By the end of the 90s, the melding of rock and rap music was a common occurrence, with bands like Kid Rock and Limp Bizkit at the forefront of the fusion. But credit for starting this trend lies solely with Run-DMC, whose inclusion of distorted guitars and slamming drumbeats defined the genre of hardcore rap, and created crossover appeal for the first time. Rap was no longer a mere niche, it was a formidable force to be reckoned with.
The streets of New York City were the shared stomping grounds of Joseph ‘Run’ Simmons, Darryl ‘DMC’ McDaniels and Jason ‘Jam Master’ Mizell, three youths with a strong affinity for the music of such rap pioneers as Kurtis Blow and Whodini. Simmons and McDaniel recruited Mizell to man the turntables and Run-DMC was born. Their first single “It’s Like That/Sucker M.C.’s” became a Top-20 hit on local R&B stations, and was unlike anything ever heard before. The music style was christened ‘New School Rap’ and Run-DMC were hailed for their innovations.
Shortly after, they released “Rock Box” which raised plenty of eyebrows by its inclusion of heavily-distorted rock guitar tracks into the mix, and in 1985, released the album King of Rock which further explored this melding of hard rock and rap. Both the title track and “You Talk Too Much” swiftly rose on the charts and established the band as one of the most exciting new acts to emerge in recent years. The group made an appearance alongside Kurtis Blow and the Fat Boys in the film, Krush Groove, one of the first to prominently feature the genre.
The following year, Run-DMC released another innovative album, Raising Hell, which became the first platinum rap album in history, rising all the way to the #1 spot on the on the R&B charts, as well as placing in the Top-10 on the pop charts, the first rap album ever to do either. Their tour de force cover of the Aerosmith classic, “Walk This Way” rose to #5 and benefited from a celebrated appearance by the original Aerosmith band members alongside the newly-famous rappers. Other hits followed from the album, including “My Adidas” and You Be Illin” The Adidas footwear company benefited greatly from the song that mentioned them by name, with young rap fans buying their sneakers and tracksuits in droves.
The band scored a holiday-flavored hit in 1987 with “Christmas in Hollis” a track produced for the A Very Special Christmas album. Thanks to its inclusion in the blockbuster film Die Hard, it has remained an annual favorite ever since. Next, the group took to the big screen again, appearing in their own feature film, Tougher Than Leather, in 1998. Featuring fellow rappers Eric B. and the Beastie Boys, the film was a fan favorite and helped the band score another hit with a drum-driven cover of The Monkees tune, “Mary Mary.”
Run-DMC continued their success well into the 90s, recording alongside up-and-coming artists Public Enemy and KRS-One, both who heavily influenced by the earlier work of these Rap pioneers. Both bands would appear on Run DMC’s next release, Down With the King in 1993, which once again landed in the Top-10 on the pop charts. Sadly, it would be their last album. While rumors persisted of a new project in the works for many years, the band’s only other offerings were the occasional guest appearance and recording a theme for WWE wrestling tag team, D-Generation X, called “The Kings.” Tragically, In 2002, bandmember Jam Master Jay was murdered and shortly thereafter, the band officially announced their retirement.
While the saga sadly came to an end, the impact of this pioneering rap act remains unquestioned. Consider that they were the first band to land a #1 album on the R&B charts, the first to break the Top-10 on the pop charts, the first with a multi-platinum album, the first to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine, the first to be nominated for a Grammy Award, the first to have a video played on MTV and the first to sign a product endorsement deal (with Adidas, of course.) Their innovative approach to an emerging artform has influenced scores of future artists in their wake, all of whom readily tip their hat to Run-DMC.
If Run-DMC provided some of the soundtrack to your youth, or if you just remember eagerly waiting for the “Walk This Way” video to play on MTV, we welcome all of your memories in our comments section, as we pay tribute to this influential band from yesteryear, here at Retroland.