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Q&A: Run-D.M.C. Answers a Bum Rap

The rap trio comes into its own with its latest platinum album, ‘Raising Hell’

Run-D.M.C.

Run-D.M.C. circa 1986

Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

With the success of Run-D.M.C.’s third album, rap has come of age. Raising Hell is both the first rap LP to go platinum and the first to enter the Top Ten on Billboard‘s pop chart. And after some initial resistance from AOR stations, the album’s second single, a hip-hopping remake of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way,” is becoming a crossover hit with the help of heavy play on MTV. Run-D.M.C. has been able to go where no rappers have gone before, in part because the group has created such a smart, accessible blend of rap and rock. The excitement of this breakthrough has been dampened, however, by incidents of violence during and after several concerts. After Run-D.M.C.’s June 28th show in Pittsburgh, the mayor called for a movement to ban all rock concerts. During the group’s July 24th concert in Atlanta, there was an extended brawl. Onstage, Joe “Run” Simmons tried to cool things down. “Fuck the fight,” he told the crowd, “the real fight’s up here!” Later, backstage, the group — Run, 21, Darryl “D” McDaniels, 21, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, 21 — sat down to talk.

Do you ever feel any responsibility for the violence at your concerts?
RUN: My little self, I don’t tell anybody, “Go do crime.” I don’t rap about doing crime. I have nothing to do with crime. Crime was here before I was born. And rap was here, too.

Have you tightened security at shows?
JAY: We spend a lot of our money on policemen out there …
RUN: … to make sure our fans are safe! Our fans aren’t the ones doing it. Those are the rough guys that say it’s payday.

Last time you played New York there was some trouble. What about this time?
RUN: Nothing happened. It was such a nice concert.
D: Nothing happened inside at all.

What about outside?
D: If that’s the case, they should be afraid to come outside.
RUN: And they should definitely be scared to go to rock concerts where people get killed.
D: Like at the Who concert.

So what would you say to someone who’s afraid to go to your concerts?
RUN: I’d tell them it doesn’t happen a whole lot. Go with friends. Don’t be stupid. Everybody knows when there’s a gang of motherfuckers on the corner down there, you turn on Twenty-third if they’re on Twenty-fourth. They’re trying to blame it on rap. Why not? They tried to dish rock & roll at the start.
D: They’re saying that the music makes them do this. But when we talk on our record, we talk about good things: Go to school, don’t do drugs. It ain’t like we’re saying, “After the concert, go out there, get all the gold and snatch the ladies’ purses.”
RUN: For people who say that’s what we’re talking about, I say, “Why don’t you sit down and listen to what we’re talking about?”

With Reagan in the White House, it’s not the greatest time to be a young black in America. Do you feel pressure to be role models?
RUN: It’s tough. We made a record, Hard Times. It’s an inspirational record: “Hard times are coming to your town/Stay alert don’t let them get you down/Hard times can take you on a natural trip/But keep your balance and don’t you slip.” The kids listen to us before they listen to the teachers. So we give them a lesson — we tell them go to school, be cool like Run, this is what Run does.

Are you surprised Raising Hell went platinum?
RUN: Not very surprised.
JAY: Put it like this: We knew we went gold twice, and both of those albums couldn’t touch this one.

Why did you decide to remake an FM rock staple like “Walk This Way”?
RUN: We also made “Rock Box” and “King of Rock.” The reason we made those records — with heavy-metal guitar — is because a long time ago, before rap records were even made, there was a lot of disco being played on the radio. Rappers didn’t have anything to rap over. We had to search for old rock records. We used to scratch the record “Walk This Way.” We didn’t care about the vocals, the guitars or nothin’. We knew that the start of this record hit hard enough for us to rap over. Then when we made this album we said, “Let’s use ‘Walk This Way.'” And Rick Rubin, one of our producers, said, “Let’s make it over, just call those guys.” So we talked to them. We didn’t know the name of the record back then. We just said, “Get the Aerosmith out.” And we showed them what we used to do to their record, and they were amazed.

How conscious an attempt to cross over was that single?
JAY: When we first started doing shows, our managers had us going to punk-rock clubs, which we sold out. We were like something new that came out. So we feel we had a lot of rock fans anyway. And as businessmen, it’s only right for us to expand. So when we were making our all-beat records, and the rock people liked it, we said, “Hey, let’s give them something that they might like even more.”

You’ve been able to get on AOR stations, but lots of black acts haven’t. In general, what do you think of the state of radio?
RUN: In general, it’s fucked up. We think music is music. They characterize it as “white” music and “black” music and “pop” music. We just say we like music, good music. It’s not like we attempted to cross over or nothing like that. Any station that wants to play us, it’s just music.

What are your plans now?
RUN: After the tour, we’re starting a movie called Tougher Than Leather.

Can you tell us a little about it?
RUN: It’s gonna be really hectic. At the start of the movie we’re on tour. You see us backstage, and we have a funny guy who works for us named Runny Ray. You love Runny Ray. The next thing you know he comes into the promoter’s room like this, and he sees somebody get shot. And he tries to leave, and they grab him, and boom, they kill Runny Ray. And a guy says, “Why’d you shoot the guy?” “Just another dead nigger.” This is what the white guy says. They plant a gun on him. They put drugs on him. The cops find him — say it’s drug related, it’s his fault. So for the rest of the movie, they don’t give a fuck about us. So we become Run-D.M.C. the detectives…. Best movie in the world!

Does the movie have to be so violent?
RUN: It has to be violent because it has to be violent. We don’t want anyone to shoot anybody over this. [Screaming] We want you to feel sorry for poor Runny Ray!

Do you hear the influence of rap on pop?
RUN: We’re the first guys who made a record with only drums. Now there are musicians that don’t respect us, coming out stealing…. I’m talking about Tears for Fears coming in with “Shout,” and I’m sure it’s a rap tune. Janet Jackson, for instance, with “Nasty” — “GIVE ME A BEAT” — it’s a rap record! And don’t tell me it’s not, because I’ll tell you all day that she stole this from us. If you can take this incredibly dynamic music and put singing over it, you’re good to go. You ain’t got no beef with the critics that don’t like rap. But I’m still fighting.
JAY: All the people who do steal from us, it’s just good when they play that type of stuff on pop stations, ’cause that’s just going to let us be accepted. And once we get our foot in the door …
RUN: … we’re not letting it out! 

In This Article: Coverwall, Raising Hell, Run-D.M.C.

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