Run-D.M.C. is arguably the greatest group in hip-hop history.
They were the first rap group to receive a gold plaque, the first
to earn a platinum album, the first to star on MTV, the first
to become a household name . and, for two generations of rap fans,
they are the face and sound of '80s hardcore hip-hop. Their backgrounds,
however, are not those of the stereotypical MC: All three members
- Run (Joseph Simmons), D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniels), and Jam Master
Jay (Jason Mizell) - are products of solidly middle-class upbringings
in the Hollis neighborhood of Queens, N.Y. Simmons is the youngest
of the three sons of educator Daniel Simmons and his wife, Evelyn.
Growing up in the '70s with brothers Russell (the legendary co-founder
of the Def Jam empire) and Daniel Jr. in Hollis, he learned to
adopt a streetwise posture without abandoning his virtues. "I
went to school every day, but I was cool with everyone,"
he told New York magazine in 1986. "So I could hang, play
basketball, and be down with [classmates], then go home and do
my homework." While Joe attended school, the older Russell
began establishing a reputation throughout New York, first as
a promoter of rap shows and then as a manager. When Russell brought
his first major artist, Harlem, N.Y.-bred Kurtis Blow, to his
parents' house, Blow and Joe struck up an acquaintance. "I
know my brother and Kurt were having a great time . I wanted to
be with them," Simmons - nicknamed Run for "running
at the mouth" - told Rolling Stone in 1986. Soon, Run began
DJing for Kurtis Blow as "DJ Run Love, the Son of Kurtis
Blow" at area rap shows in the early '80s. Meanwhile, Run
shared tapes of his concert appearances with childhood friend
and fellow comic book aficionado Darryl McDaniels, the son of
an engineer and a nurse. Run coerced McDaniels to perform onstage
with him: "The first time I got onstage with [Run] was at
some teenage club on the corner in Hollis," McDaniels later
recalled. "He just handed me the mic and said, 'Rhyme for
an hour.' I ran out [of rhymes] pretty soon, but I got better."
The two kept in touch as Run entered LaGuardia Community College
to study mortuary science and McDaniels went to St. John's University.
They pulled in another friend, DJ Jam Master Jay, to complement
them. In 1983, the three released their first single, "It's
Like That," on indie label Profile. The 12-inch garnered
enormous acclaim from local B-boys and became a national hit.
The B-side, "Sucker MC's," with its unusual (for the
time) minimalist beat and advanced rhyme style, is considered
by many hip-hop lovers to be the first hardcore rap song. Run-D.M.C.
released two more singles: "Hard Times" and "Rock
Box." The video for the latter, a hard rock number with buzzing
guitar riffs, earned the group airplay on MTV, a rare feat for
black entertainers, in rap or otherwise, at the time. Run-D.M.C.'s
ensuing 1984 self-titled first album later became the first rap
album to go gold. Russell Simmons had by then formed Rush Management
and a record label, Def Jam, with producer Rick Rubin. Simmons
packaged Run-D.M.C. along with other early '80s rap stars like
Newcleus, Whodini, and UTFO for the first of several "Fresh
Fests," one of the first cross-country rap tours. Onstage,
dressed in black jeans, unlaced Adidas sneakers, and fedoras,
Run-D.M.C. made a huge impression on legions of kids discovering
rap for the first time. Coupled with rock-rap singles like "Rock
Box" and "King of Rock" and MTV airplay, Run-D.M.C.
quickly became the first hip-hop crossover group. The group's
second album (which would eventually go platinum), 1985's King
of Rock, featured hits like the title track, "You Talk Too
Much," and "Can You Rock It Like This," the latter
including ghostwritten lyrics by a then-16-year-old LL Cool J.
Run-D.M.C.'s growing success allowed them to perform at Bob Geldof's
high-profile Live Aid concert - they were the only rap group to
do so - and to contribute vocals to the all-star Sun City project
by the Artists United Against Apartheid. In early 1986, Run-D.M.C.
starred in Krush Groove, a film co-starring the Fat Boys, Kurtis
Blow, LL Cool J, and then-unknowns the Beastie Boys. Loosely based
on Russell Simmons' life as an industry maverick, the film found
Run playing the romantic rival of Blair Underwood as the two angled
for Sheila E's - she of "The Glamorous Life" fame -
affections. Unfortunately, the film's release sparked violence
in theaters across the country, including a riot in Nassau County,
N.Y. Despite the subsequent negative publicity surrounding the
group, Run-D.M.C. recorded and released Raising Hell in 1986.
It marked a watershed moment in hip-hop history and signaled rap's
final evolution from electro- and hi-NRG-dance music to tough
drum machine beats and scratching effects. Raising Hell quickly
became the biggest-selling album in rap history, landing at No.
