace briefly became the online place for music, for bands and fans alike. In 2018 they lost 12 years of their users’ files in a server migration catastrophe. The lost files include everything uploaded between 2003 and 2015, over 50 million songs by 14 million artists, as well as countless photos and videos. As we offload and outsource our archives to these services, we run the risk of losing them without recourse.
If there’s a lesson there, it’s the same one MacKaye lives by: self-reliance. He’s been keeping his own archives all his life, but I’ll let him tell you about that.
Roy Christopher:You and I both came up and were introduced to this culture through skateboarding. How did you initially get into punk?
Ian MacKaye: It was around late ‘78 that I first encountered punk—really encountered it—meaning that I thought about it. I’d obviously seen it years earlier because the media was talking about it, but my friends in high school started talking about it, and I started to really have to give it a think. One of the dilemmas of punk for me at the time was that punk and skateboarding were opposite. So, the punks that I knew would never skateboard because that just seemed silly, and the skateboarders I knew just thought punks were freaks. Of course, the skateboarders were largely guys who were jocks or who just wanted to party, so it made sense that they would hate something new. I had to make this decision about wanting to be a punk or a skateboarder. Now the good thing about skateboarding, given that navigation was so central to the practice, is that it was like learning a language. They say that it’s easier to learn a language if you’ve learned another language, and I think it’s because you’ve gone through the process of reshaping sound already so you understand that it can be done, you can communicate with different sounds. So, I think in the same light, the time I spent skateboarding and looking at the world differently was perfect practice and preparation for punk. Because punk required looking at the world differently.
IM: It was actually in many ways a perfect way to enter it. Now, ironically, as we all know, punk and skateboarding became almost synonymous later on, which is not surprising to me, but at the time it was separate. It didn’t occur to me since I wasn’t living in Los Angeles where you had the first skaters who really got into punk. They picked up on the sort of the radicalness for the freedom of it or whatever. You have Steve Olson or Dwayne Peters, Tony Alva, Jay Adams, and that crew, once they got into it, then suddenly, like within a couple years, you had skate punks.
RC:Yeah, by the time I came in, which was during the Bones Brigade era, they were already merged.
IM: Right, exactly.
RC:I didn’t know this about you, but I found out recently that you don’t have any effects on your guitar, and you did that on purpose because you wanted to push those limits.
IM: Not only that, but I’m anti-option. I’ve been a vegan for 35 years and whenever somebody asks me why, I always say, ‘why not?’ Because there’s a million great reasons to think about what you put in your body. The primary one is convenience, which is of course the death of the world, but I think that one of the great silver linings for me, especially in the olden days—not so much now because now it’s become more common—but what was so wonderful was that I didn’t have to spend a lot of time looking at a menu because there was one thing, and I was going to eat.
I like simple things like just in general. I think options are designed to confuse and delay. Another reason that I think there are so many options in our marketplace especially is to create sort of brand obedience. For instance, if you go to a larger grocery store and you go to their bakery section and you want to buy some bread, there’s usually about, 25 different kinds of bread, which is a lot of different kinds of bread when you think about it! Or cereals. There’s like 50 cereals! Yeah. That’s a lot of cereals, but I think the only way that one can retain their sanity and navigate that many choices every time is to pick the one thing, right?
IM: They pick the one kind of bread that they like. With the cacophony of options, they just reach in and grab the one, but here’s the thing: They’re all owned by one or two bakeries anyway.
The illusion is that we have all these choices we can make, but the net effect is that we don’t make choices because there are so many that they become incomprehensible. You can’t deal with it, so you just end up buying the one thing or getting the one kind of gas or the one whatever. I’m not suggesting that there were some evil geniuses thought this up [laughs]. I’m not like that. I’m not like a paranoid dude or a conspiracy guy, but—and this is a little bit like the skateboarding thing—I just learned how to look at things differently.
So, for me, options sort of get away from the beauty of a simple life. So, when you were talking about my guitar, yes, it’s true. I don’t like pedals. I never used them. I just thought it was interesting to just have one setup and then to use my body and the available volume knobs, the tone knobs, those things on my guitar and on the amp. What can I do to manipulate those things to create a variety of sounds, without having a computer just dial them up for me. I think one of the reasons that society is in a bit of a malaise is because of computers. The options provided by computers are completely overwhelming.
