100 Greatest Artists

48

Run-DMC

Illustration by Mark Stutzman

Run-DMC were the Beatles of hip-hop — Run and DMC were Lennon and McCartney, and Jam Master Jay was George and Ringo rolled into one. Raising Hell was the first true rap album, a complete work of art as opposed to a collection of singles or a novelty item. It's my favorite album of all time. It incorporated rock, but on rap's terms. Everyone in hip-hop today can be traced back to Run-DMC.

They had a whole new energy that revolutionized hip-hop. Older artists like Grandmaster Flash wore disco-style outfits, were from the Bronx and had a different kind of appeal. Run-DMC were from Hollis, Queens, about 15 minutes from where I lived. Hollis was a suburban, not urban, environment, but Run-DMC dressed more like cats off the street — and 25 years later, most rappers still dress the same way.

When I was doing college radio at WBAU on Long Island, we helped break Run-DMC. They were a model for Public Enemy in that we both made loud, blasting records for arenas, not clubs. They had to yell, because their beats and guitar riffs needed it. You couldn't rap in a low tone over a blaring guitar in an arena.

I was at home in the fall of 2002, and I happened to turn on the TV. Some newscaster said that Jay had been shot and murdered, and I went into shock. Black musicians are not immune to the ills that afflict our community. It's not popular to say, but it's the truth, and we must address it to prevent these tragedies in the future.

One little story: In 1984, I told Jay that I was coming to the Spectrum in Philadelphia to check out the first Fresh Fest tour. When I got to the back gate, I sent a message and asked, could he meet me there? And sure enough, in the middle of a concert in front of 20,000 people, he took time out to walk down the ramp, past security and hit me off with two tickets. He gave me some good seats, too. I was forever grateful. That's who Jay was. He was the type of cat who didn't forget you. And I will never forget him.

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