Widely known as one of the most innovative rap groups to emerge in the 1980s, Run-DMC helped to create a genre that has gained momentum since its inception. Run-DMC’s music has been an ongoing influence on most, if not all, of rap and hip-hop. The group has helped to make rap music a profitable and influential part of society.
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 breakbeats 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. Run’s father, however, wanted his son to get a college education, so he enrolled at LaGuardia Community College to study mortuary science. DMC, had also enrolled in college at St. John’s University.
In 1983, Run DMC signed a recording contract with Profile Records and released their first single “It’s Like That Sucker MCs.” They were also managed by Russell Simmons as part of his management company, Rush Management. 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 and sold more than 250,000 copies. This was also where Run DMC’s follow up single, “Hard Times/Jam Master Jay,” found a home. DMC told Entertainment Weekly, “When we made the record, I didn’t even tell my parents…. But then it got so big, I had to take a leave of absence from school—and I’ve been absent ever since.”
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.
Bom Darryl McDaniels (DMC) on May 31, 1964 in Hollis, born Joseph Simmons (Run), on November 14, 1964 in Hollis, NY; born Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay), January 21, 1965 in Hollis, NY. Education: DMC: Attended St. Johns University. Run: Attended LaGuardia Community College.
Career: 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; Down With the King, 1993; Crown Royal, Arista, 2001. Run: author, It‘s Like That: A Spiritual Memoir, St. Martin’s Press, 2000. DMC: King of Rock: Respect, Responsibility and My Life With Run-DMC, St. Martin’s Press, 2001.
Awards: Platinum certification for Raising Hell, 1986; platinum certification for Tougher Than Leather, 1988; gold certification for Down With the King, 1993.
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. They also signed a deal with Adidas to promote their sneakers. This was another first the group can claim. Their third album, Raising Hell, unified both rockers and rappers with their cover of the old Aerosmith song, “Walk This Way,” with the legendary rock group. Though Run-DMC had to be convinced to include Aerosmith, the release of the song turned out to be one of the most important events in both rap and rock’s history. Russell Simmons, one of the song’s producers, told Newsweek, “To us it wasn’t a big deal as the media made it…. We made what we thought was a great record.” 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 and the pop-friendly music of M.C. Hammer and Vanilla Ice 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 most popular and talented artists at the time including Fred Durst, Erick Sermon, Naughty By Nature and Jermaine Dupri.
The group released another album eight years later. Crown Royal received mixed reviews from critics. According to Music Week, “It’s not a masterpiece, but these old masters can show their younger peers a trick or two.” While Rough Guides stated that the many collaborations wasn’t “a pretty sight.” The album was plagued with many problems and its release date had been changed numerous times. The album followed the same format as its predecessor, Down With the King, but it lacked one thing: DMC. One-third of the group wasn’t on most of the tracks. During the making of Crown Royal and the promoting of the album, DMC was readying his solo release. His voice also changed and according to Entertainment Weekly, “he doesn’t identify with much current hip-hop, either sonically or attitudinally.” Many have speculated that Crown Royal may be the group’s last album.
During the 1990s, the group went through many changes personally. Each member began a family, and both Run and DMC had spiritual transformations. Run was ordained as a minister and DMC was ordained as a deacon. Both were active in their churches. Run, who also goes by Rev. Run, published an autobiography, It’s Like That: A Spiritual Memoir, in 2000. He wrote about how he turned his life around and his special connection to God. Booklist said of Run’s autobiography, “it captures the innocence of youth and the pain of chaos, and the joy that one can only find through righteous living. This is an epic and absorbing tale from one of the most popular and complex performers of our times.”
DMC published his autobiography, King of Rock: Respect, Responsibility and My Life With Run-DMC, in 2001. Booklist described King of Rock as “sharply observed” and “unpretentious.” In it he spoke of rap reaching beyond the bling-bling age, which is viewed as destructive by many, and coming to a place of responsibility. The book’s introduction was written by another pioneer of rap, Will Smith.
The group is viewed as elder statesman of the rap genre. They have parlayed their success into producing others— Jay has produced a number of other rap groups—and many began using their popularity to sell ads, from the Gap to sports channel, ESPN2. They were also featured on European deejay Jason Nevins’ cover of their hit, “It’s Like That.” The group still perform to sold out concert halls and arenas 15 years after their debut. Fred Durst of rap-metal group Limp Bizkit, told Entertainment Weekly, “You can’t begin to make hip-hop or hip-hop and rock & roll without feeling everything they’ve done.”
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 1980s 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. Run-DMC was the first rap group to perform on American Bandstand, and the first rap group whose video was aired on MTV. They were the first to snag a major product-endorsement deal and they were the first to headline at Madison Square Garden. Many rap, hip-hop and rap-metal artists owe a lot to Run-DMC, who have taken what appeared to be a fad into a part of mainstream society.
“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.
Crown Royal, Arista, 1999.
It’s Like That: A Spiritual Memoir, St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
King of Rock: Respect, Responsibility and My Life With Run-DMC, St. Martin’s Press, 2001.
American Decades CD-Rom, Gale Research, 1998.
Contemporary Musicians, volume 25, Gale Group, 1999.
Robbins, Ira, ed., Trouser Press Guide to 90s Rock, Fireside, 1997.
Booklist, March 15, 2001, p. 1431.
Entertainment Weekly, January 30,1998, p. 64; July 31, 1998, p. 14; November 1, 1999, p. 129; April 13, 2001, p. 42.
Music Week, March 21,1998, p. 3; March 31,2001, p. 24.
Newsweek, June 28, 1999, p. 78.
Publishers Weekly, February 26, 2001, p. 70.
http://home.earthlink.net/tgmoren/rundmc/bio.html (January 24, 1999).
http://sonicnet.com/news/archive/sto…ZLAACGITUIDIAKCFEQ?id502833 &pid=503778 (January 24, 1999).
—Mary Alice Adams and Ashyia N. Henderson
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