Hip-Hop of The 80’s: Run-D.M.C.

Hip-Hop of The 80’s: Run-D.M.C.

When it comes to legends in the rap game, there is no name bigger than that of Run-D.M.C. They were the pioneers that set hip-hop on a collision course with the mainstream media and ushered in what is considered by many to be the Golden Age of Hip-Hop, not just with their music but with their street-inspired fashion sense as well. Fedoras, gold chains and laceless Adidas replaced the disco-centric days of tight leather and open silk shirts that showed off your chest hair.

The glam was replaced by urban b-boy attitude and it would set the tone of the hip-hop aesthetic for the next 25 years. They broke nearly every musical boundary and (like the Neil Armstrongs of rap) were the first to do…pretty much everything. First rap act to grace the covers of Rolling Stone magazine, the first rap act to be nominated for a Grammy and the first rap artists with gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums (and that’s just to name a few). So, as we take this journey back into the past, there is no better place to start than with Run-D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay. This is Hip-Hop of The 80’s

So, as we take this journey back into the past, there is no better place to start than with Run-D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay. This is Hip-Hop of The 80’s


The Origins

Run–D.M.C. - My Adidas-Peter Piper

Run-D.M.C. consisted of three members that all grew up in Hollis, Queens (a borough of New York City). Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and Jason “Jam Master Jay” epitomised the relationship between the MC and DJ. Joseph was introduced to hip-hop through his older brother, Russel after he recruited him to be a DJ for ladies man rapper, Kurtis Blow. He would go by the name ‘DJ Run, Son of Kurtis Blow’ before eventually joining him on stage as a performer.

Darryl first turned to DJ-ing after he purchased a set of turntables but began writing rhymes under the name ‘Easy D’ after Joseph convinced him to start rapping. Jason was already gaining notice when he started entertaining people in the park under the DJ alias ‘Jazzy Jase’ and the trio became fast friends after Joseph and Darryl rapped for the aspiring DJ.

It was Russel that would eventually get Joseph behind the mic to record a few singles but refused, at first, to let him record with Darryl, claiming that he didn’t like Easy D’s rhyming style. His mind would change a year later and agreed to record the duo on condition that Easy D change his name in order to market them as Run-D.M.C. Both rappers despised the name at first but nevertheless, they recruited Jason (who now officially called himself Jam Master Jay) soon after college and thus, the world’s greatest rap group was born.


The Music

Forget Rage Against The Machine, forget Limp Bizkit and even forget Linkin Park. Run-D.M.C. were the true originators of rap rock. Their eponymous debut in 1984 produced the groundbreaking single Rock Box, a track that fused raw hip-hop and hard rock with whaling leads and distorted guitar riffs supplied by Eddie Martinez. The song’s music video was the first ever rap video to air on MTV and led to the group’s first platinum certification.

1985 saw Run-D.M.C. further emphasise their rap-rock fusion with their second album, King Of Rock, and in 1986 they teamed up with producer, Rick Rubin for their third album, Raising Hell. This one, in particular, is still considered to be the group’s most successful release and one of the greatest rap albums of all time.

Walk This Way

No one alive in the eighties could forget the ultra super mega smash hit that was Walk This Way, a cover of the Aerosmith classic. It not only featured vocals by Steven Tyler but guitar work from Joe Perry himself (members of Aerosmith) and contributed heavily to the resurrection of the rock band’s career as well. It’s crazy to think that these icons of classic rock played such a key role in the development of hip-hop culture. Raising Hell‘s sweeping success marked the beginning of hip-hop’s Golden Age as the cultures visibility reached the audiences of mainstream pop music and paved the way for emerging acts like LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys.

Unfortunately, Run-D.M.C. would fail to match the success of their third album with subsequent releases. In 1988 they brought out Tougher Than Leather, an album that saw them do away with their rap rock roots in favour of more sample-based production. It was considered to be a disappointing follow-up and amidst the downward trend, they released Back To hell in 1990 which earned the group their worst review to date. It was a failed plan to re-invent themselves musically by incorporating elements of new-jack swing and some very “preachy” lyrics.

(Don’t) Walk This Way!

Their recent failures left the trio with an overwhelming uncertainty of their professional careers and led the group to take a three-year hiatus, during which time Run and D.M.C. joined the church to try and bring some peace into their lives. The world of rap would seemingly go on without them until their return to the scene in 1993 with the album, Down With The King. Both the album and the single would go platinum and gold respectively, but the song itself would sadly be their last hit single.

