Monday, April 6, 2009

Combat Jack Salutes RUN-DMC

If you're younger than say, 34, 35, close your eyes for a minute and as impossible as it may be, try to imagine a world without Hip Hop.

My first experience with Hip Hop was in the summer of 1978. My best friend Frank, who lived up the block and was two years older than me, used to be a messenger working at a courier service down in the Wall Street area. At work, Frank would hang with some brothers from the Bronx and Uptown and as they would build during their lunch breaks, they would tease my man with snippets of live performances from groups with bugged out super hero sounding names like Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five, Kool Herc and the Herculords and the Cold Crush Brothers as they performed musical routines in an art form then unknown to the world. It was most definitely unknown to cats like me in Brooklyn. For a couple of weeks after coming home from work, Frank would desperately try to explain this new sound called rap coming from Harlem, banging from the Bronx. I had no concept of understanding what the hell my man was talking about, or what the fuck a Melle Mel or a Grand Master Caz was, only that it had the homie Frank amped. This one Thursday night, before payday, Frank convinced me to pony up $5 and go half with him on one of those cassette tapes he was going on about, said he would cop a Grand Master Flash & The Furious Five joint. Little did I know that after that night, my was life was never going to be the same.

That next day, on Frank's stoop, on Lincoln Place in Brooklyn, as he popped the tape in, and emcees Cowboy, Raheim, Kid Creole, Scorpio and Melle Mel invaded my senses, hypnotized by how Flash was savagely raping beats with his furious cuts and scratches, my whole d.n.a. metamorphed into something else, something new. As a young teenager trying to find his way in a changing world, the music that I heard that day seemed like it spoke only to to me, the lyrics was about shit that only I could relate to. Growing up on r&b, soul, funk and disco was cool, but on that very day in 1978, in discovering the beginnings of a culture that I would wholly become a part of, in speak, in dress in attitude, in perspective, I became a B-boy. On that fateful day, I became complete.

Over the next year, my cassette collection blossomed with the likes of Kool Herc and The Herculords, Dr. Jeckyll & Mr. Hyde, Busy Bee. On top of Melle Mel becoming my first rap idol, The Cold Crush Brothers stayed being my favorite crew because they kept their routines sounding fresh and on the way they sounded in their famed battle against rival crew The Fantastic Five. I still have that CCB vs. FF cassette, and even though the FF officially won that, I claim the Cold Crush the true winners. In school, I stayed having an edge on my peers since I was so much more up on Hip Hop than they were. Some cats began to think my shit was a bit weird in how I kept my jeans creased, how I would flip if a sucker scuffed my Adidas, my Hush Puppies, my Puma's, how I stayed with the ice grill when cats I didn't really eff with too tough was around me. Hip Hop was my own little private world, and the more private I kept it, excluding clowns that wasn't down, the happier I was. I was steady tripping on that young teenager shit. My definition of nirvana was sneaking out after dark to the park, packed with other teenagers crowded around our local deejays with their makeshift turntables and speakers blasting the break beats of "Seven Minutes of Funk" by The Whole Darn Family, or "Mardi Gras" by Bob James as our local rappers lined up, waiting patiently for their chance to rock the microphone, their only shot at a brief moment of stardom, weed smoke from all the burning joints further expanding our young consciousness as we danced, grooved, romanced, postured and thugged out in this very private, intimate world of ours. All this without a record deal.

