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Run-D.M.C. Is Beating the Rap

Three kids from Queens are 'Raising Hell' at their shows. Run-D.M.C. set the record straight on rap music and violence

December 4, 1986
run dmc cover
Run-D.M.C. on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Moshe Brakha

Eyeing a gold Jacuzzi in his $750-a-night suite at the Stouffer airport hotel in Los Angeles, Run, the deffest rapper in the world, exclaims, "Me go to Michael Jackson's for dinner? I just don't know if I'm going. Shit! Who cares? Why should I go? Is his thing really mine?"

Run (Joe Simmons), D.M.C. (Darryl McDaniels, also known as D) and Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) — the trio that has recently injected rap into the American mainstream with its double-platinum album Raising Hell – are blasting the white-gloved Jackson and other glitzy pop stars.

"Kids can look up to us," yells Run, so named because of his motor mouth. "We don't do any dumb shit."

"We don't paint our faces neither," says Jay, 21.

Run, 22, who is careful to distance his group from Boy George and "homo-assed drug takers," says, "Michael wants us to make a record with him, and we don't really want to make a record with Michael. We really dig Barry White." The rappers have discussed collaborating with White, the rotund soul man who had a string of sexy hits in the Seventies.

"Michael's not really us," says Jay.

"He doesn't fit the program," says Darryl, 22. "Michael? If I met Michael Jackson and he had that thing on his face [Jackson's famed surgical mask], I'd rip it off. I've got no germs, man."

"Michael doesn't feel the way I feel," snaps Run, a native of Hollis, a middle-class neighborhood in Queens, New York. "He wants us on his next album. He wants to make a record about crack. We have good rhymes about it because we still see it, we live in the neighborhood still. I've made a lot of money, but I still live in Hollis. It's so funny. I don't have a big mansion and beautiful clothes. I see the crack on the corner. I need to get rid of this thing. Michael probably would like me to lay some of this on his album. Michael writes lyrics, but I write what I think. I see and feel all day."

While their remarks have the same uncompromising grittiness as their music, the tension behind their words reveals that Run-D.M.C. is now at a crossroads. Having broken through to white radio with "Walk This Way," its collaboration with the hard-rock group Aerosmith, Run-D.M.C. must decide how to be pop and streetwise at the same time. Run-D.M.C. also faces another crisis. As its fame has increased, the trio has consistently been associated with violence. A riot between two youth gangs at the Long Beach Arena last August left forty-two people injured. It was the fifth time this past summer that a Run-D.M.C. concert led to mass arrests or serious injuries. Bloody incidents also plagued some theaters showing Krush Groove, the 1985 film in which the group appeared, leading Parents' Music Resource Center spokeswoman Tipper Gore to claim that rappers tell fans, "It's all right to beat people up." While promoters have canceled Run-D.M.C. shows or added to the hysteria with talk of hiring extra security guards for concerts, more dispassionate observers have suggested that the group is getting a bum rap.

Yet the image has stuck. To much of white America, rap means mayhem and bloodletting.

So as Run leaves his penthouse suite to collect a rented black Corvette at the hotel's carport, he looks concerned. He insists that he, D and Jay have come to Los Angeles to promote a truce among warring "gang-bangers," not simply to clean up their image. As Run explains, the group will take phone calls at KDAY, a local radio station, "just so a small beginning can be made to stop gangs, stop drugs. If only one kid turns away from gangs or drugs, we've been successful."

That squeaky-clean image is reinforced outside the hotel when Run encounters a black deputy marshal from the L.A. municipal court. Moving through a group of well-dressed businesswomen to shake Run's hand, the marshal says, "Boy, is my son a fan of yours! All because of you he wants to be a DJ. I just bought him a mixer."

"That's how I started out. DJing and playing basketball," Run coos boyishly, staring at the man's shiny badge and gun. "Give your son the word: DJing is good, it's def. Tell your son you were hanging out with me."

"I will, I will," the marshal says. "My son will go wild about this."

Run's smile broadens once his car arrives. Instead of renting a large silver or gold Mercedes like other members of the Run-D.M.C. entourage, Run prefers the sportier feel of a Corvette. As he dials his wife, Valerie, and his three-year-old daughter, Vanessa, on the car's cellular phone, he says, "I'm a real family man now. I even took them to Europe this summer, and we had a ball. I'm the kind of guy who gets lonely after a show and takes a flight home."

Run chats with Valerie for ten minutes, learning that his daughter spent the day at Belmont Racetrack. He promises to call again later that evening, and that reminds him about Michael Jackson's dinner invitation.

Run knows that it's one thing to scratch, rhyme and scat over Aerosmith's tune, but it's a different move to cross into Jackson's pasteurized pop world. He burrows deeper in the comfy front seat and sighs. "I have to go for a ride to clear the bees out of my head. Later I'll get in the Jacuzzi – that way I can get my brain together. I have to decide if I want to hang out with Michael. I just don't know. I."

Run's last words are lost in a loud vroooom as he puts his foot to the gas and screeches out of the carport.

Run-D.M.C.'s Raps Echo the Sounds of the City, capturing the aggressive boasts and frustrated threats of street-toughened youths. The group's debut album, Run-DM.C. was a bravado-filled jaunt on which Run urgently bragged that he was "the coolest and the baddest." Run-D.M.C. was the first rap album to go gold and the first to have a song featured on MTV. The follow-up LP. King of Rock, was similarly boastful but less stark, as the group drifted into entertaining musicality, adding some reggae riffs and hard-rock guitar.

Raising Hell, the record that's catapulted Run-D.M.C. into the realm of appearances on Saturday Night Live and The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers (they rapped with Rivers), teems with raw messages about the streets, drugs and promiscuity. The huge success of the album – it's the first rap LP to go platinum – and the "Walk This Way" single has caused Run-D.M.C. to soar far beyond hip-hop. With sales of Raising Hell now well over 2 million, Run-D.M.C. has more than mainstream credibility. It is now one of the hottest groups in America.

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