For those of us who were pre-internet and post-internet, we can really see the distinction. I’m not a Luddite and I’m not nostalgic. I don’t care about any of that. But the reality is that the relationship I had with music at a time where I would only be able to afford one or two records, and I would just have to go and listen to that record until I get to save up for the next record. I would listen to one record, you know, 40 times in a row. That experience is much more difficult when you have 4 million musical choices at your fingertips.
RC:How do you even know what you like?
IM: Right?! As a resource, it’s amazing. There’s a lot of times I’ll read some book about music, and they’ll mention some very obscure recording, and then I look and boom, I find it. I can’t believe it’s all there. So, I love the resource aspect of it, but I do think that that the relationship that I developed with music, maybe it’s harder. I don’t know. Because looking at my kid and other kids, they love music, but they’re kind of overwhelmed with options and choices.
So, I’m a little tongue-in-cheek when I say convenience is the death of the world, but I think options and convenience are cousins for sure.
RC:You could definitely make the argument.
IM: I like fewer options.
RC:I struggle with my students to get them to take notes or pay attention to things that they don’t need right at the moment because they live in such an on-demand kind of culture. You have created an archive—a Dischord archive, a Fugazi archive—and that’s one of the things that I’ve been trying to argue with them is that they need to be holding onto their own stuff and not relying on companies online. So, what was the impetus to build this massive archive of your stuff.
IM: Well, I mean, the Fugazi Live Archive is just one part of a much larger archive of Dischord- and Fugazi-related materials. I think the impetus starts with a very simple reality, which is I am 60 years old, and in my entire life I’ve only lived in three houses. I own two of them, and my dad still lives in the first one. As a result, I didn’t have to make that kind of painful choice about what I’m bringing and what I’m leaving or throwing away. So, there’s that. That’s just a reality. Then my mother was a journalist in the true sense of the word in that she kept journals for 60 of her 70 years. Not only did she keep journals, but she also typed them up and edited them. She kept filing cabinets of journals, letters, correspondence, genealogical work. She was an absolutely brilliant, brilliant person. She had a Panasonic cassette deck, and she would just leave it recording in a room. I used to think it was nice that mom liked to hear our voices when we were away, that she would record us. It wasn’t until she died that I realized, it wasn’t for her. It was for us, so we can hear her voice.
There was an emphasis on the idea of hanging on to things because they would take a different form as time passed. Maybe they would become more important, and you can always throw something away later. It’s not like you have to make that decision today. Later you can put it in the trash, but if you don’t need to throw it away now, then maybe don’t.
Then the next level is that I met Jeff Nelson in high school. He was in the Slinkees, and the Teen Idles. He’s my partner at Dischord Records. Jeff is a saver, a collector. I got hit by a car once and years later, I found that he went out and he scooped up all the pieces of the shattered headlight that broke. He still had that stuff. It’s just the way he is. He just has that kind of mentality, which I think resonated with my own tendency. So, both of us were just saving things because we thought they were important. I mean, you have to remember that this why Dischord Records was started: Not because we wanted to have a record label, but because we wanted to document something that was important to us. We didn’t think the world need to have a Teen Idles record. We wanted the Teen Idles record. It was important to us. So, things that were important to us, we hung onto, and we continue hang onto.
As a result of all those things I’ve just described you, these different circumstances, I essentially ended up with this massive collection of things. About 10 or 12 years ago, I had a number of friends die, and one of the friends who died, he had named a mutual friend to be the executor of his will. At some point, I asked our mutual friend how it went, and he said it was the greatest of gifts. Our late friend had basically identified, enumerated, and directed everything he had. I thought about it, and you know, my brain is big, and I know everything in Dischord House, but my brain stops when I die. So, I realized that I have all this stuff, but if I died and Amy and the others were going to have to contend with it, figure out what to do with it all. It was all mixed up because my life, my personal life and my musical life and the label life were all tied together. I know everything, but that’s what really got me thinking about time to start cleaning up and get things organized. I still have miles to go, but at least now things have been split.
