Run DMC emerged as one of the most innovative rap groups on the American musical scene in the early 1980s. While not the inventors of the rap music genre, Run DMC was most definitely its pioneer with distinctively sparse beats and a savvy penchant for incorporating rock and heavy metal lyrical samples and music into their highly acclaimed and wildly popular pop cultural vignettes. Run DMC’s street-wise rhymes helped to not only set the tone but also the stage for such influential followers as Boogie Down Productions, Chuck D, Public Enemy, Ice Cube and N.W.A.
The tremendous success of Run DMC also helped to transform the economic structure of rap music. Before the emergence of Run DMC, rap music was marketed for the sale of singles. The group changed all of that when they released albums that were not solely comprised of a single or two surrounded by substandard filler material. In direct opposition to this, Run DMC released solidly cohesive albums which rivaled many of the rock and pop albums of the day in consistency and quality of the songs.
Members include DMC (born Darryl Mc Daniel, May 31, 1964 in Hollis, Queens, NY), vocals; Jam Master Jay (born Jason Mizell, January 21, 1965 in Hollis), turntables; Run (born Joseph Simmons, November 14, 1964 in Hollis), vocals.
Group formed c. 1982; signed to Profile Records and released “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs,” 1983; “Hard Times/Jam Master Jay,” 1983; “Rock Box,” 1984; “30 Days,” 1984; Run DMC, 1984; King of Rock, 1985; Raising Hell, 1986; Tougher Than Leather, 1988; Back From Hell, 1990; Together Forever, 1991; and Down With the King, 1993.
Awards: Platinum certification for Raising Hell, 1986; platinum certification for Tougher Than Leather, 1988; gold certification for Down With the King, 1993.
The middle class New York City borough of Hollis, Queens, was the birthplace of Run, DMC, and their turntable-spinning friend, Jam Master Jay. In the early 1980s, Run started to rap over break beats with his school friend DMC. On the advice of Run’s brother, Russell Simmons, who had recently co-founded the burgeoning record label Def Jam, Run and DMC began to practice their raps and rhymes in earnest. After they graduated from high school in 1982, Run and DMC invited their friend Jam Master Jay to scratch records on the turntables over which both Run and DMC would trade rhymes.
In 1983, Run DMC signed a recording contract with Profile Records and released their first single “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs.” According to one of their many web sites, “the single sounded like no other rap at the time—it was spare, blunt, and skillful, with hard beats and powerful, literate, and daring vocals, where Run and DMC’s vocals overlapped as they finished each other’s lines. It was the first new school hip hop recording.” “It’s Like That” eventually lodged itself in the top 20 of the American rhythm and blues (R&B) chart. This was also where Run DMC’s follow up single, “Hard Times/Jam Master Jay,” found a home.
Early 1984 saw the release of two more Run DMC singles, “Rock Box” and “30 Days.” Both of these singles were also R&B hits. The sound of “Rock Box” indicated things to come as the group sought to incorporate the rock sound of the electric guitar in the song. Run DMC eventually released their self-titled debut album later that same year.
Always striving to break new ground by using different structural elements in their songs, Run DMC aspired to be the kings of rock music. By 1985, their vision of cross-genre domination was not far from being realized. With the release of their follow up album, King of Rock, Run DMC became the most celebrated, acclaimed, and successful rap group in the United States.
Run DMC’s tremendous success was due, in no small part, to the beats they rhymed over. The once solid divisions between rock and rap music were now starting to break down. The sound of the group was an eclectic mix of solid thumping loops of funky drum beats combined with thunderous heavy metal guitar riffs. The album King of Rock spawned a trio of R&B hits which included the title track, “You Talk Too Much,” and “Can You Rock It Like This.” Also during 1985, Run DMC made their film debut in the rap movie “Krush Groove.”
Run DMC entered mainstream American music in 1986. Their next single, the top ten R&B smash hit “My Adidas,” elevated the shoes in question to hip hop cult status. Their third album, Raising Hell, unified both rockers and rappers with their cover of the old Aero-smith song, “Walk This Way.” The genre-busting success of the song was clear when it peaked at number four on the pop charts. The success of the single catapulted Raising Hell to the number one spot on the R&B album charts, which, at the time, was a first for a rap group. On the pop charts it made it into the top ten and helped to push sales of the album to over a million copies, earning Run DMC the distinction of having the first rap album to have ever achieved platinum certification. Run DMC was also the first rap group to have a video aired on MTV. Other hit singles culled from the album included “You Be Illin” and “It’s Tricky.”
Tougher Than Leather was the 1988 platinum successor to Raising Hell. That same year Run DMC also starred in a movie by the same name. By this time, the climate in rap music had begun to change as the socially savvy raps and rhymes of the street-wise gangsta subgenre started to erode the popularity of Run DMC.
With the 1990 release of Back From Hell, Run DMC began to incorporate some of the politics of gangsta rappers, but the change of pace failed to ignite album sales. The following year their greatest hits package, Together Forever, was released. Run DMC managed a bit of a comeback with the gold selling 1993 album, Down With the King. The title track made it into the top ten of the R&B singles charts. The album also included Run DMC’s first large number of collaborations with some of the more current stars and performers in hip hop.
According to Ira Robbins in the Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, Run DMC wasn’t the first (or even the best) rap group around, but superb rhyming skills, diverse subject matter, artistic integrity, and unprecedented imagination made the Hollis crew early leaders of ‘80s rap. The group’s use of electric guitar leads and reggae music added to their distinctive sound and helped establish them as pioneers of the rap music genre.
“It’s Like That/Sucker MCs,” Profile, 1983.
“Hard Times/Jam Master Jay,” Profile, 1983.
“Rock Box”, Profile, 1984.
“30 Days”, Profile, 1984.
Run DMC, Profile, 1984.
King of Rock, Profile, 1985.
Raising Hell, Profile, 1986.
Tougher Than Leather, Profile, 1988.
Back From Hell, Profile, 1990.
Together Forever, Profile, 1991.
Down With the King, Profile, 1993.
Robbins, Ira, ed., Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, Fireside, 1997.
“The Biography,” http://home.earthlink.net/tgmoren/rundmc/bio.html (January 24, 1999).
“Music News of the World,” http://sonicnet.com/news/archive/sto...ZLAACGITUIDIAKCFEQ?id502833&pid=503778 (January 24, 1999).
—Mary Alice Adams