On an October morning in 1979, as I was getting ready for school, I was listening to WBLS when my world was changed again. That morning was the first time I heard "Rapper's Delight" on the radio. Although it was the first rap record I heard on the airwaves, I was pissed. Pissed at how these Sugarhill Gang rappers sounded fake, nothing near as authentic as the cats I had been following on cassette, even though they rocked that Chic "Good Times" beat that had flooded every hood in the US. Plus they looked whack and had corny sounding names like Wonder Mike and Big Hank and Master Gee. Out the gate the record industry betrayed me by insulting my Hip Hop intelligence with a rudimentary Mickey Mouse ass sounding song as it's very first rap single, still and all, I grew to like, grew to love that record as they started playing it at all the little parties I was going to, how the girls who wasn't up on Hip Hop loved to dance to it. How that record was the first official corner stone that went into the construction of the rap music industry. Right after "Rapper's Delight", it seemed like every one was rushing to put out a record, further gelling the makings of a growing musical genre. My favorites, Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five and The Cold Crush Brothers got a chance to do their thing on wax, and even though some of their records took off and it felt good to hear my original rap heroes on wax, the sound that I first heard on cassette, primal, raw, fresh was replaced by slick production, almost a smooth blend of Hip hop beats with a lil of that r&b. No doubt I stayed fiending for that next single, that next banger, but over night, the era of the sound of rappers performing the most original of routines as their deejays spun, mixed, cut and scratched records with the crowd screaming in the background was replaced with the rap record. My private little Hip Hop world was now part of a growing industry and teenagers from Brooklyn to Beijing began to take note, began to become a part of this new culture.

Mr. Magic kept me up late on weeknights, trying to catch the latest joints way before anyone else. Rap albums started being released and even though they rarely felt quite cohesive in content and theme, we kept dancing. In 1983, I started hearing "It's Like That" by a group with the unique name Run-DMC. "It's Like That" was cool, but at the time, it was nothing that made me take note. Shortly after, I heard "Sucker MC's" at a block party in Bed Stuy and me along with the crowd went ape. That record was the first time I heard a single that fully captured that feel that I had when I used to rock my earlier rap cassettes, a parse driving beat, cutting and scratching, two rappers spitting fire, nothing more. No chorus, no r&b inflected baselines, no chorus, just that out in the park late at night vibe, packaged neatly as the b-side to "It's Like That". "Sucker MC's had Run-DMC standing out and apart from the herd, right out the gate. Even though they released the follow up single "Hard Times" that was similar in nature to "It's Like That", the heat rock single next launched from the Run-DMC chamber was the instant classic "Rock Box". "Rock Box" was that perfect mix of hood rap and rock strings, what with that electric guitar riff making that joint sound hard as hell. In addition, the single was accompanied by a video, an artsy looking black and white piece that visually showcased the young rappers, Run coming off with the most arrogant of emcee swagger, DMC looking like the B-boy hard rock version of Frankenstein, stiff, menacing, hard, [||], Jam Master Jay showing off his Hollis cool as he manhandled the turntables. Not only did these cats have the hottest song and video out. They also dressed like me (or like how I wanted to dress). Gone were the coked out, older looking rappers with the Jheri curls, leather, lace and leopard, who were desperately trying to jack r&b's and disco's smoothed out and slightly homo-erotic glam look [||]. Run-DMC were the new niggas on the block and with one fell swoop, they declared with "Rock Box" the death of Hip Hop's "old school" generation artists that laid the foundation. Looking like it was shot at a party representing New York City's then downtown scene filled with Punks, whites and a smattering of Black faces, "Rock Box" is known as the first hip-hop music video to air on MTV. Cementing their place in history with the release of their eponymous debut album in 1984, Run-DMC dropped what some consider to be the first true rap album.

Becoming Hip Hop's first true widely recognized stars, Run-DMC set out to conquer not only rap, but the rock genre as well with their follow up release "King Of Rock" which dropped in 1985. Because of the noise they made with their first album, many esteemed critics from the rock establishment began dismissing the group's accomplishments, shitting on them and rap as a whole as not being a true art-form, that Hip Hop was just a passing fad for ghetto kids, that it wouldn't be around that much longer. In what was a shot aimed against it's critics, Run-DMC's next single and video, named "King Of Rock" had the group dissing major pop acts like Michael Jackson, the Beatles and even Elvis. On an intense drum beat and a scathing base line loop, further expanding on the rock feel introduced by "Rock Box", Run-DMC boldly claimed themselves to be the new kings of rock, kings of pop even, and dared every one out there to test them. In retrospect, this was such a brilliant effin move, shutting down all potential rap competitors and aiming for the top spot in one shot. It also helped that the single was fuego and MTV stayed jocking the video in major heavy rotation. Matching Hip Hop's street intensity with rock and roll's colossal instrumental sounds, Run-DMC convinced the world that they were here to stay. The album also broke all Hip Hop records in that it was the first to go gold and then platinum.

