This Thursday at 9 p.m., hip-hop legends Run-DMC are scheduled to give a free concert in Goodrich Hall. The opening acts are to include Sol Ka Fe, a new breakdancing group on campus, a freestyling session with MCs including Darren Schluter ’01, Andre McKenzie ’01 and Will Gilyard ’02, and Josh Burns ’02 as the DJ. This event will be the most all-encompassing hip-hop experience on the Williams campus in recent memory.
Run-DMC released their first album, entitled Run-DMC, in 1984. The album was distributed under the Def Jam record label, which is owned and directed by Russell Simmons, brother of Reverend Run (Joseph Simmons), the lead MC in Run-DMC. During the mid-eighties the Def Jam label brought hip-hop from the parks and playgrounds of the Bronx, Queens and Harlem into the public eye. Other major acts that the label discovered – and in some cases, created – included The Fat Boys, L. L. Cool J and the Beastie Boys.
The lead single off of Run-DMC was “It’s Like That.” This track expressed a perspective on life common in lower and middle income neighborhoods in Reagan-era New York City, emphasizing the amount of work and focus it takes not to end up like the bum on the corner, saying:
“You should have gone to school, you could’ve learned a trade
But you laid in the bed where the bums have laid
Now all the time you’re crying that you’re underpaid
It’s like that (what?) and that’s the way it is.
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 (what?) and that’s the way it is.”
In 1985, this album was followed by King Of Rock, hip-hop’s first gold record, and the group’s fame was secured. The film Krush Groove was released soon after. This ’80s B-movie told the story of the Def Jam label and starred Blair Underwood as Russell Simmons and Run-DMC, as well as the rest of Def Jam’s stable of artists as themselves.
By 1986, Run-DMC were on top of the hip-hop world. However, the hip-hop world was far smaller than it is today. MTV, now in its seventh year, had yet to play a video by a black artist other than Michael Jackson. All that changed with Run-DMC’s third and possibly greatest effort, Raising Hell. Def Jam producer Rick Rubin realized that a hip-hop artist had yet to record a cover song and suggested to the band that they consider a collaboration with Aerosmith. Walk This Way was born out of the partnership. The music video featured Aerosmith and Run-DMC trading verses, at first at odds with each other and later onstage, singing and rapping together. The first reactions MTV received were angry and threatening. Many white Boston Aerosmith fans sent hate mail, lambasting the network for both allowing rap music on the air and allowing it to “ruin” a rock and roll classic. But soon enough, the video made Raising Hell hip-hop’s first platinum record.
Endless hits followed off of this classic LP. The video for “It’s Tricky” featured magician-comedians Penn & Teller. Before the term “crossover” was popular, Run-DMC reached a broad audience by working with popular cultural icons. At one concert on a tour in 1986, Russell Simmons invited an executive from Adidas to watch the show backstage. Near the beginning of the show, Run asked the audience to take off their shell-toe Adidas sneakers and wave them in the air. Then to the crowd creating waves in a sea of sneakers, Run-DMC broke into yet another one of their hit singles, “My Adidas.” By the time the concert had ended, the shoe company executive had signed the band to an endorsement deal.
The song “My Adidas” encapsulated the Run-DMC sound and look. The MCs, Run and D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniels), traded rhymes and finished lines for each other over a very primal beat laid down by Jammaster Jay (Jason Mizell). The lyrics describe their famous dress code: Adidas sneakers with black denim pants and jackets and fedoras on top:
“Funky fresh and yes cold on my feet
with no shoe string in em, I did not win em
I bought em off the Ave with the black Lee denim
… we took the beat from the street and put it on TV
my Adidas are seen on the movie screen
Hollywood knows we’re good if you know what I mean,
we started in the alley, now we chill in Cali
and I won’t trade my Adidas for no beat up Ballys.”
After Raising Hell, Run-DMC produced four more albums, but nonetheless faded from the center of the hip-hop spotlight. N.W.A.’s Straight Out Of Compton introduced the nation to gangsta rap and the glorification of violence in hip-hop, selling plenty of records along the way. Run-DMC’s final effort to date, Down With The King, is generally regarded as having closed off the decade in solid form.
In recent years, however, there has been an old-school resurgence which has benefited Run-DMC and the rest of the hip-hop world. In 1997, Jason Nevins remixed “It’s Like That” to a much faster beat with house music influences. There is even a planned re-recording of “It’s Tricky” involving another collaboration with Aerosmith. Thursday’s concert will show Williams whether the group is back for real, or whether they are simply surviving on their well-deserved fame.
The acts that will set the stage for Run-DMC on Thursday relate to and will complement the band, giving the audience a deeper, fleshier view of hip-hop, which is not only a genre of music, but an entire culture that includes music as one of its vital forms of expression. The four elements of hip-hop are DJ-ing, MC-ing, breakdancing and grafitti writing; all of them value expression in their respective forms of musical composition, writing, dancing and visual art. The opening acts will present three of these elements, as performed by Williams students, and should help introduce the crowd to hip-hop before three of its founding fathers take the stage.