Last updated: 01/30/2010 10:00:00 AM
Run-D.M.C. was the Hip Hop group that took rap music back to a tougher "street" level. Formed by Joseph Simmons (Run), Daryl McDaniel (D.M.C.) and Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay) in 1982,their songs weren't marathon party-oriented funk anthems, they wore their street clothes onstage and their voices were far rougher than those of The Furious Five, The Sugarhill Gang and other contemporary competitors. Their first single "Sucker M.C.s" gave them the jump on the competition and started a new street music revolution.
On their first album, Run-D.M.C., (1983; Profile), the music was pared down to two voices with occasional record scratches from Jam Master Jay laid thick over a heavy drum-machine backbeat. When a little extra was needed in the mix it was kept minimal; just an occasional synth blast or funk bassline here ("It's Like That") and some Hendrix-style metal guitar there ("Rock Box") ; nothing much to get in the way of their new bragging rhyme style and socially-conscious messages. The album blazed the trail for many a rapper to come and the preaching style foretold Run's subsequent career as a reverend.
Their next album King Of Rock (1985; Profile) was a temporary let down. In their frenzy to"keep it real" they almost drove their trademark sound into the ground with dull, formulaic beats replacing fresh ideas. Yet they managed to return strong with Raising Hell, (1986; Profile), which went on to become the first African-American double-platinum-selling Hip Hop album. An improvement on their "huge beats with a minimal arrangement" formula, the album featured the first metal/ Hip Hop collaboration ("Walk This Way" with Aerosmith) and won back the attention of the growing Hip Hop audience. The single was a crossover success on the pop charts and, combined with their triumphant role in the Raising Hell tour of 1986-87 (appearing alongside Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys, and L.L. Cool J) brought them back in style and saw them featured in 1986 as the first African-American rap act to make the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Raising Hell's producers Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin financed a flick - Tougher Than Leather - with Rubin directing, in 1988 which, whilst not exactly the second coming of The Harder They Come or Shaft (or evenWild Style, for that matter), had a Run-DMC soundtrack that did steady business and would've made a good double albumwith the best of Raising Hell . Run and DMC remained lyrically sharp - even on an odd cover of The Monkees' "Mary Mary" (with thankfully no members of The Monkees in sight).
The Hip Hop revolution was still going on. But revolutions, once they get started, sometimes see the mob outpacing the leaders. A brand new wave of rappers would leave Run-D.M.C. in the dust both artistically and financially. By late '89, young guns were aiming for the Hip Hop throne from all over. Rhyme-style-wise, Run and DMC were beginning to sound old when compared to the flows of the Cold Chillin Records' posse (Big Daddy Kane, Biz Markie, Kool G. Rap) and the Native Tongues crew (De La Soul, A Tribe Called Quest.) Music-wise, even their sparse arrangements looked weak next to the sounds of Boogie Down Productions and Raising Hell tourmates Public Enemy. Finance-wise, Tone Loc's "Wild Thing" matched Raising Hell's double-platinum sales in a few months. Even street-wise, the authenticity they had pioneered was being redefined by Ice-T and NWA.
Their next couple of albums looked to new trends and guest appearances to spark renewed interest. Back From Hell (1990; Profile) was their attempt at New Jack Swing-style R&B and is the weakest album they've ever made. The "guest appearance mania" of Down With The King (1993; Profile) - which featured Pete Rock, C.L. Smooth and a number of other talented rappers- was incidental to the much improved music and the album proved they could hold their own with anybody from the new-skool rap crews.
Since the early 90's the camp has been pretty quiet. Jam Master Jay signed and produced Onyx and is working in A & R for Profile records. Run, true to his socially-conscious lyrics and tone, became a minister, started a christian church and Hip Hop label, Rev Run Records. Recently techno dance act Jason Nevins remixed "It's Like That" back to life for the speed garage generation selling millions worldwide to a new generation of break dancing, Adidas stomping, Saturday-night kids.
Run DMC last recorded together on a Christmas single for the Very Special Christmas 2 charity album and contributed to the Beavis & Butthead TV soundtrack. They were briefly reunited for a TV commercial in the Jason Nevins-induced fallout and new album rumors abound but one thing is clear: "The Kings From Queens" have earned their royalty status.
Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC DJ, Killed In Shooting