NPR

RUN DMC Crashes Rock's Hall Of Fame, Again

In 1984, MTV began playing a video that poked fun at the idea of rock's lead status in the music world. It showed RUN DMC — two rappers and a DJ trespassing at an imaginary rock 'n' roll museum and causing a holy ruckus. The irony is that, 25 years later, RUN DMC is being welcomed onto that hallowed ground. On Saturday, the group will be inducted into the real Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

"In that 'King of Rock' video, we were snatching the wigs off the Beatles' heads, stepping on Michael Jackson's glove and pulling the plug on the Jerry Lee Lewis video," says Darryl McDaniels — the DMC in RUN DMC. "I remember people were saying that was kind of prophetic: 'You guys are bound for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because of that.' "

RUN DMC will not be the first rap group to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame — that was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. But RUN DMC did achieve a number of historic firsts during its heyday in the 1980s.

It was the first rap group to have a Top 10 album on the pop charts, the first to have a gold and platinum album, and the first nominated for a Grammy. It was the first to have a rap video on MTV. And, for a majority of Americans, RUN DMC was the first rap group they had ever seen or heard.

"They heard the name RUN DMC," McDaniels says. "But it wasn't like, 'Who is this?' and, 'Is this a band?' It was, 'What is this?' "

The music of RUN DMC was raw and hard-hitting at a time when even heavy metal was sounding kind of tame. It challenged notions of what black music should be, and it had a familiar edge for rock fans.

"When we came onto the music scene," McDaniels says, "a lot of the other rappers were using, what? Funk. R&B. We said, 'If we use the rock guitar edge, it's a little harder than disco. If we could put that hard sound with this rough attitude, we're bound to get some attention.' So the rock 'n' roll edge, having a rock guitar, was kind of the icebreaker to say we're familiar. We have something in common."

RUN DMC started in the late '70s, when three childhood friends — Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell — came together in New York City.

"Hollis, Queens," McDaniels says. "It was a lower-middle-class suburban neighborhood. It was the late '70s when hip-hop came into the neighborhoods of Queens. It wasn't Brooklyn, it wasn't the Bronx, it wasn't Harlem. It was tree-lined streets, fences around the houses. We had grass."

Simmons and McDaniels developed a distinctive style that was sparse and heavily rhythmic, and that often had a sly sense of humor. With jugglers' precision, they tossed words back and forth, never losing the beat.

RUN DMC's debut single — "Sucker MCs" backed with "It's Like That" — appeared in 1983 and was an underground sensation. A couple of years later, the group hooked up with a '70s hard-rock band that was then half-forgotten: Aerosmith. The collaboration bridged the worlds of rock and rap, and put the careers of both groups into overdrive.

"Eighty percent of the listeners was like, 'Oh my God, this "Walk This Way" record is incredible.' But you had your 20 percent of loyal rock 'n' roll fans: 'This is a blasphemy. Who does RUN DMC think they are?' "

What many consider RUN DMC's definitive track came out in 1986.

"Our signature tune? It would probably be 'It's Tricky,' " McDaniels says. "Because it's the whole blend of rock 'n' roll, storytelling, excitement, creativity and a sense of truth, without degrading women and without glorifying violence."

Saturday, when RUN DMC accepts its induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the group's DJ will not be there. Jam Master Jay was shot to death in 2002. The case is still unsolved.

"For Jay, this would be a crowning achievement of what a culture and an art form was able to accomplish," McDaniels says.

RUN DMC called it quits after Jam Master Jay was killed. Joseph Simmons now goes by the handle Reverend Run and appears on a reality show on MTV. McDaniels travels, speaking on the history of hip-hop and telling the story of how the street culture of a few New York neighborhoods struggled for — and won — respect.

"We went to the backstage door for a sound check," McDaniels says. "Boom, boom, boom, boom. Security would come. They would look at us and shut the door. Boom, boom, boom, boom. 'Yo, we're RUN DMC.' And Jay would be standing there with the turntables and the records around his neck. 'You mean to tell me I'm paying you all my money just to play records?' Jay would say 'yup' and put his hat backwards, and gallop past the guy."

Ashley Kahn is the author of Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece.

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

Unidentified Man #1: You ain't going to believe this place.

Unidentified Man #2: Word.

Unidentified Man #1: I'm telling you, come on, you're going to bug.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

In 1984, MTV played a video that showed Run-DMC, two rappers and a DJ, entering hallowed ground.

(Soundbite of video)

Unidentified Man #3: Hey, this is a rock and roll museum. You guys don't belong in here.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) I'm the king of rock, there is none higher. Sucker MCs should call me sire.

MONTAGNE: Twenty-five years later, Run-DMC is being welcomed onto that hallowed ground. Tomorrow the group will enter the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Journalist Ashley Kahn looks at the trio that laid the groundwork for the golden age of rap.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) Hard times spreading just like the flu. Watch out, homeboy, don't let it catch you.

ASHLEY KAHN: Run-DMC is not the first rap group to make it into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That was Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) When you got short money you're stuck on the ground. Turn around…

KAHN: But Run-DMC achieved a number of historic firsts during their heyday in the 1980s. They were the first rappers to have a top ten album, the first nominated for a Grammy.

Mr. DARRYL McDANIELS (Musician): First to go gold, first to go platinum, you know, first on MTV, first on the cover of Rolling Stone.

