By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
He was right. "It's Like That/ Sucker MCs," which was released in early 1983, was hugely popular and extremely influential. The beats were quite spare and, in many ways, similar to the early rhythms created by other post-Blow rappers. But the vocals of Run and D.M.C. were much more intense than those of their peers, and their words were generally more provocative--especially on "Sucker MCs," a boast-filled slap at rap competitors that laid the groundwork for an entire hip-hop subdivision. Run-D.M.C., released the next year, provided a wider range of material, but what stood out about it was its harshness. Other hip-hoppers were funkier or more socially conscious, but no one was nearly as hard.
If anything, King of Rock was even more aggressive--arguably the edgiest hip-hop album made to that point. But it took producer Rick Rubin, who loved both metal and rap and saw no reason that the styles couldn't cross-pollinate, to push Run-D.M.C. into the commercial mainstream. "Walk This Way," a track from 1986's Raising Hell that pitted Run, D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay against Aerosmith on the latter act's Seventies fave, was a bit of a goof, but it was also an explicit enough blend of styles to get white America's attention. Thanks to saturation airings of the "Walk This Way" clip by MTV, the number became an across-the-boards smash that opened the doors for other hip-hop acts. It quite literally changed the face of pop music, and it provided rappers with the opportunity to make just as much moolah as rock icons. Witness the Raising Hell single "My Adidas," for which the shoe company in the title ponied up more than $1 million to use in advertisements.
Tougher Than Leather, from 1988, was another strong offering, but neither it nor its followup, 1990's Back From Hell, took Run-D.M.C. to a new place; rather, they were recapitulations that seemed a tad tired by comparison with the rap that had appeared in the years since the band's breakthrough. Sales lagged and personal problems multiplied. Jam Master Jay was involved in a serious automobile crash, D.M.C. slid slowly into alcoholism and Run was the subject of a rape charge in Ohio that was ultimately dropped when the woman involved retracted her claims.
Given factors like these, Christianity suddenly looked pretty good--and all three men eventually embraced it. But the gospel that Run delivers in churches in the New York area and beyond does not significantly contradict the gold-chain-wearing image the band propagated during the Eighties. As Run puts it, "My message is a prosperity message--a health-and-wealth message. Some people are preachers, some people are teachers. I'm a teacher, and I teach people in the community about wealth--how to acquire it and keep it and get their whole situation together. I talk about everything, even health insurance and life insurance. It's really deep." He pauses before adding, "I've got tapes that get into the whole thing."
He also has Down With the King, which manages to pump out the occasional Christian message without turning into a drag. The offering benefits from the contributions of a truly all-star cast, including Q-Tip, Pete Rock, Erick Sermon and Rage Against the Machine's Tom Morello, whose guitar decorates "Big Willie." So solid is the effort that hip-hop aficionados were able to overlook its occasional efforts at religious recruitment; Down went gold, and the title cut became a sizable hit.
Since then, Run has lain low, but he hasn't been invisible. He's overseen Christian releases on his Rev Run imprint (one of his groups appeared in the Whitney Houston flick The Preacher's Wife), and he was part of "World So Cruel," a successful single and video by Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. As this last credit implies, Run does not share the Christian viewpoints espoused by right-wing critics of rap's alleged excesses. When asked if he feels that collectives like the Wu-Tang Clan should be taken to task for glorifying criminality and violence in their songs, he responds, "I don't have a problem with that. I listen to it like it's a movie. I mean, do I have a problem with them making a movie of Bonnie and Clyde? Do I have a problem with some of the movies Arnold Schwarzenegger makes? No. They're telling a story, and that's all there is to it."
In other words, Run may be a self-righteous man, but not when it comes to the subject of dollars and cents. "I know who I am, and that's a rapper," he says. "People say to me, 'You're a reverend now. You're not a rapper anymore.' And I'm like, 'Are you crazy?' I'm a reverend, too, but I know what pays my bills, I know what I do best, and I know what I've sold millions of records doing. I'm a reverend because it's good for my soul, but I rap for a living."
Run-D.M.C. 9 p.m. Saturday, March 8, Boulder Theater, 2030 14th Street, $16.50-$19.50, 830-