music / Hall Of Fame

411 Music Hall Of Fame Class of 2009: Run-D.M.C.

February 10, 2009 | Posted by Michael Melchor


  • The first rap artist to earn a #1 R&B charting rap album
  • The first rap artist to chart multiple songs in the Top 40 of the Billboard Hot 100
  • The first rap artist with a Top 10 album
  • The first rap artist with RIAA-certified gold, platinum, and multi-platinum albums
  • The first rap artist to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine
  • The first rap artist to appear on Saturday Night Live
  • The first rap artist to receive a Grammy Award nomination
  • The first rap artist to make a video appearance on MTV
  • Signed to an athletic product endorsement deal (Adidas)
  • Inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame (2009)
  • Tougher than leather

  • Run-D.M.C. came from humble beginnings that, ironically, others would try and imitate over the years (as would also become a pattern throughout their career). Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell were all natives of Hollis, Queens as well as high-school friends. “Joey”‘s brother, Russel, had formed a rap label with Rick Rubin – Def Jam Records. Looking for an act for the fledging label, Russel talked Simmons and McDaniels into forming a rap duo that the label could sell, took the names Run (Simmons) and D.M.C. (McDaniels). After talking Mizell into being their DJ (taking the stage name Jam Master Jay and suggesting the black hats and Adidas sneakers that would become synonymous with their image), the trio embarked on an incredible career.

    The group’s first single, the double A-side “It’s Like That”/”Sucker M.C.’s,”, turned heads and ears, as well as earned the group their first Billboard-charting single (hitting #15 on the Hot R&B Singles chart). The group continued on that path with “Hard Times”/”Jam Master Jay”, “Rock Box” and “30 Days” – all hitting on the R&B charts. All of these songs were included on Run-D.M.C.’s eponymous debut album, released in 1984.

    Rap, as an art form, was in its infancy when the trio turned it upside down. Sparse but booming beats laid down by Jay combined with blunt, skillful vocals by Run and D.M.C. were new in the field of smooth funk samples and (mostly) party-time lyrics. Between the hard beats, powerful vocals, more emphasis on social commentary and the fact that Run and D.M.C. would often complete each others’ lines, the early releases of Run-D.M.C. are considered the first “new school” rap records. 1985’s Kings Of Rock continued to build on their revolutionary style by adding heavy metal samples to their music – unheard of back then, it would become a staple of hip-hop acts years later. Run-D.M.C. were breaking new ground left and right at this point, as the singles “King Of Rock” and “You Talk Too Much” charted higher and higher as well as the album itself. The trio also improved its profile with a turn in the break dancing movie Krush Groove along with The Fat Boys, Kurtis Blow, Sheila E, and the Beastie Boys.

    With the momentum of the first two albums and the changes the group were bringing to rap, Run-D.M.C.’s third album, Raising Hell, would prove to be their crowning as the Kings. After the first single – “My Adidas” – did for Adidas what Michael Jordan did for Nike a decade later, the group was about to cement their place in history once and for all. The final huge breakthrough would come in the form of a cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way”. The song was the stamp the trio put on the face of pop culture, as the remake helped put hip-hop in the public eye and keep it there. Not only did the single and hilarious video (the first rap video to be played on MTV) catapult Run-D.M.C. into the stratosphere in terms of popularity, but they also revived the career off the then-struggling Aerosmith. The landmark piece helped Raising Hell became the first rap album to not only reach #1 on the R&B album charts, but also to place in the Billboard Top 10. It was also the first rap album to go platinum. In other words, Run-D.M.C. – solely on the strength of their indomitable style and talent – were the first rappers to cross over into the pop mainstream.

    Run-D.M.C. spent most of 1987 recording Tougher Than Leather and released the record in 1988. To capitalize on their superstar status, a movie by the same name also followed. However, in a cruel twist, the upheaval the trio caused in the pop world had caused the rap scene to look over them. Tougher Than Leather still went platinum, but the movie – a send-up of 70s “Blaxploitation” films – mainly bombed. By that time, people were more interested in hardcore acts like Ice T, Boogie Down Productions and N.W.A. instead of “cross-over” acts like Run-D.M.C. The very movement the group created served to pass them by.

    Things would become much worse a year later when, after the release of Back From Hell, Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniels would suffer their share of personal problems. McDaniels suffered from alcoholism, and Simmons was accused of rape. The two spent a few years in semi-seclusion working out their problems. The resolution of those issues caused the two to become born-again Christians – and they decided to celebrate that with their comeback album.

    1993’s Down With The King didn’t hit the heights of their peak six years earlier, but the album was still marked as a solid comeback. Several artists that the trio influenced showed up to aid with guest appearances and production: Public Enemy, EPMD, Naughty by Nature, A Tribe Called Quest, Neneh Cherry, Pete Rock & CL Smooth, and KRS-One all appeared on the record in some form or another. The album went gold and the eponymous lead single, a bombastic celebration of their life changes told in their trademark bold style, hit the Top 10 R&B charts.

    2002’s Crown Royal came and went without much fanfare, but their Greatest Hits set made a mark on the charts and reminded people why Run-D.M.C. became the first rap group to rule the world. The group began having problems that year during a tour with Aerosmith that saw Run – who was dealing with a growing family as well as running brother Russel’s “Phat Farm” clothing line at the time – and D.M.C. – who’s voice was slowly degenerating after years of performing at a high volume and level – started to contemplate life outside the group. However, a fateful night in their old home borough would seal that decision.

    Jam Master Jay, at the age of 37, was shot and killed at a music studio in Queens, New York, on October 30, 2002. The news devastated the entire Hip-Hop community as the immense list of artists influenced by the trio paid their respects. Hit worst of all were Simmons and McDaniels; already having a hard time continuing on, the two decided that, without Jam Master Jay, there would be no Run-D.M.C. One week later, on November 6, Simmons and McDaniels announced that Run-D.M.C., as performers and recording musicians, were no more, and that the name was retired.

    Why Run-D.M.C. Was Selected:

    The case has been argued several times that, without Run-D.M.C., hip-hop may not be around today. The group took a fledgling art form, turned it upside down, showed the world what could be done with it, and then shoved it out into the mainstream for everyone to accept and enjoy. Their dalliances into rock and roll would also do wonders for that genre.

    But, above all their pioneering accomplishments and daring career moves, Run-D.M.C. were masters at constructing a hell of a jam. Be it back in the day or right here and now, any number of their songs such as “Peter Piper”, “It’s Tricky”, and “King of Rock” can immediately jump-start a party and start heads bobbing at the drop of a needle. Many artists provide “soundtrack” moments in peoples’ lives; Run-D.M.C. were the songs on that “soundtrack” that you remember fondly as you dance along.


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    Michael Melchor
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