3 on the Billboard charts and selling well more than 3 million
copies on the strength of singles like "My Adidas" and
"Walk This Way," an audacious remake with the song's
originators, Aerosmith. "Walk This Way," for its part,
not only became the first top 10 single in hip-hop history (discounting
Blondie's 1980 new wave ditty "Rapture"), but also single-handedly
revived Aerosmith's career. A subsequent arena tour turned Run-D.M.C.
into pop stars; unfortunately, several of their appearances were
plagued by outbreaks of violence. One infamous show at Long Beach
Arena in California found the notorious L.A. Crip and Blood gangs
fighting each other and robbing and assaulting other concertgoers,
leaving nearly 40 people injured. That concert made national headlines
and allowed the media to single out Run-D.M.C., the group's music,
and rap music in general as a cause of violence, a reputation
that has haunted the hip-hop community to this day. "They
say we're putting out bad messages to the kids," Run told
Rolling Stone in the issue that featured Run-D.M.C. as the magazine's
first hip-hop cover artists. "Our image is clean, man. Kids
beat each other's heads every day. They are fighting because they
were fighting before I was born . we're role models." Despite
the unfortunate incidents, Run-D.M.C. continued to mount massive
tours with acts like their former protégés the Beastie
Boys (whose rowdy License to Ill eventually eclipsed Raising Hell
in album sales) and Public Enemy. They also starred in advertisements
for Adidas and Coca-Cola and donated a memorable track, "Christmas
in Hollis," to the Very Special Christmas compilation. However,
by the time the trio released its fourth LP, Tougher Than Leather,
in 1988, rap music had changed considerably. Rock chords and chanted
vocals were no longer en vogue, the lyrical content was more confrontational
and complex, and the beats were more syncopated and sample-based.
Despite some strong efforts in that direction, particularly the
12-inch single "Run's House," Tougher Than Leather was
lost amid more albums by Boogie Down Productions (By All Means
Necessary), DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince (He's the DJ, I'm
the Rapper), and Public Enemy (It Takes a Nation of Millions to
Hold Us Back), among others. When Run-D.M.C.'s label, Profile,
shipped out advance orders of 1.25 million copies and the album
received only a platinum plaque, it was seen as a disappointment.
Run-D.M.C.'s second movie, the bizarrely violent action drama
Tougher Than Leather, bombed in theaters; the group's 1990 album,
Back From Hell (titled in part as a reference to the group's spiritual
awakening after personal bouts with drugs and alcohol), also attracted
little interest. More bad news followed in 1991, when Run was
charged with raping a college student in Ohio. The charges were
eventually dropped. The members of Run-D.M.C. put their troubles
behind them and made a surprising comeback in 1993 with their
single and top 10 gold album Down With the King. Helmed by producer
Pete Rock and guest-starring Rock's then-partner, CL Smooth, "Down
With the King" became the group's biggest-selling single
to date and a triumphant reminder of Run-D.M.C.'s - and, by extension,
hip-hop's - lasting appeal. "Hip-hop is here to stay, Run-D.M.C.
is here to stay," D.M.C. told The New York Times that year.
Following their triumphant return, the lads of Run-D.M.C. removed
themselves from the spotlight to pursue lower-profile pastimes.
Run served as an ordained minister for Zoe, a Christian sect that
stresses economic empowerment, in uptown New York, where D.M.C.
served as a deacon. Jam Master Jay, meanwhile, produced hits for
several acts, including Onyx's first two albums and Suga ("What's
Up, Star?"). However, the group continued to tour extensively
around the world. In 1998, a house remix of their classic "It's
Like That" by Jason Nevins was a surprising success, eventually
selling millions of copies. "It was as big as MC Hammer's
'You Can't Touch This,'" Run told XXL magazine in 1999. But
Nevins alleged that Run-D.M.C. seemed unappreciative of his role
in the hit, telling the same magazine, "I don't know if it
was a black-white thing, but I don't think I got the respect I
deserved." A bigger, potentially career-threatening controversy
erupted when D.M.C. revealed that he had not only lost his voice,
but also wasn't interested in Run-D.M.C.'s current musical direction,
which was scheduled to be unveiled in the spring of 1999 on the
group's seventh album, Crown Royal. "I'm rappin' about more
mature stuff: drivin' in my pickup truck, wakin' up in the morning
and turning on the radio, kissin' my wife," he told XXL,
adding that the group wants to "hide the fact that my voice
changed." Run answered by telling Source that D.M.C.'s rumored
departure from the group is unfounded. "You know what I do
when I don't want to do something? Don't do it," he challenged.
As if inter-band squabbling weren't troublesome enough, the highly
anticipated album ran into problems on the way to its release
date, evidently related to getting rights from some of the guests'
record labels. (Given the impressive roster - which originally
featured collaborations with rap stars Method Man, Nas, Ol' Dirty
Bastard, Fat Joe, and rock artists Sugar Ray, Kid Rock, and Everlast
- it's not all that surprising.) So the Hollis trio spent much
of 2000 in release date limbo. Good news came at the end of the
year, however, when the group announced that Crown Royal would
come out in February 2001. To commemorate the event, there will
be two singles released, each targeting different audiences: "Rock
Show," which features Third Eye Blind's Stephan Jenkins,
will be aimed at rock radio, while "It's Over," produced
by Jermaine Dupri, will be pressed on a 12-inch vinyl record and
aimed at dance clubs. As for the internal turmoil, all involved
say there's no beef between Run and D.M.C., and regardless of
Crown Royal's performance, the trio will always be the Kings of
Hip-hop for many fans. "There is history around Run-D.M.C.,"
Pete Rock once said, "and everyone should always remember
and always respect Run-D.M.C. because they opened doors."