Over the past 15 years or so, the quality of hip-hop has been on a steady decline. The subject matter has changed drastically from the “golden age” of the ‘80s and ‘90s. This column will take a look at different artists from this era and explore what made them so special.
Hip-hop lyrics used to have deep meanings that make today’s lyrics seem dumbed-down. To formulate a verse was an art form, using various poetic techniques to craft a perfect line, searching for the right word to rhyme and to convey a meaning. It wasn’t easy, but it had depth. Today’s songs lack that intensity.
Run-DMC is arguably the best hip-hop group of all time. They put hip-hop on the map. Every single hip-hop artist out today owes respect to the legendary “devastating mic control” that is Run-DMC.
Run-DMC began in the early ‘80s and helped to pioneer a generation of hip-hop. Vocalists Joseph “Run” Simmonds and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and disc jockey Jason “Jam-Master Jay” Mizzell, brought hip-hop to the mainstream with their funky beats and relatively clean vocal styling that differ greatly from what has become modern hip-hop.
Separating themselves from pop-oriented hip-hop, the members of Run-DMC usually dressed in black leather jackets and their trademark Adidas Superstar sneakers. They even went so far as to write a song about their sneakers appropriately titled “My Adidas” for their groundbreaking album “Raising Hell.” The album gained notoriety because of a cover of the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way,” and it featured members of the band on the track. This cover would go on to become the foundation for what is now called “Nu Metal,” a combination of heavy metal and hip-hop.
Run-DMC characterized hip-hop as two turntables and a microphone. They rapped about social issues and were role models for many. In today’s hip-hop, that raw group dynamic of making music with very little production value is almost unheard of. Nothing can hold the same weight as one of Jam-Master Jay’s mixes. Everything about their performance, both on and off record, has a stripped down, low-fidelity vibe that is absent from today’s music.
Run-DMC’s style of rap didn’t have the intricate lyrical style of other hip-hop heavyweights like Rakim or Big Daddy Kane, but they were profanity-free and contained clean subject matter. The lyrics often had a message of some sort and were usually somewhat comical.
There is a bit of mystery surrounding the name Run-DMC and what it stands for. In several songs, McDaniels raps that it stands for “devastating mic control.” However, McDaniels has stated in interviews that it stands for “never dirty, mostly clean,” which further emphasizes Run-DMC’s clean persona.
Throughout their 20-year career, they experimented with different musical styles, such as rap-rock and new jack swing. Run-DMC managed to release a total of seven albums in their career before breaking up in 2002. Their last album, “Crown Royal,” featured many guests including Nas, Fred Durst and Kid Rock. Due to the graphic content of the guest appearances, the album was the only Run-DMC record to have a parental advisory label for explicit content.
Their break-up occurred after the still-unsolved murder of Jam-Master Jay in a Queens recording studio in late October of 2002. For 10 years, the members of Run-DMC were considered retired. In 2009, Run-DMC became the second hip-hop group, after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, to be accepted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. In 2012, it was announced that Joseph Simmons and Darryl McDaniels would reunite on stage in November for the Fun Fun Fun Fest in Austin, Texas.
Run-DMC led what is now known as the “golden age” of hip-hop. They brought hip-hop to a level that no other artist has been able to repeat. They made it OK for radio DJs to play the new style of music. Run-DMC reached out and turned a countless number of fans on to hip-hop.