Run-DMC: The hip-hop pioneers no longer raising hell

Sunday 1st August 1993

One of the most important groups in the evolution of rap, Run-DMC have now turned to Christ. George Luke reports.


The last 18 months have seen quite a number of once-big acts either re-forming or making comebacks. The Velvet Underground, Donald Fagen, Chic, Sister Sledge...the list goes on and on. But when one of hip-hop's most influential groups announced their relaunch early this year, it was a spiritual relaunch as well as a musical one. The cover of February's issue of the rap fan's Bible, The Source, had a photograph of Run-DMC, with the words "BORN AGAIN" underneath.

"When all else fails, try religion" has always been an unwritten rule of rock 'n' roll, and the news of Joe Simmons (aka Run) and Daryl (DMC) McDaniels' conversion to Christianity was greeted with varying degrees of cynicism from Christians and non-Christians alike. However, it shouldn't be completely dismissed, especially considering the fact that traditionally the religion most rappers tend to turn to is Islam.

Run-DMC's spiritual rebirth marks the end of a series of personal problems which all struck at around the same time, and threatened to pull the group apart. By the late 80s, their place at the top of the rap hierarchy was well and truly established; they had been the only rap group to appear on Live Aid and their '86 LP, 'Raising Hell', had made them the first rap group to have a gold, then a platinum and then a double platinum album. They'd secured a sponsorship deal with Adidas and their semi-biographical movie 'Krush Groove' (which went straight to video in the UK) was hot property. Then almost as quickly as success came, things began to go wrong.

Hip-hop was, and still is, constantly evolving and by the end of the decade, Run-DMC were becoming passé. Young rap fans were beginning to go off the gold chain wearing boasters in favour of the more down to earth guys who showed off their black roots and culture, as well as to the more sinister gangsters, and acts such as Public Enemy, De La Soul and NWA quickly gained ground. Slowly, Run-DMC were being dethroned, as they had dethroned the likes of Grandmaster Melle Mel and Kurtis Blow five years earlier.

A second film, 'Tougher Than Leather', had a poor response (although the soundtrack album made it to the top 20) and the follow up, 'Back From Hell' and a song on the soundtrack of 'Ghostbusters 2' both failed to ignite. In the midst of all this, Run started suffering from prolonged bouts of depression. Run's mood change was too much for Daryl to handle and in order to cope with it he began to drink heavily. Drinking more and more, and eating less and less, it wasn't too long before D found himself battling with/alcoholism.

Both Run and DMC have on several occasions credited God with delivering them from the low spots their lives had hit. And although they say they aren't a 'Christian' rap group, their newest offering 'Down With The King' does include a gospel message, especially the title track, which, despite what the title suggests, isn't a republican anthem, but a song about hero worship. On it, two younger rappers, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, talk about how well they relate to (are 'down with', in hip-hop lingo) their heroes Run-DMC, who in turn talk about how they are 'down with' their hero, Jesus. Quite a change for a group which once boasted that it was "better to reign in hell than to serve in heaven"!

Although hip-hop was already up and running when Run-DMC made their debut in 1983, Run-DMC's contribution to it can only be described as massive. When they recorded "Walk This Way" with Aerosmith in '86, not only was it a big hit for them, it helped revive Aerosmith's careers too (unfortunately) and the rap/rock fusion has been much copied since. Public Enemy teamed up with Anthrax, while on the CCM front, PID joined forces with Torniquet, and more recently, DOC with Bride.

While every rap act on the planet is queuing up to duet with Shabba Ranks, back in the early 80s Run-DMC duetted with Yellowman and can thereby claim to have set another precedent. In addition, the success of "Walk This Way" was one factor (Michael Jackson's "Thriller" being another) which led to MTV's transformation from the all-white rock dominated institution it was in its early days to the more cosmopolitan affair it is today.

In the months and years that follow, no doubt all eyes will be on Run-DMC to see how solid their convictions really are. In the meantime I would just like to say, "welcome to the family, guys!" CR

The opinions expressed in this article are not necessarily those held by Cross Rhythms. Any expressed views were accurate at the time of publishing but may or may not reflect the views of the individuals concerned at a later date.
About George Luke
George Luke is music editor for the black arts magazine Artrage and lives in London


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