In 1985, the Mainstream was as contaminated as ever. Foul pollution was everywhere; bacteria known as The Power Station, A-Ha, Hall & Oats, and Wham!, were just a few of the common poisons of the day. However, a revolution was already underway, as the Underground was breaking through with a solution called Run D.M.C., and by the end of the year, Music had taken on a fresh course.
I was only seven at the time, and up to that point had no real interest in music. All I heard was repulsive din, and saw no appeal in torturing myself with "Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go," "Take On Me," or "Walking On Sunshine." Then one day, my buddy brought a tape to school called King Of Rock. Even though this was the second album from Run D.M.C., I had yet to hear them. My friend was ecstatic about them, and he convinced me to borrow the tape, and check it out for myself. That evening, I discovered Music.
Filled with hard-hitting beats, loud guitars, and relentless poetry, King Of Rock is a powerhouse filled with brilliant takes on life, and even a little humor thrown in for good measure. By the time their next album was released in 1986 (Raising Hell), I was completely hooked, not just to Run D.M.C., but to music in general.
Run D.M.C. is a trio: Run (Joseph Simmons), D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniels), and Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell). Together, and individually, they're recognized as some of the most influential musicians in history. They mutated several Forces that thrived in the Underground, from the funk of George Clinton and his squad (Parliament and Funkadelic were a couple monikers they used), to the raw and prosaic lyricism of Kurtis Blow, to the inventive style of DJing that Grandmaster Flash had recently mastered.
Blending these flavors together, they delivered Run D.M.C. in 1983, an album that provided the necessary push to get what became known as Rap and Hip-Hop to the Masses. Not only that, but with their infusion of hard rock, they produced a sound with unlimited variations, so boundless that even today, that style is being tweaked into new realms. Look at Rage Against The Machine, Red Hot Chili Peppers, and Faith No More. Look at LL Cool J, Outkast, and the Wu-Tang Clan. Look at Beck, Crystal Method, and the Chemical Brothers. Look at Limp Triscuit, Kid Rock, and Linkin Park. Look at the Billboard's Top 20. Almost all of these musicians can be traced back to Run D.M.C.
On the last day of July, 2002, and spilling into the first week of August, the annual Gravity Games were held at the North Coast Harbor in Cleveland, Ohio. Alongside the various competitions, different musicians performed for the crowds, from Filter to Busta Rhymes. On Sunday (August 4), the Gravity Games hosted Guitar Center’s yearly DJ Spin Off, where eight DJ's from around the country gave their best for a shot at an endorsement deal, as well as an all-expense paid trip to Japan to compete in the World DJ Championships. Following the Spin Off, Run D.M.C. was scheduled to take the stage.
I had never scored the chance to see Run D.M.C. live, let alone meet them. Ever since that glorious moment in 1985, I had been an avid fan, snagging each of their albums instantly upon release, and memorizing the lyrics within days. Even when I listen to them today, I’m led to rhyme along, claiming the role of D.M.C. just like I did when I was a wee lad. Still, I had yet to encounter them in the flesh.
Unfortunately, I didn’t find out that they were going to be at the Gravity Games until less than two weeks beforehand. This gave me little time to devise a scheme to meet these Gurus, and since the deadline to register for press credentials had already expired, I had no choice but to pay for my admission (and parking) like everyone else, and gamble on Fate.
The Spin Off started around 11:30 that morning, and it was truly an impressive event. From start to finish, the Groove seemed to get deeper, and in the end, a 27-year-old man from Detroit known as DJ Len Swan took the national title of “Best Undiscovered DJ.”
While all this was going on, I stood anxiously in the stern of the crowd, desperate for my Green Light. A few hours earlier, I had been promised an interview, but it had to be quick, and after their show. Although I knew that this would permit only a few questions at best, rather than a true conversation, coupled with the fact that they’d be too pumped up after their performance to want some buffoon like me shoving a tape recorder in their faces, I took what I could. This is, after all, Run D.M.C. we’re talking about…
By the time Jam Master Jay walked out, the sun had fried my skin to a bright red tint. I didn’t notice this until later that evening, for the sky had been pretty cloudy up to that point, and I was more worried about the consequences of leaving my car’s windows down, should rain happen to fall.
The audience cheered eagerly as Jay took his position behind the turntables, and their roar grew louder as D.M.C. entered second. Then Run appeared, and the crowd exploded with excitement as they busted out “It’s Like That” and flowed right into “It’s Tricky.” Run D.M.C. gave their fans a hefty treat, reciting 14 songs from their stash, as well as a free-flow, and when they finished, I felt like I was seven all over again, completely thrilled at this experience.
The time had come. I was led back to their trailer, and as I stood outside, I had to fight myself to relax. I had finally witnessed a performance that I had longed for close to twenty years, and now I was actually going to meet them. After a few minutes, the trailer door opened, and I looked over to see Run walk out, and right past me, leaving the area. I was slightly puzzled, but although I highly admire the man, I was just a tad more interested in talking to D.M.C.. and therefore I wasn’t too disappointed.
Several minutes later, the door opened again, and my name was called. I went in, turned the corner, and stood before D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay. A blistering fool, slightly dehydrated (at $3.25 per 12 oz. bottle of water, my funds were quickly depleted), I shook their hands, and introduced myself. Jay’s cell phone suddenly rang, and aware of the time constraint, I pressed Record, and faced D.M.C.
Run D.M.C. was the first group I got into; you introduced me to music- what introduced you to music?
D.M.C.: Michael Jackson, James Brown, you know, all the Soul groups. Oh yea, Parliament, Flashlight was the record that got me into it. But recently, 'cause I'm a little older, my new influences are like Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Credence Clearwater Revival, 'cause they do what we do. Our greatest achievement was longevity. I look at our track record- we not only do the beats, but we make the songs, "Mary Mary," "Beats To The Rhyme," "Tricky," "Sucker MC's," we do the whole spectrum of what hip-hop represents.
When did you first realize the impact that you guys have had on music in general?
D.M.C.: It was big before us, before they started making records. We used to buy tapes of live performances the way that we buy records now.
That's how we started. We couldn't get down with disco, you know, the Bee-Gees and Saturday Night Fever. So we started doin' our own music, and we had to form our own sounds, and what was already hip-hop just evolved. It was just music. Rap is what we do, not who we are. I mean, if a rapper makes a great rock n' roll record, give him a rock Grammy, not a rap award.
We started DJ'n in the streets. Then someone would be like, "Yo! Run and them performin' down on the corner," and someone would get it on tape, and that's how word got around. Once they put it on record, it goes around the world.
Are you guys still cool with people taping your shows?
D.M.C.: We don't care about that. If you're giving away our music, we'll just make more music, and sell that to the stores. I just don't like when someone comes in, makes a tape of one of our shows, and then turns around and charges folks $20 for it. It's two different extremes.
I don't know how people can get all upset about Napster and all that. If you're such a good group that you can give away music, then you can make an album that you can sell. I don't understand how people can be like, "oh, they're stealing my music." It's not your own, it's the world’s.
You should tell your record label to put some songs out for free, and I'll give you a fifteen-cut album, and people will buy it. You'll still buy the album. Half the demos people do never make the album, but when you make it, you mean it. So if you love a demo, give it away.
It's all about the music.
As the number of people waiting to leave with these men increased, I thanked them for their time, and went on my way. Although this is definitely something that will remain highlighted in my Timeline, it also made me want more. It’s suffice to say that I plan on conducting a real interview with D.M.C. in the near future, as this was just a glimpse of what’s behind the men that made music what it is today.