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Queens, New York-based hip-hop artists Run-DMC, and Jam Master Jay are responsible for revolutionizing hip-hop in two very important ways. First, during hip-hop's infancy as a recorded form, they changed the direction of recorded hip-hop by stripping it of all its "old school" aural fluff and cutting it down to its barest essentials: hardcore beats and rhymes. Their debut 1983 12" single, "It's like That/Sucker MCs," reflected the way hip-hop sounded as it was performed in local parks and nightclubs, and it laid a blueprint that most 1980s hip-hop artists followed. Second, Run-DMC is credited for almost singlehandedly bringing hip-hop music to a wide scale audience with their Aerosmith collaboration, "Walk This Way," a single that reached number four on the Billboard Pop charts in 1986. Among other firsts, they were the first hip-hop artists to earn a gold record, a platinum record, a multi-platinum record, a Rolling Stone cover, and have their videos regularly played on MTV.

Run (Joseph Simmons, born November 14, 1964), DMC (Darryl McDaniels, born May 31, 1964), and their DJ, Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell, born January 21, 1965), were three black middle-class Hollis, Queens, high school kids who grew up listening to hip-hop in New York City parks. Run got his foot in the recording studio door because he was the brother of Russell Simmons, the then manager of hip-hop stars Kurtis Blow and Whodini (and soon-to-be co-founder of one of the most important hip-hop labels, Def Jam). Having rapped professionally since age 12 as "the son of Kurtis Blow," Run often boasted that he could make a record better than the older guys who dominated the early recorded hip-hop scene; Run even went so far as to dismiss those more lightweight records as "bull——."

After continually bugging Russell Simmons, the older brother relented and allowed Run and his two friends to cut a 12" single. Using just their voices and a drum machine (with light touches of synthesizer used to punctuate the rhythm), "It's Like That" and especially "Sucker MCs" essentially created hip-hop's first "new school." Rendering previous acts Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five, the Cold Crush Brothers, Funky Four Plus One, and the Sugarhill Gang "old school," Run-DMC created a new sound that was truer to the way hip-hop sounded in its raw form when it was performed live with a DJ and one or more MCs. This new sound was also extremely popular, earning a gold record (for 1984's self-titled debut), a platinum record (for 1985's King of Rock) and a platinum record (for 1986's Raising Hell).

Although singles like "King of Rock" received significant airplay and were occasionally played on MTV, it was Run-DMC's collaboration with Aerosmith on a cover of that hard rock band's "Walk This Way" that put them over the top. Run-DMC was familiar with the song only because they had rapped over the song's beat for years, but they had no idea who Aerosmith was; until they entered the studio with those veterans, they thought the name of the group was Toys in the Attic (the Aerosmith album from which "Walk This Way" came). Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" smashed down walls between rock and hip-hop audiences, pleasing both crowds and making music history in the process. (It should also be noted that this wasn't Run-DMC's first fusion of rock and rap; they did it before on 1984's "Rock Box" and 1985's "King of Rock.") The Run-DMC album that contained "Walk This Way" also featured a number of other popular songs, including "It's Tricky," "My Addidas," and "You Be Illin'."

By the late 1980s, Run-DMC found themselves victims of the restless drive for innovation and freshness. After 1988's Tougher than Leather, their later albums—Back from Hell and Down with the King —barely charted, and Run-DMC was seen as "old school" hasbeens. Before 1993's Down with the King, the group embraced Christianity and Run even went so far as to become an ordained minister, founding his own church in Harlem. The group continued to remain active in the late 1990s, touring and performing in a popular 1998 Gap clothing television ad, but they still had not released a record of new material.

—Kembrew McLeod

Further Reading:

Fernando, S. H., Jr. The New Beats: Exploring the Music, Culture, and Attitudes of Hip-Hop. New York, Doubleday, 1994.

Rose, Tricia. Black Noise: Rap Music and Black Culture in Contemporary America. Middleton, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1994.

Toop, David. Rap Attack 2: African Rap to Global Hip-Hop. London, Serpent's Tail, 1991.