than any other hip-hop group, Run-D.M.C. is responsible for the
sound and style of the music. As the first hardcore rap outfit,
the trio set the sound and style for the next decade of rap. With
its spare beats and excursions into heavy metal samples, the trio
was tougher and more menacing than its predecessors Grandmaster
Flash and Whodini. In the process, it opened the door for both
the politicized rap of Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions,
as well as the hedonistic gangsta fantasies of N.W.A. At the same
time, Run-D.M.C. helped move rap from a singles-oriented genre
to an album-oriented one — they were the first hip-hop artist
to construct full-fledged albums, not just a collection with two
singles and a bunch of filler. By the end of the '80s, Run-D.M.C.
had been overtaken by the groups they had spawned, but they continued
to perform to a dedicated following well into the '90s.
All three members of Run-D.M.C. were natives of the middle-class
New York borough, Hollis, Queens. Run (born Joseph Simmons, November
14, 1964) was the brother of Russell Simmons, who formed the hip-hop
management company Rush Productions in the early '80s; by the
mid-'80s, Russell had formed the pioneering record label Def Jam
with Rick Rubin. Russell encouraged his brother Joey and his friend,
Darryl McDaniel (b. May 31, 1964) to form a rap duo. The pair
of friends did just that, adopting the names Run and D.M.C. respectively.
After they graduated from high school in 1982, the pair enlisted
their friend, Jason Mizell (b. January 21, 1965), to scratch turntables;
Mizell adopted the stage name Jam Master Jay.
In 1983, Run-D.M.C. released its first single, "It's Like That"
/ "Sucker M.C.'s," on Profile Records. The single sounded like
no other rap at the time — it was spare, blunt and skillful, with
hard beats and powerful, literate, daring vocals, where Run and
D.M.C.'s vocals overlapped, as they finished each other's lines.
It was the first "new school" hip-hop recording. "It's Like That"
became a Top 20 R&B hit, as did the group's second single, "Hard
Times" / "Jam Master Jay." Two other hit R&B singles followed
in early 1984 — "Rock Box" and "30 Days" — before the group's
eponymous debut appeared.
By the time of their second album, 1985's King of Rock, Run-D.M.C.
had become the most popular and influential rappers in America,
already spawning a number of imitators. As the King of Rock title
suggests, the group was breaking down the barriers between rock
& roll and rap, rapping over heavy metal records and thick, dense
drum loops. Besides releasing the King of Rock album and scoring
the R&B hits "King of Rock, "You Talk Too Much" and "Can You Rock
It Like This" in 1985, the group also appeared in the rap movie
Krush Groove, which also featured Kurtis Blow, the Beastie Boys,
and the Fat Boys.
Run-D.M.C.'s fusion of rock and rap broke into the mainstream
with their third album, 1986's Raising Hell. The album was preceded
by the Top Ten R&B single "My Adidas," which set the stage for
the group's biggest hit single, a cover of Aerosmith's "Walk This
Way." Recorded with Aerosmith's Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, "Walk
This Way" was the first hip-hop record to appeal to both rockers
and rappers, as evidenced by its peak position of number four
on the pop charts. In the wake of the success of "Walk This Way,"
Raising Hell became the first rap album to reach number one on
the R&B charts, to chart in the pop Top Ten, and the first to
go platinum, and Run-D.M.C. was the first rap act to received
airplay on MTV — they were the first rappers to cross over into
the pop mainstream. Raising Hell also spawned the hit singles
"You Be Illin'" and "It's Tricky."
Run-D.M.C. spent most of 1987 recording Tougher than Leather,
their follow-up to Raising Hell. Tougher than Leather was accompanied
by a movie of the same name. Starring Run-D.M.C., the film was
an affectionate parody of '70s Blaxploitation films. Although
Run-D.M.C. had been at the height of their popularity when they
were recording and filming Tougher than Leather, by the time the
project was released, the rap world had changed. Most of the hip-hop
audience wanted to hear hardcore political rappers like Public
Enemy, not crossover artists like Run-D.M.C. Consequently, the
film bombed and the album only went platinum, failing to spawn
any significant hit singles.
Two years after Tougher than Leather, Run-D.M.C. returned with
Back from Hell, which became their first album not to go platinum.
Following its release, both Run and D.M.C. suffered personal problems
as Daniels suffered a bout of alcoholism and Simmons was accused
of rape. After Daniels sobered up and the charges against Simmons
were dismissed, both of the rappers became born-again Christians,
touting their religious conversion on the 1993 album, Down with
the King. Featuring guest appearances and production assistance
from artists as diverse as Public Enemy, EPMD, Naughty by Nature,
A Tribe Called Quest, Neneh Cherry, Pete Rock, and KRS-1, Down
with the King became the comeback Run-D.M.C. needed. The title
track became a Top Ten R&B hit and the album went gold, peaking
at number 21. Although they were no longer hip-hop innovators,
the success of Down with the King proved that Run-D.M.C. were
still respected pioneers. After a long studio hiatus, the trio
returned in early 2000 with Crown Royal. — Stephen Thomas Erlewine