IT'S LIKE THAT
Three friends from Queens walked this way and spread hip-hop to the masses
For many reasons, Run-DMC is one of the most pivotal groups in the history of hip-hop. It was the first group of that genre to have a Gold record, the first to go Platinum, the first rappers on MTV, the first to have a corporate endorsement and the first to be nominated for a Grammy Award. The group was hugely influential to everyone who followed. But most importantly, Run-DMC's music was, simply, dope.
Starting out as three kids from Queens, Run (Joseph Simmons), DMC (Darryl McDaniels) and Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) joined forces in the early '80s, coming together through the burgeoning hip-hop scene. Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were at the peak of their powers, and Kurtis Blow (for whom Run was DJing) had several hits, but it was this magical trio that would prove crucial in delivering the music and culture to mainstream America — and the world.
The group's self-titled debut album (Profile, 1984) was something entirely different than any record that had come before it. It was hard, angry and funky as hell. At a time when most rappers were still “yes yes y'all”-ing it up, Run and DMC were shouting every rhyme tag-team style over some of the most ferocious beats and scratches ever laid to wax.
Run-DMC's second full-length album, King of Rock, dropped the following year and found the group further refining its signature sound, adding more guitars to the mix. Perhaps most importantly, the album's title track would be the first rap video ever aired on MTV.
Around this time, Hollywood caught on, and major studios released several movies about hip-hop, such as 1984's Beat Street and Breakin'. The Run-DMC guys starred as themselves in two feature films: Krush Groove (1985), which is basically the story of Run's older brother (and group manager) Russell Simmons; and Tougher Than Leather (1988), a more low-budget affair that introduced the trio's protégés, the Beastie Boys.
The third and aptly titled album Raising Hell (1986) was the group's — and hip-hop's — true crossover moment. It went triple Platinum, topped the pop and R&B charts and was the first rap record to flip Bob James' “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” on the much-loved jam “Peter Piper.” But it was another song on Raising Hell that would really revolutionize the game. Rick Rubin had the crazy yet brilliant idea of hooking up Run-DMC with the fading classic-rock band Aerosmith for a remake of its 1975 track, “Walk This Way.” The collaboration resulted in the group's biggest hit ever; the video was on constant rotation on MTV. And Aerosmith, which was on the downslide, experienced a serious career rebirth.
Run-DMC's fourth album, Tougher Than Leather (Profile, 1988), featured more smash singles such as “Run's House” and “Mary Mary.” Critics liked it, and the fans went crazy. For years now, the trio was selling out arenas and performing for legions of dedicated followers who emulated its fedoras/leather jackets/unlaced Adidas look. The name Run-DMC was practically synonymous with rap music, and the group was on top of the world. Then it started to slip away.
Popular music constantly reinvents itself. At the dawn of the '90s, new styles and subgenres were emerging right and left. Gangsta rap was on the rise, and by the time Run-DMC's fifth album, Back From Hell (Profile, 1990), was released, the group was struggling for relevance.
Disappointed by the public's shifting interests, Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay laid low for a bit and released a greatest hits collection. Three years later, the group returned for Down With the King, and the Pete Rock — produced title track would prove to be the trio's final hit. The album still went Platinum, but it was obvious that Run-DMC's glory days were numbered. Eight years passed before the next and final studio album, Crown Royal, was released.
Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay stayed busy, touring steadily and taking on side projects. Jay was producing for other artists (including Onyx and a young 50 Cent). Run became a reverend, worked with his impresario brother and wrote a book, while DMC recorded a solo album with a completely different voice.
Then, on October 30, 2002, tragedy struck when Jam Master Jay was murdered in his own recording studio. The world mourned the loss of Jay, who was uniformly respected as a family man who stayed out of trouble. Sadly, the media used the tragedy as a way to vilify rap music and played up the 50 Cent connection. Meanwhile, fans came out en masse to pay their respects at a makeshift memorial. Like most rap-related slayings, the killer remains at large.
After Jay's death, Run and DMC formally announced that Run-DMC was over. The group had never performed without Jay and didn't plan to start doing so. Run is currently two seasons into his successful MTV reality show Run's House and has released an album, as Rev Run, called Distortion (Def Jam, 2005). DMC also hit the small screen with a short VH1 series, called DMC: My Adoption Journey, about his quest for his biological mother. And he released Checks Thugs and Rock N Roll (RomenMpire, 2006), a folk rock — flavored effort that includes a collaboration with Sarah McLachlan.
It has been almost 25 years since Run-DMC first hit the scene, and rap music today is bigger than ever before, omnipresent in every aspect of popular culture and in countries around the globe. Hip-hop has always been a powerful force, but Run-DMC is the cultural ambassador who brought it into the mainstream consciousness. Though the trio will never grace the stage again, the group's records are still waiting at the ready to get any party started right. As Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay said themselves, “It's like that, and that's the way it is.”