In planning and plotting our comeback, Rap Sheet has been unleashing some of the greatest articles written about some of the greatest Rap Music Icons.
Unfortunately, many of our greatest Legends have joined the great beyond. And, one of Rap Sheet head man Darryl James’ favorite groups, Run DMC, lost their DJ, Jason Mizel, aka Jam Master Jay. Now, on RapSheet.com, read a piece written by Darryl James about the Legendary Three Man Crew from Hollis Queens, featuring an interview with the late Jam Master Jay.
“I’m the reason you started rhyming I’m the reason Rap sales started climbing That’s why I’m still headlining I’m the king and before I leave you cats gonna learn Yeah, y’all ni–gas wanna burn, wait your turn Run, I’m a living legend My suggestion is learn your lesson I leave you stressing confessing The deafest reverend for blessing And whatever your impression it better be That we’re the top pedigree Bringing y’all energy since ‘83”
Run’s rhymes from Crown Royal, Run
DMC’s eighth album
We always felt like this shit was for everyone anyway, says Jay.Russell taught us that from the beginning. Our first show was at a high school in North Carolina with all Black kids, and the next show was older–whites, with maybe one or two Black people. We were going downtown Manhattan playing Rock clubs from the very beginning, and we didn’t have a preference. We didn’t care if it was a Rock audience or a Black audience because they both were rocking.
Those words, penned by Joseph Simmons, aka Reverend Run, may seem very arrogant, and in fact, they are. But the content is absolutely true for many Rap artists who were fans of Run DMC and inspired by their favorite group to become artists themselves. Even artists like Salt-n-Pepa openly admitted that they got into the game to be female versions of Run DMC. Run is arrogant about his group’s contribution to the art form, but just like with any other genre, the veterans, the pioneers of the art form have to be respected for what they contributed. Unfortunately, the Rap music industry is not smart enough to protect it’s own icons. In 1993, Run DMC had been away for awhile, and were preparing to come back with Down With The King. They had been in the game for ten years, but people were saying that they couldn’t make it happen because they had been away so long. Despite the naysayers, Run DMC made a real comeback. That album, their seventh, sold respectably and the group continued to tour.
Fast forward six years later. Now with more than fifteen years in the game, Run DMC are preparing to release their eighth album, and once again, the naysayers are squawking. Damn. If this were an old school Rock group, there would be no questions about their ability to still rock crowds and make music relevant to an entirely new generation while delivering music that will be embraced by generations already familiar with the name and importance of the group. But this isn’t Rock, and urban fans and the urban music industry are always harder on their artists than any other art form. After more than fifteen years in the game, there should be nothing but love and support for anything that comes from such a stellar act.
I open up the interview by querying their preparation for re-entering a game that has evolved many times over the past six years. “Since 1983 we’ve been on tour,” says Jason Mizel aka Jam Master Jay, the most vocal deejay (a true and original deejay, not today’s recording artist/deejay) in Hip Hop. “We’ve been on the road, and we feel like we aren’t even coming back. We feel like we never went anywhere. We’ve done 200 shows since ‘93, and ain’t no Rapper who can say he’s done that. No one can say they have seen as many people as we’ve seen. “For us, we know what our real fan base is. We don’t even hear what you are talking about.” It’s fortunate, I reflect, that they haven’t heard all the bullshit I’ve been hearing, but it’s also not too surprising. Generally, detractors are not fans of the art form, but merely self appointed music critics and journalists who have no intrinsic historical perspective and no genuine love and understanding of this art form. Without those things, it’s ludicrous for heads to comment. But yet they do. After sixteen years of “mackin’ mics and making men of ‘em” Run DMC can not hear the whispers of bitch-ass music industry fools who detract, because they are drowned amid the screams of the real fans of the group and of the art form.