KAHN: Darryl McDaniels is the DMC of Run-DMC.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Singing) I'm DMC, in the place to be. I go to St. John's University.

KAHN: To a majority of Americans, Run-DMC was also the first rap group they had ever seen or heard.

Mr. McDANIELS: They heard the name Run-DMC. But it wasn't like, who is this, and you know, is this a band? It was like, what is this?

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) Two years ago, a friend of mine asked me to say some MC rhymes.

Mr. McDANIELS: When we came onto the music scene, a lot of the other rappers were using what - funk, R&B.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Rapping) Get funky, get funky, get funky, funky-funk-funk-da-funky…

Mr. McDANIELS: So we said, if we use the rock guitar edge, it's a little harder than disco. If we could put that hard sound with this rough attitude, our whole thing was, we're bound to get some attention.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) We're rising, surprising, and often hypnotizing. We always tell the truth and then we never slip no lies in. No curls, no braids, peasy-head and still get paid. Jam Master cut the record up and down and cross-fade.

Mr. McDANIELS: So the rock and roll guitar was kind of the icebreaker to say we're familiar, we have something in common.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) …never wear the pants they call the Calvin Klein's. 'Cause Calvin Klein's no friend of mine, don't want nobody's name on my behind.

KAHN: Run-DMC started in the late '70s when three childhood friends — Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell — came together in New York City.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) In case you wonder what all this means, we're funky fresh from Hollis, Queens.

Mr. McDANIELS: Hollis, Queens was a lower-middle-class suburban neighborhood in Queens. It wasn't Brooklyn, it wasn't the Bronx, it wasn't Harlem. It was like tree-lined streets, fences around the houses, you know.

KAHN: Simmons and McDaniels developed a distinctive style that was sparse, heavily rhythmic, and often had a sly sense of humor. And with jugglers' precision, they tossed words back and forth, never dropping the beats.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) When we're on the mic, we're in charge. It's like that y'all, that y'all. It's like that y'all, that y'all. It's like that-a-tha-that, a-like that y'all, that y'all.

KAHN: Run-DMC's debut single appeared in 1983.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) One thing I know is that life is short. So listen up, homeboy, give this a thought. The next time someone's teaching why don't you get taught? It's like that and that's the way it is.

KAHN: A couple of years later, Run-DMC hooked up with a half-forgotten rock band: Aerosmith.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk This Way")

KAHN: Their collaboration bridged the worlds of rock and rap and put the careers of both groups into overdrive.

(Soundbite of song, "Walk This Way")

Run-DMC/Aerosmith: There's a backseat lover, that's always undercover and I talked till my daddy say, said ya ain't seen nothin' till your down on a muffin, and there's sure to be a change in way…

Mr. McDANIELS: Eighty percent was like, Oh my God, this "Walk This Way" record is incredible. But you had your 20 percent of loyal rock and roll fans: This is a blasphemy. Who does Run-DMC think they are?

(Soundbite of song, "Walk This Way")

Run-DMC/Aerosmith: (Rapping) She told me to walk this way, talk this way, walk this way, talk this way. She told me to…

KAHN: What many consider Run-DMC's title track came out in 1986.

Mr. McDANIELS: Our signature tune? It would probably be "It's Tricky." It's trick to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time…

(Soundbite of song, "It's Tricky")

Run-DMC: (Rapping) …it's tricky. Tricky, tricky, tricky. In New York the people talk and try to make us rhyme. They really hawk but we just walk because we have no time. And in the city it's a pity…

Mr. McDANIELS: We was able to communicate a powerful, rough image without profanity, without degrading women, and without glorifying violence.

(Soundbite of song, "It's Tricky")

Run-DMC: (Rapping) It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time. It's tricky. How is it D? Tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky. It's tricky…

KAHN: Tomorrow, when Run-DMC accepts their induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, their DJ will not be there. Jam Master Jay was shot in 2002. His murder is still unsolved.

Mr. McDANIELS: For Jay, this would be a crowning achievement of what a culture and an art form was able to accomplish.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) J-a-y are the letters of his name. Cutting and scratching are the aspects of his game. So check out the Master as he cuts these jams. And look at us with the mics in our hands. Then take a count, one, two, three, Jam Master Jay, Run-D.M.C.

KAHN: Run-DMC called it quits after Jay was killed. Joseph Simmons now goes by the handle Reverend Run and appears on a reality show on MTV. Darryl McDaniels travels, speaking on the history of hip-hop, telling the story of how the street culture of a few New York neighborhoods struggled for — and won — respect.

Mr. McDANIELS: We showed up one day for sound check. We went to the backstage door, bang on the door, boom, boom, boom, boom. Security would come. They would look at us and shut the door. Boom, boom, boom, boom. Yo, we're Run-DMC. And Jay would be standing there with the turntables and the records around his neck. And the promoter would go, You mean to tell me I'm paying you all my money just to play records? And Jay would go, Yup, and put his hat backwards and gallop past the guy.

(Soundbite of song)

Run-DMC: (Rapping) Three men riot, you can't deny it. Will so ill, that you can't defy it. Gonna live, positive, forever and ever. Run-DMC, and we're tougher than leather.

MONTAGNE: Ashley Kahn is the author of "Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece." To hear more of Ashley's interview with Darryl McDaniels, hip-hop your way to npr.org. This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Renee Montagne.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

And I'm Steve Inskeep.

(Soundbite of music) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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