Although they continued to tour, they released very little new material as the relationship between the two leading members began to strain, stemming from the fact that they both wanted to push the group forward in a different musical direction. A curse that has struck many bands before them. The result of this bad blood was an album called, Crown Royal which featured D.M.C. on only three tracks (various other artists, including Nas and Method Man, lent their voices instead).

R.I.P. Jam Master Jay

Jam Master Jay Mural, 5 Pointz
Jam Master Jay Mural Memorial
18 Months after the release of Crown Royal, Jam Master Jay was gunned down in his recording studio in Queens. The case has never been solved and his homicide echoes many other unsolved murders in hip-hop, including the deaths of 2pac and Notorious B.I.G. This tragedy would mark the end for Run-D.M.C. and the two MCs would retire the moniker for good before inevitably pursuing solo projects.


Where Are They Now?

In 2009, Run-D.M.C. were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making them the second rap act to receive this honour behind Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five. After devoting himself entirely to his faith Joseph adopted the moniker ‘Rev. Run’ and continued to pursue his religious practices while raising his family, all of whom appeared in the reality series Run’s House which aired from 2005 to 2009.

D.M.C. continued to produce a lot of solo work including the album Checks, thugs and Rock n Roll. Most notable is his 2014 venture into the world of comic books with the launch of his own publishing imprint, Darryl Makes Comics and the release of its first 90-page graphic novel entitled, DMC.

The duo has since popped up on stages here and there, both together and apart, but I know one thing for sure. No matter where the remaining two members go, they will always be remembered for their astonishing contributions to the art and the great strides they made that helped shape the culture

Are you a fan of Run-D.M.C.? Or have any more questions about them and their amazing story? Feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.


Ryan C. Voller, Recording Artist – Producer – Lead Contributor for HowToMakeHip-Hop.com


Run-D.M.C.'s Shoes and Glasses - Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (2014-12-30 13.15.11 by Sam Howzit)
The iconic shoes and glasses worn by Run-D.M.C.

Click here to get Run-D.M.C. on iTunes

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8 thoughts on “Hip-Hop of The 80’s: Run-D.M.C.

  1. Mark Lerul

    Sounds like the RUN-DMC crew was a great deal you know. I’d been hearing about them from my daddy but I thought they were just some little boy band on the streets. Now I see how much inspiration they had. But what happened to Jam master jay actually? I believe on the streets, people know themselves. How could he be murdered and nobody knows who killed him? Anyways I guess that’s just how things turned out. Things are definitely no longer the same like before. Perfect write up though

    1. Ryan

      Whadup, Mark.

      It’s true you don’t hear much about them, that’s why it’s important the younger generation of fans and artists remember where the origins of their craft came from. Thanks for leaving your comment

  2. Andrew D

    You could not have hit the nail more on the head here. Man, this era cultivated the entirety that hip hop divulged into during the following two decades up to today.
    The fact that people and young people still know who Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash, Tribe Called Quest and all them cats are truly speaks to the level of music they created.
    I am a producer and model my style and technique of the hip hop of the late 80s and early 90s.
    Run-DMC created a movement! Praise!!!!

    1. Ryan

      Whaddup, Andrew.

      I’m glad to hear there are producers out there still embracing their roots. Legends like these should never be forgotten.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

  3. Keith

    In many ways I feel that the early days of hip-hop is way better than much of the comparable music made today.
    I personally am a rock fan. But I have a genuine appreciation for Run-D.M.C. Especially since they could genre twist a classic Aerosmith song and improve on it massively. Who even remembers the original Aerosmith song after the cover came out.

    1. Ryan

      Whaddup, Keith.

      You’d honestly be surprised to hear just how much of an influence rock music had on the cultivation of hip-hop. Even Chuck D of Public Enemy worked closely with Scott Ian of thrash metal band Anthrax during this time.

      Don’t be shy to give hip-hop more of a listen.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

  4. Craig

    This is a really interesting page, I am a big fan of old school hip hop music so it is really nice to read into the background of the scene.

    Run DMC were way ahead of their time and many artists like the ones you mention have them to thank for their inspiration.

    I have enjoyed watching films about hip hop like Notorious and Straight Outta Compton, are there any documentaries/films about Run DMC? Their story would definitely be an interesting one to see.

    1. Ryan

      Whaddup, Craig

      It’s funny you should mention that because a Run-D.M.C. biopic is definitely on it’s way. We should see it in the next few years.

      Thanks for leaving your comment.

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