I have all my personal correspondence at home, my other house: 40 years of correspondence. I saved all the letters that people sent me—90% of them or something. So, I had boxes of these letters in my eaves, and I sat for four years with an archivist named Nichole Procopenko, and we went through every letter. We put into a collection. We have a large collection that breaks down into different subsets, and now it’s researchable.
RC:Oh, that’s amazing.
IM: So, someone calls and says, ‘I’m looking for this early-eighties punk from Des Moines,’ and I’m like, ‘I can help you!’ [laughs] I freak people out because I can lay my hands on things almost instantly that are in the database. It’s all organized. Same with the tapes and fanzines and photos. That’s the archive. People keep saying, ‘aren’t you going to scan everything?’ No, I’m not. I have scanned the flyers because they’re the most liquid of things.
The other thing about it, which is interesting, is a part of what has affected your students is that… I can’t say this for sure, but I strongly suspect that the punk scene is probably the last youth movement that used paper. Like I know hip-hop came a little bit after punk, I just don’t think people are using as much paper. They weren’t corresponding as much. I think that there’s something really interesting about that. I think it’s important too, because the world that I’m a part of and was a part of back then was one that was beneath the radar of the industry, and since the industry controls history, that’s their job. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, they celebrate industry figures. The Grammys every year hand out awards for best Song of the Year, but every one of those songs, if not on an actual major label, it’s distributed by a major label. What are the chances that of all the songs that are being written in the, in the world on any given minute of any given day, that every single best song of the year happened to go through a major? Statistically impossible. But that’s the way it works. They own the history. So as a result, knowing that, I feel like it’s important to hang on to evidence of prior civilization, the pottery shards that let people know that they weren’t the first.
RC:Those are awesome stories, Ian. I won’t take up any more of your time. I appreciate it. I’m glad we finally got to do this.
IM: All right, my friend. Good talking to you. If you ever find yourself in Washington, drop me a line, and I’ll show you this madness. You’ll probably get a kick out of it.
In his new memoir, Spaceships Over Glasgow, Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite describes his teen years in terms eerily similar to my own: waiting eagerly for The Cure’s Disintegration to come out, whiling away the summer skateboarding, waiting to see them on “The Prayer Tour” in 1989. I did all of those things. Our paths diverged when he started making music and I started making zines. When he picked up a guitar, I picked up a copy-machine. We still revere the power of music in the same manner though.
I’ve always thought of music as being romantic. It can take you from wherever you are to somewhere else in an instant. When I was a teenager, in particular, I romanticized about music and musicians endlessly. I’d daydream about how records were made and what the lives of those making them were like. The music itself would set fires in my imagination.
The son of Scotland’s last telescope-maker, Braithwaite was perhaps destined for a life looking beyond the limits, his head aflame with sound. Once armed with his first guitar and exposed to the post-punk noise of the Jesus and Mary Chain and Sonic Youth and the shoegazing drone of My Bloody Valentine and Ultra Vivid Scene, as well as the goofy goth of The Cure, of course, he was on his way to the stars.
Mogwai is consistently one of my most-listened-to bands. Their blend of mellow prog, raging guitars, and soundtracky drama has held my attention for years. It’s no wonder they’ve scored several films throughout their nearly 30-year career. There’s a lot of slowly building tension and cathartic release. For a long time there were no vocals, and for a while after there were, I didn’t hear them. They were disguised, machine voices, awash in layers of guitar squall and feedback, vocoded beyond recognition.
Even with a space seemingly cut out for them by a family of description-defying groups, ready-made genres, and audiences lying in wait, some sounds still don’t seem to fit anywhere. When genre-specific adjectives fail, we grasp at significant exemplars from the past to describe new sounds. Following Will Straw, Josh Gunn calls this “canonization”: The synecdochical use of a band’s name for a genre is analogous to our using metaphors, similes, and other figurative language when literal terms fall short. Where bands sometimes emerge that do not immediately fit into a genre (I’m thinking of Godflesh, Radiohead, or dälek) or adhere too specifically to the sound of one band (e.g., the early 21st-century spate of bands that sound like Joy Division), we run into this brand of genre trouble.
