Sunday, April 3, 2011

Run-DMC -- "King of Rock" (1985)

Now we're the baddest of the bad
The coolest of the cool
I'm DMC, I rock and roll 
I'm DJ Run, I rock and rule
It's not a trick or treat 
And it's not an April fool
It's all brand new 
Never ever old school

Say good-bye to "old school" rap, students.  Today's "Hip-Hop 101" lecture will introduce you to one of the most important of the second-generation rap groups.

Run-DMC's sound and look was "all brand new" indeed -- radically different from that of old school hip-hoppers like Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.  They were the first rap artists to break through into the pop culture mainstream.  

Among other things, Run-DMC was the first hip-hop group to have a gold album, the first hip-hop act to make the cover of Rolling Stone, the first hip-hop act to appear on "American Bandstand" and on "Saturday Night Live," the first hip-hop act to be nominated for a Grammy, and the first hip-hop act to have a music video played on MTV. 

Run-DMC consisted of MCs Joseph "Run" Simmons and Darryl "DMC" McDaniels, and DJ Jason "Jam-Master Jay" Mizell, all of whom were from the Hollis neighborhood in Queens.  Run's older brother, Russell Simmons, an early-day rap promoter, helped them get a record deal, and the trio released its first single in 1983, when all three were still teenagers.  


Run-DMC's sound was closer to hard rock than disco or funk -- it was hard-hitting, stripped-down music that gave a prominent place to electric guitars.  First-generation rappers tended to dress more like disco and funk stars, while Run-DMC went for a more "street" style.  The group's trademark look featured black fedoras, jeans or tracksuits, and unlaced Adidas sneakers.  (That company eventually signed them to an endorsement contract.)

DMC later explained the reason for the group's low-key style:

[T]he performance became the attention-getter and not how good you looked, how many curls you had in your hair.  It was just about the beats and the rhyme. . . . [T]hat was the reason why people related to us -- even the rock 'n' roll kids, the white kids.  They could relate to us because we was just like the guys on the corner they saw, or the guys they went to school with, or the people they worked with. . . . We're normal guys, but we're good, and this is who we be.

Larry "Bud" Melman
The music video for the "King of Rock" single -- the first hip-hop video to air on MTV -- opens with Run and DMC pushing past a security guard (played by David Letterman sidekick, Larry "Bud" Melman) and entering a faux rock 'n' roll museum.  (The Rock and Roll Hame of Fame and Museum wasn't opened until almost a decade later.)  

Once inside, our boys go a little nuts.  They knock a Michael Jacksonesque white glove off its pedestal and walk on it, disdainfully unplug a TV showing a live performance by Jerry Lee Lewis, grab one of the Fender Stratocaster guitars on display and wave it around menacingly (perhaps in imitation of Pete Townshend of the Who preparing to smash his Stratocaster on stage), and break a pair of replica Elvis Presley sunglasses.  The video was viewed by some as Run-DMC's striking a symbolic blow against the music establishment, which had generally dissed rap. 

The oddest part of the video is a shot of DMC dropping a fedora on to one of four small busts that are obviously meant to depict the Beatles.  That shot is accompanied by this line from the song: 

There's three of us, but we're not the Beatles

John Lennon had been murdered several years earlier, leaving only three Beatles living at the time the video was filmed.

Joseph "Run" Simmons -- now known as "Rev Run" -- and his family are the stars of the long-running MTV reality show, "Run's House." 

Rev Run and family
Older brother Russell Simmons hasn't done too badly either.  He and music legend Rick Rubin founded Def Jam Records in 1984, and Simmons has also produced television shows and movies and created clothing lines (the best known of which is Phat Farm).  He is said to be the third richest man in hip-hop, with an estimated net worth of $340 million.

Here's the music video for "King of Rock":

Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

King of Rock - King of Rock

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

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