“For us to tell you how we are going to prepare for it is hard,” says Jay, “because our fans are saying something different. When we say ‘How many of y’all wanna hear a new Run DMC album,’ motherf–kers are screaming loud. “We can also tell by our peers–other Rappers, and all the love we’ve been getting from other Rappers who want to be on our album. We’re just doing our thing. “As far as the way the money flows–If Run didn’t just buy a Bentley last week, I’d feel like we’re on a comeback. Our pockets are more full and life is just real good for us. It’s just gonna reflect on this album.” Jay says that being on a comeback is not even the correct description because they have still been bringing the noise to their fans. The idea of keeping a current album to be relevant really makes no sense to this group, who will bring an album when it is time. That album will simply be a reflection of what they deal with day to day, which means that an album could have been constructed at any given point in time while they were touring. “It’s always the same for us,” Jay says. “Even when we didn’t do albums, we had albums in us. What we’re bringing, we’ve been bringing since day one. Run is gonna talk about what’s in his life now, D is gonna do the same, and I’m gonna put the beats down. Will it be the same basic formula Run DMC fans have been getting since 1983? Jay’s quick response is “That’s all we know how to do.” Jay, Run and Darryl McDaniels aka DMC, standing as both artists and as fans themselves of the art form they helped move into the Pop arena, have seen many many trends and several generations of Rap and Rappers come and go. There would be pressure for some artists to make attempts to fit into whatever is current, but this group feels none.
“We don’t even see ourselves fit in, we see ourselves at the top of the pile,” Jay says confidently. “The lyrics are so hot. When I play it for my friends, and from the couple of songs we got flowing in the streets now, I’m just getting crazy positive feedback.” Confidence in is the mix for real. But these are really humble guys when it comes down to it. Outside of the music they make, they are not shouting from the rooftops that they are pioneers, or legends, even though they are. Jazz has it’s Dizzy Gillespie and Ella Fitzgerald, R&B has Marvin Gaye and Rock has The Rolling Stones. Twenty years after the first commercial Rap record, this art form has legends, and Run DMC is one. Each of these icons did amazing things for the image of their art form. Run DMC has done so much for the image of Rap, that they would almost have to come back and outdo themselves. The group is well aware of what they need to do. “We’re talking about that in the rhymes on this album,” says Jay. “You got a couple of new cats who don’t know about Run DMC. They’re not checking for us until they hear something new. We have to teach them about us. “We’re gonna step in there with the music style, because it flows. Music is music. After the music is banging, then they wanna know what you’re talking about.” Jay can say music is music, but that has to be placed in perspective. Music without commentary really is just music. But music placed in the middle of an album review or subjected to an ignorant writer is not just music. When Run DMC made ground-breaking cuts like “Walk This Way,” which made the segregation in the music charts look stupid, they were accused of crossing over as though it were a crime. Run completely ignored the stupidity, and in an historical perspective, he completely denies that they ever caught hell for crossing over. “Nobody was mad at us,” insists Run. “I heard nothing but rave reviews for Raising Hell. ‘My Adidas’ was on Raising Hell. I don’t think people were mad at ‘Walk This Way,’ because ‘You Be Illin’ was on that album. ‘Peter Piper’ was on that album. That Pop song did what it did, but the streets were so covered. I just don’t remember a time during Raising Hell
when people were mad.” With that perspective it’s easy to see why the group wouldn’t remember. How could they even see the ignorance of a few writers when they were getting so much love from the streets while touring or simply while walking down the street?
There was a time in the mid to late eighties when people would talk shit about a Rap act simply because they crossed over and had white fans. But there is a very simple explanation for Run DMC’s difficulty in remembering those fools. Jay explains that “The reason why we have a hard time remembering when people were mad was because we always had white fans. The first show we did was full of Black people at a high school. The second show we did was full of white people at The Danceteria. If people were mad at people for having white fans, they would have been mad at us from the beginning.” Run is now alive with excitement and the verbs are shooting from him excitedly as he recalls that “‘Rock Box’ (1983) was a Black record and white people grabbed it and loved it too. We went from ‘It’s Like That,’ and ‘Hard Times’ to ‘Rock Box.’ ‘Rock Box’ was a Black record and then King of Rock was a Black record. By the time we did ‘Walk This Way,’ we had already established that we did Rap over Rock music.” I have to clarify before there is any confusion over my intent. I am merely attempting to outline the simple historical fact that Run DMC brought in the fans of all colors in droves and kept them there, doing more for stabilizing the art form than perhaps any other act before or since. “I remember those times when people said we were selling out because we had white fans,” says Jay, “but I also understand why Run doesn’t remember–because we were the hot boys of that time.”