Post-rock would seem to be just such a genre. Ever since Simon Reynolds posited the word as “perhaps the only term open ended yet precise enough to cover all this activity” in The Wire in 1994, there has been a post-everything-else. Sometimes it’s just lazy writing, sometimes it’s for marketing purposes, and every once in a while a genre has truly emerged alongside its parent designation. There seems to be very little consensus on exactly where rock crossed the line and became something else, but the desire to push rock past its limits has surely been around since those limits were established.
Even so, the roots of what has become post-rock run deep and in many directions, from previous genres like prog, ambient, jazz, industrial, techno, and Krautrock in general, to specific acts like CAN, Brian Eno, PiL, Jim O’Rourke, and others. Just when you think post-rock is too narrow a designation for the bands discussed, with one quick list, one sees how wide its waves crash. Jack Chuter’s 2015 book, Storm Static Sleep: A Pathway Through Post-Rock, goes as far back as the New Romanticism of Talk Talk and its separate ways before moving on to Slint and Slint-inspired rock.
If any band is worthy of its own genre, it is Slint: a band certainly more talked-about than listened-to. About such talking and genres as they emerge in writing, the media historian Lisa Gitelman writes,
As I understand it, genre is a mode of recognition instantiated in discourse. Written genres, for instance, depend on a possibly infinite number of things that large groups of people recognize, will recognize, or have recognized that writings can be for.
As both Straw and Gunn describe canonization above, Gitelman contends that genres emerge from discourse, the talked-about. Subsequently, we internalize them. They are inside us. She continues,
Likewise genres—such as the joke, the novel, the document, and the sitcom—get picked out contrastively amid a jumble of discourse and often across multiple media because of the ways they have been internalized by constituents of a shared culture. Individual genres aren’t artifacts, then; they are ongoing and changeable practices of expression and reception that are recognizable in myriad and variable constituent instances at once and also across time. They are specific and dynamic, socially realized sites and segments of coherence within the discursive field.
With all of that said, the brand of post-rock that I am drawn to owes more to Mogwai than to Tortoise (e.g., Explosions in the Sky, This Will Destroy You, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, God is an Astronaut, Kinski, Hovercraft, Flying Saucer Attack, and Mogwai themselves, of course). Where Tortoise tends toward a sparse shuffle and strum, Mogwai has a propensity for layers of bump and rumble. Structurally, if the former were a lattice partition, the latter would be a brick wall. This is not to paint Tortoise (and their brethren, June of 44, Rodan, Rachel’s, The Shipping News, et al.)—or Slint—out of the picture. One of my all-time favorite bands, A Minor Forest, owes at least some of their sound to Slint. Any band pursuing this aural area has to contend with the mathematics of Tortoise and Slint, the guitar textures of Mogwai and My Bloody Valentine, the orchestrations of The Cure and Radiohead, and the electronic experiments of Aphex Twin and Autechre, among others. There’s a there in there somewhere.
It isn’t all taken so seriously though. One look at the track list on any post-rock record, and you’ll see that. Mogwai’s “Like Herod” from Young Team (1997) was named for the mishearing of someone saying “lightheaded.” Incidentally, that song’s working title was “Slint,” pointing to a post-rock cross-pollination years before Slint’s David Pajo sang back-up on “Take Me Somewhere Nice” from Rock Action (2001), which was notably as far from Slint as they’d ever sounded at the time.
It would be remiss of me not to mention Happy Songs for Happy People (2003) and Mogwai’s latest, As the Love Continues (2021). The former has been my main going-to-bed record for almost two decades now, since I picked up the CD at Off the Record in San Diego the day it came out. The latter is not only their newest record, it’s one of their best. Almost 30 years on, they’re still pushing themselves and making their best music. Not bad for the son of a telescope-maker and his music-obsessed friends.
It doesn’t matter what you call it, but noting the gauziness of genre doesn’t necessarily negate the pursuit of classification. As radically subjective as music fandom can be, it’s nice to have some buoys floating about.
Charles Mudede is a senior editor at The Stranger, “Seattle’s Only Newspaper,” and he’s recently started doing a video series called Charles Mudede’s Book Nook. He writes,
Because a big part of the only life I’ll ever have is devoted to books, the best thing I can offer during this holiday season is a recommendation of five books you can read by a fake fire (like the one in my cottage) or gift those who happen to be close to your life or who you want to be close to your life.
