Run DMC ~ Run DMC (1984)

Posted on October 7, 2012

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If you don’t know who these guys are, you probably haven’t listened to music in the last 30 years. Words can’t capture the contribution that Run DMC have made to the evolution of rap music and Hip Hop culture; not to mention the world of popular music since the early 1980’s. When they exploded from Hollis, Queens in 1983, they changed the sound, look, and feel of Hip Hop. Along the way, they ushered in rap’s Golden Era (1987-95); indirectly laid the foundation for both the Def Jam Records label & Russell Simmons‘ entertainment empire, and contributed mightily to helping rap become a recognized artform and a multi-billion dollar commodity. Did I mention this was all accomplished before they turned 25?

The formation of Run DMC was a connection of live wires. DJ Run (Joseph Simmons) had begun DJ’ing during his adolescence. In the late 1970’s Run’s older brother – Russell “Rush” Simmons – was an aspiring music mogul, managing a charismatic Harlem native named Kurtis Blow. When Kurt needed a new disc jock, Rush recommended his kid brother for the job. Around the same time, DMC (Darryl McDaniels), a childhood friend of Run’s, caught the music bug after hearing a tape by Hip Hop godfather Grandmaster Flash. Run and Easy Dee (as DMC was then known) perfected their craft in Run’s basement. Each took turns on the microphone honing their skills; and each took spins on the turntables. In 1980, 15-year-olds Joseph and Darryl met Jazzy Jase (Jason Mizell), a smooth kid from Hollis with flavor for days. Mizell, who played the drums, bass, and had taken up turntablism; became a popular DJ in the neighborhood parks; and when Darryl and Joe became a team, Jason, who’d changed his moniker to Jam Master Jay, was inducted into the fold as their DJ. At the urging of their manager Rush, the young guns from Queens chose both a look and a sound that went against the norms of their day; using floor-shaking drum beats with no rhythm accompaniment, save for occasional rock guitars. In addition to the new sound Russell Simmons championed, he also advised the crew to adopt a new look. Rush persuaded Run and D to dress like Jay, who had an admirable fashion sense; rocking Kangols and the best street gear. The trio landed a deal with New York indie label Profile Records in 1982, and proceeded to tear the music world asunder; first with their debut single (1983’s “Sucker MC’s”), and then with their debut album,1984’s Run-D.M.C.

As an album, Run-D.M.C. is compact and near-perfect. Every single song is either an eternal classic or an understated gem. The first track, “Hard Times”, belongs in the former category. With its’ hard, simple drum pattern and sound effects, “Hard Times”, a new edition of a Kurtis Blow song, bangs just like it did in ’84; and features Run and D trading the mic, speaking on everyday struggles, and doing justice to Kurtis Blow’s original. The next 2 tracks also belong in the ‘eternal classic’ category. “Rock Box”, with its’ acid guitars and keyboard tingles, bangs ridiculously. On this cut, Joe and Darryl display extraordinary chemistry and timing, as they assume B-Boy stances, and swagger over the track for five-and-a-half minutes. “Jam Master Jay”, dedicated to Run and D’s disc jock, may thump until the end of time. The drums rumble; JMJ mixes with precision; and Run and D big-up Jam Master Jay with dope metaphors and creative lyrical routines. “Hollis Crew (Krush Groove 2)” and “Sucker M.C.’s (Krush Groove 1)” are two rock-steady bookends on the same shelf. On the former, the latter’s drum patterns are altered a bit; and Run and D daze and astound once again: finishing each other’s lines and rhyming in unison. The latter, the first in a series of Run DMC hits, features DJ Run hang-gliding over some schoolyard drum kicks, before handing the baton to Easy Dee.

The rest of Run-D.M.C. continues the string of inspired material. “It’s Like That”, a body-rocker for all ages, is a sequel of sorts to “Hard Times”, as Run and DMC try to deal with worldly issues. They envision a strife-free planet while they’re sleeping on “Wake Up”. The pulsating “30 Days” is an inventive mixed metaphor joint, with Run and D offering the use of their skill set in quick, easy terms. And on the closer, “Jay’s Game”, Jam Master Jay takes center stage, and closes the show with a masterly exhibition on the wheels of steel.

The supporting cast of Run-D.M.C. deserves as much credit as its authors for this album’s quality. Larry Smith, who also laced Whodini’s first 3 albums, and Russell Simmons provide pure B-Boy euphoria with their system-shocking tracks. And Orange Krush, the 3-man music crew of which Larry Smith was 1/3, does inspired work with their instrumentation and sound effects.

And the principals, Run DMC and Jam Master Jay, show us the gods were right on point when bringing them together. Jay’s mixing skills and musical knowledge add a subtle but integral piece to the group’s fabric. And DJ Run and DMC, rap’s resident dynamic duo, mesh like no other duo in Hip Hop history. Those years spent rehearsing in Run’s house pay off handsomely on this album. No duo since them has displayed the camaraderie and chemistry Run and D flaunted so effortlessly.

Run-D.M.C. marked the beginning of good things for its’ contributors. Russell Simmons, of course, became the first rap super-mogul; building on this album’s success to create Rush Communications, a multimedia firm that included both Def Jam Records and Rush Management. Run DMC became mammoth superstars; who’d almost singlehandedly make rap a commercially viable form of music; and in 2009, they’d be honored for their contributions to music with an induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

In addition to his victories with Run DMC, Jam Master Jay would become a success in his own right. Jay would found his own record label (JMJ Records), co-found a clothing line with designer April Walker (Walker Wear); and co-found the Scratch DJ Academy, a school devoted to turntablism and music production. JMJ would also become a prolific music producer and talent broker, including guiding Queens quartet Onyx to iconic status of their own, and signing a young Curtis Jackson (50 Cent) to JMJ Records, and teaching him rhyme structures and songwriting. But, sadly, both Jay’s life, and the Run DMC saga, would end tragically, on October 30, 2002, when Jam Master Jay was shot to death in his Queens recording studio, at the age of 37.

Though they went on to a successful run in the rap game, Run DMC hit their hardest on their debut. After Run DMC came strutting out of Hollis, the Hip Hop world changed forever; and for the better. Regardless of whether you’re a longtime fan or not, this album is essential listening for those that consider themselves rap fans. I guess Sade was right; it’s never as good as the first time.

To listen to Run-D.M.C., click here.

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