They came in rocking Adidas from head to toe, and they were also armed with the freshest and hardest rhymes of the mid-‘80s. The group was Run-D.M.C., and from 1984 until 1988 they were the undisputed kings of the Krush Groove era, bringing the “b-boy” style to the mainstream.
The story of Run-D.M.C. begins with Joseph Simmons from Hollis, Queens, New York, who was recruited into the genre by his older brother, future Def Jam Records co-founder Russell Simmons. After performing as a DJ for Kurtis Blow in the late-‘70s – going by the nickname “DJ Run, Son of Kurtis Blow” – he met fellow Hollis resident Darryl McDaniels, who at the time was more into sports than he was into hip-hop.
But Simmons convinced McDaniels to start rapping, and in 1980, he brought a set of turntables and began writing rhymes. That same year, the two began rapping in front of local DJs at Two-Fifths Park, and one of the DJs that they rapped for was Jason Mizell, who back then was known as “Jazzy Jase.” Mizell was one of the more popular DJs at the park, and soon after, he, Simmons and McDaniels struck up a friendship.
In 1981, Russell helped his little brother Joseph record the single “Street Kid,” but it went nowhere, and the next single he recorded, he wanted McDaniels to join him. It wouldn’t be until 1982 until the duo recorded a track together (due to Russell disliking McDaniels’ rhyming skills), and that same year, they brought aboard Mizell, who had changed his name to “Jam Master Jay,” to be the duo’s official DJ.
The next year, Russell agreed to help the new hip-hop group record a single and get a record deal, but on one condition – that McDaniels agreed to let Russell change his stage name, who was going by “Easy E” at the time. He agreed, and his name was changed to “D.M.C.” to fit the new name of the group, Run-D.M.C.
Russell did everything he promised, as by the summer of ’83, he had the group signed to Profile Records, who was competing with Sugar Hill Records at the time, and by the end of the year, he recorded and released their debut single, “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs.” When that single was released, hip-hop fans went crazy over it, as it quickly climbed the R&B charts, topping out at number 15.
The out-of-the-box success of “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs” was the beginning of a new era for hip-hop, as before the single was released, rap was all about the party and vibrant beats lifted from other singles. Run-D.M.C. did things differently.
They took the same formula used by earlier rappers and stripped down the sound, which brought the beat to the forefront. Also different was the way the group delivered their rhymes, as Run-D.M.C. delivered their lyrics with force and intimidation, unlike anything heard at the time.
Buoyed by the success of “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs,” the group released their self-titled debut LP in early 1984, which also contained the legendary “Jam-Master Jay,” “Hard Times” (#15 R&B) and “30 Days” (#16 R&B). Their debut soared to number 14 on the R&B album charts, made it to number 53 on the Billboard 200, and went Gold, and in the process, they upped the ante in hip-hop by providing a record that was constantly great, and this ushered in the album age for hip-hop.
For their 1985 sophomore album King of Rock, Run-D.M.C. took their sound to a whole other level. In addition to making their sparse beats harder than their debut, they added guitars to the mix, giving their sound a hard rock leaning that was simply ahead of its time.
The sound worked like a charm, and King of Rock was rewarded with a number 12 showing on the R&B album charts and became their first Platinum record on the strengths of the title track (#14 R&B), the comical “You Talk Too Much,” and “Can You Rock It Like This,” with the latter two going to number 19 on the R&B charts.
But those two albums were nothing compared to their third album, 1986’s Raising Hell, which produced the group’s famous crossover single, “Walk This Way,” with a special appearance by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. To get a feel for how historic this track was, check this out for size.
“Walk This Way” was the first single to successfully merge rock-&-roll and rap, and for the first time, music critics weren't looking at rap as a “passing fad,” but they looked at the genre as a future force to be reckoned with. “Walk This Way” was the single that officially put hip-hop into the mainstream, and it was a smash across the board, topping out at number four on the Hot 100 and going to number eight on the R&B side of the charts.
Raising Hell’s other three singles, “My Adidas,” (#5 R&B) “You Be Illin’” (#12 R&B/#29 Hot 100) and “It’s Tricky” (#21 R&B/#57 Hot 100) continued to fare well on the R&B side, but not so much on the pop side, but nevertheless, Raising Hell went three-times Platinum, becoming their most successful album, and it seemed like Run-D.M.C. would not give up its title as the best hip-hop group in the land for the foreseeable future.
In 1988, Run-D.M.C. went into the studio to record their fourth album, Tougher Than Leather, and when they released the album in the fall the hip-hop landscape had drastically changed. Though the group was able to get “Run’s House” into the top 10 of the R&B charts, (#10 R&B) their other three singles were disappointments on the charts. This was partially due to the fact that the sound they helped create had evolved, with groups like Public Enemy and N.W.A. taking center stage with their politically charged raps about life in the inner-cities of America.
After 1990’s Back from Hell faltered both creatively and commercially, the group bounced back with 1993’s Down With the King, in which the group tailored their sound to fit the times, and it became their second album to top the R&B charts (Raising Hell was the first). The title track became a hit, but it would be the last for the group, and for the rest of the ‘90s, they would concentrate more on outside affairs.
Jam Master Jay founded JMJ Records in 1993 and had a smash hit on his new label in “Slam” by Onyx, Simmons would become an ordained minister and McDaniels focused on raising a family, but out of the three, he was the one that was still appearing on records, including The Notorious B.I.G’s 1997 album Life After Death.
In 1999, Run-D.M.C. finally went back into the studio to record a new album, but McDaniels was suffering from depression and was also feuding with Simmons, which caused him to sit out most of the recordings in protest. After personal problems caused a two-year delay in the album, Crown Royal was finally released in 2001, and it was a minor hit. On the ensuing world tour of the album, McDaniels came out of his slump and reconciled with Simmons.
But after they returned home, it was unclear of whether or not the group would record again. Simmons was beginning to become weary of hip-hop, and when Jam Master Jay was tragically shot and killed outside of his recording studio on October 30, 2002, Simmons and McDaniels officially call it a career.