“I also know that the people who were saying that–we didn’t care about,” adds Run. “That album had so many major big hits in the hood that we were too hot. We love the Rock shit we did anyway, that it was like ‘F–k y’all.’ “Whoever said that was way out of touch, some old country bumpkin people.” In 1999, sixteen years after the first Run DMC record, we can look at the Hip Hop audience and realize that it has changed so much. It changed because of groups like Run DMC taking the art to everyone. “We always felt like this shit was for everyone anyway,” says Jay. “Russell taught us that from the beginning. Our first show was at a high school in North Carolina with all Black kids, and the next show was older–whites, with maybe one or two Black people. We were going downtown Manhattan playing Rock clubs from the very beginning, and we didn’t have a preference. We didn’t care if it was a Rock audience or a Black audience because they both were rocking. “We do our same show anyway, but by the time we came with ‘Rock Box,’ we opened up MTV. That was the first Rap video they played.” The group already had white fans, but the Rock fans were off the hook by the time they delivered ‘Rock Box,’ and ‘King of Rock,’ two singles that brought white and Black fans together to listen to the same music. And while bringing divergent audiences together, Run DMC witnessed some tension in the early days. Run recalls that “a lot of Black guys and a lot of white guys would show up and a there would be tension. We had to say ‘hold up, this is all about unity. We had to say that a few times, especially down south, because our white fan base had gotten so big that some of the shows were like fifty fifty.” Reverend Run says that he saw whites begin to respond to their music like it was something they could relate to and actually do, especially since it was being played over Rock. “They knew they couldn’t do the KRS-One shit,” says Run. Once the floodgates were open, non-Blacks began to check out other Rap acts.
The emergence of Public Enemy on the East Coast and NWA on the West Coast witnessed a new fringe audience for the art form that began to take it to gold and platinum status on a regular basis. Props have to go to acts like Run DMC, who along with Public enemy, made it their business to tour, peaking worldwide interest in the art form. Run DMC has not made an album since 1993, yet, they have done two hundred shows over the last year. And they are still expanding the outer edges of the Rap market. “Right now, we’re on tour with Limp Biskit,” says Run. “That’s all white people. We’re talking one hundred thousand people in a week. “We’ve also played at colleges where four years ago, the people were freshmen, but now that they are seniors, they bring us back to show the new faces what they know. We’ve been doing shows for people who never get to see a Hip Hop show.” In 1999, after twenty years, we have old school heads who are still around. We still have Kurtis Blow and Grandmaster Flash, but with the likes of LL Cool J and Run DMC, we have old school heads who are keeping it fresh with the new school. Jam Master Jay says that their last album was a measuring stick to see if they could continue to have longevity.
“With Down With The King,” he explains, “we needed to make a determination of whether Hip Hop could have stars like Stevie Wonder. Can we have a Rolling Stones in Hip Hop? The life expectancy of a Rap artist is one to two albums over two to three years, and they are gone. We established with the last album that Rap could have stars, because we’ve been working for the last six years off of that album. “With the new album, it’s gonna take us to the next level. We already have the hits on this album. I got a hit with Method Man screaming on it. I got a hit with Nas blazing. I already got a song with Limp Bizkit for the Rock heads. We already have classics.” Crown Royal, album number eight for Run DMC is based on the idea that the group has already proven itself as kings of this artform. Now the program is to continue and build on that existence. As far as emcees, no one should doubt their ability to return because Run and DMC are from an era of true emcees, and they have always been true emcees. “On Crown Royal the single,” Run explains, “it’s vintage Run DMC, yet we’re spitting brand new. It’s the perfect record for what we’re doing.” “The beat is mad dramatic and new,” Jay chimes in. “You got D spitting vintage shit, and Run saying ill shit.” The only outside producer on the album was Kid Rock, who produced the single he appeared on. Everything else was straight from the group itself. The group is more focused on this album, too.
When they made Down With The King, DMC had just finished beating the shit out of alcoholism and had taken a new wife, Run had just become a reverend and JMJ was doing double duty as head of JMJ Records, home to Onyx and Jayo Felony among others. Now, they are each settled into what they first embraced–being Run DMC. They keep their family and private lives private, and while Jam Master Jay still puts groups on, he simply delivers them to other entities, as opposed to taking time away from Run DMC to be a record executive. “It was hard to be focused on my other things, so I let the groups do what they want to do. I got groups now that are about to come out. Fifty Cents is my act. I just let the guys who do the record business thing do the record business thing. I will just develop them and produce them and give them away.”