I was in the tenth grade when Run-DMC’s “Walk This Way” came out. I remember hearing it and feeling like something truly unique was happening. Raw, raucous, and rocking. It brought together fans of both traditional rock n’ roll and rebellious hip-hop.
Recently, I pitched the song to a book series specifically about individual songs, but they didn’t agree on the impact or the import of it. Well, while I was factchecking my memory, I found out there’s already a whole book about it! There’s no doubt it was a special moment in music, a new node in a burgeoning network of sound.
Aerosmith’s original version of “Walk This Way,” from their 1975 record Toys in the Attic, starts with a few measures of just the beat. It’s just the kind of clean drum beat hip-hop DJs scour recordings to find. With two copies of the record, one can loop it back and forth, providing a seamless backbeat to rap over. Run-DMC’s DJ Jam Master Jay had already been using the record in this manner.
In 1986, Aerosmith was in shambles. Their 1985 reunion record Done With Mirrors had not met the expectations of their fans or their label, and their personal lives were in decline due to persisting drug problems. Starting with singer Steven Tyler, they would all enter rehab over the next couple of years. If not, they knew they were likely over as a band. After rehab and collaborating with Run-DMC on “Walk This Way,” Aerosmith followed the song with a string of multi-platinum albums and Top 40 hits, entering the most successful era of their careers and becoming one of the biggest rock bands of the 1990s. It was a miraculous turnaround.
Though they hated the idea at the time, Run-DMC’s version of “Walk This Way” is a testament to the ear of their producer Rick Rubin. His production style, which he’d already used on previous Run-DMC records, as well as records for T La Rock & Jazzy Jay, the Beastie Boys, and LL Cool J, was credited as “reduction” instead of production. He stripped their sound down to its basic elements: boom-bapping 808 drums, classic-rock guitar riffs, the shouted voices of Reverend Run Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and the nimble cuts and scratches of Jam Master Jay.
As a nascent record label mogul and producer, Rubin was only getting started. The iconic sound he developed with early hits like “It’s Yours,” “Rock the Bells,” “(You Gotta) Fight for Your Right (to Party)” and “Walk This Way” keep him in demand to this day. He’s gone on to produce everyone from Public Enemy, Ghetto Boys, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Kanye West to the Mars Volta, Metallica, Tom Petty, Johnny Cash, Lana Del Rey, and Adele, and he’s redone the reduced style of his early work on everything from Jay-Z’s double-platinum “99 Problems” (2003) to Eminem’s Grammy-nominated “Berzerk” (2013), even appearing in the videos for both songs.
Speaking of, the video for “Walk This Way” was as iconic as the song. It starts as a fight, with Aerosmith practicing loudly in one room, disrupting Run-DMC’s session next door. Run-DMC then turns up the volume on their equipment and launches into their version of “Walk This Way,” confusing the aged rockers. By the chorus, the wall is torn down (inviting more than a few interpretations), and the two groups are ripping through the song together. The video was even parodied in 1994 by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion on their song “Flavor” which features Beck in the practice space next door.
For better or worse, “Walk This Way” also sparked the further mixture of rap and riffs, giving birth to collaborations between rap groups and rock groups and a start to acts firmly on the fence in between. Public Enemy and Anthrax covered PE’s “Bring the Noise” in 1991. The two groups even toured together that year. I saw them at the University of Alabama at Birmingham in a chocolate-and-peanut-butter package that also included Young Black Teenagers and Primus. In 1993, the infamous Judgement Night soundtrack featured collaborations between Slayer and Ice-T, Sonic Youth and Cypress Hill, and Dinosaur Jr. and Del the Funky Homosapien, among many other embarrassing pairings. And, as if reading “Walk This Way” as a blueprint to success, acts like Limp Bizkit, Linkin Park, and Rage Against the Machine also emerged in the 1990s.
“Walk This Way” was an unavoidable song and an undeniable hit, Run-DMC’s biggest, peaking at #4 on the Billboard chart. It was bigger even than Aerosmith’s original, which just broke the top ten. Run-DMC is one of the core groups of the first recorded era of rap music and hip-hop culture. They were successful and respected before and after this song, but they never saw heights like “Walk This Way.” The song was the nexus of several trajectories and the birth of a hybrid new life form that still stomps around today.