The lyrics are based on various nursery rhymes and fables, including Humpty Dumpty, Little Bo Peep, and Rip Van Winkle. Peter Piper is a popular tongue-twister - "Peter Piper picked pickled peppers, a peck of pickled peppers Peter Piper picked." It gave Run-D.M.C. the chance to show off their vocal talents.
The beat is sampled from a song called "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" by Bob James, a Jazz composer who combined elements of dance, funk and pop in his music. "Mardi Gras" came out in 1975, and about 10 years later it was sampled mercilessly by DJs to create the popular "Hell's Bells" sound. Mantronix used it with some added bass synth on their 1988 track "King Of The Beats," which was in turn sampled by Snap! on "The Power."
This was the showcase song for Run-D.M.C.'s DJ, Jam Master Jay. The group's 2 rappers sing his praises as he manipulates the beat and keeps it going throughout the song. This type of sampling and turntable manipulation was big part of Hip-Hop in the '80s.
Run-D.M.C. referred to the bells in the beat as the "Hell's Bells." It went with the album title.
In 2003, Jam Master Jay was shot and killed at his recording studio. Many radio stations played this in tribute after his death.