If "Run-DMC' is considered to be rap's first complete album and "King Of Rock" it's first major crossover, the following album "Raising Hell" released in 1986 is deemed rap's first masterpiece. Taking over most of the production, legendary producer and co-founder of Def Jam as then partner to Russell Simmons, Rick Rubin went in deep with this one. Whereas their prior records had combined elements of dense and sparse production, "Raising Hell", at the time, was simply the best produced rap record ever. The hits on the album were plenty with classics like "Peter Piper", "It's Tricky", "My Adidas", "Walk This Way" and "Raising Hell", what on earth was effin with this? Run-DMC's 4th album went triple platinum. Even though the group would drop further classics in their subsequent albums "Tougher Than Leather" (1988), "Back From Hell" (1990) and "Down With The King" (1993), "Raising Hell" proved to be the last monster album released by the group.

I can't even begin to get into the highlights surrounding Run-DMC's career in connection with their impact on touring, movies, magazine covers, endorsement deals and merchandise without having to write another coupla thousand words. This past Saturday, April 4th, Run-DMC became the 2nd rap act ever to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame, second only to Grand Master Flash and The Furious Five. Funny, how Melle Mel was my first rap idol and Run-DMC was my second. Not known for their true lyrical skills and rarely mentioned in anyone's top 5, top 10 or top 100 emcee lists, it was great to see them receive the highest props for their contribution spanning back 25 years. Run-DMC may not go down as anyone's favorite G.O.A.T. emcee's of all time, but they remain arguably, Hip Hop's Greatest act of all time. From me to you, a sincere and heartfelt salute from Combat Jack to Run-DMC, the Kings from Queens.

So I'm asking, what's your favorite Run-DMC song?


  1. Great post (as usual). My favorite would have to be "Peter Piper" - fantastic lyrical skills exhibited, great musical phrasing ("perfect timing when I'm climbing on my rhyming apparatus" for example) you don't hear much anymore, and maybe the best use of the "Mardi Gras" loop. It's great in its simplicity...and I think it might sound best on cassette.

  2. I knew you was rich growing up. Only rich kids had cassette tapes in the 1970's. We had 8 track tapes.

    Cassette tapes were madd expensive and so were the cassette tape players, especially the portable joints.

    Shouts to Hollis crew, Farmers crew and my cousins, them dudes from L.A. That's Laurelton for the suckers.

  3. My all time favorite would be the first one I ever heard..."Jam Master Jay" from the first album. I still remember the exact day, time and place.

  4. Great drop CJ. The historical lead-up in the opening paragraphs set the scene lovely and was prahlee the similar story for most mid to late 30-somethings and the entre' in to this thing called hip-hop. I can't front "Sucker MC's" changed my ears for ever also. Great write up on the greatest to ever do it. I was convinced they were gonna be the first rap Vegas act until the untimely demise of JMJ. Glad they're getting their place in music history.

  5. People forget OR are just too young to remember, BUT Run-DMC RAN New York.Period.

    Run was the undisputed King of New York (of course until first LL then later Rakim put an end to the throne).

    When he screamed "WHOSE HOUSE?????", MuthaFuckas already knew and responded in kind.

    Favorite Run DMC songs:
    -Sucka MCs
    -It's Like That
    -King of Rock
    -Here we go? (Not the name the song but that's how the song started. it had the "Big Beat" beat.
    -Beats to the Rhyme

  6. I'm partial to Peter Piper as well. Beats to the Rhyme and Sucka MCs are my runner-ups, but I get super-amped when Peter Piper comes on.

    Great post. had a link to the induction speeches from run, dmc, jam master jay's mother and jay's wife. dmc's speech was a heartstring-tugger and jay's mother's speech was inspirational.

  7. My cousins in Marble Hill, BX put me on to rap around '82. I was going on 6 at the time. My cousin Darren had mad rap tapes then he gave me this tape he recorded from some radio show coming out of Farleigh Dickinson University. Not only did it have rap songs but it had all the curses!! It was all over for me and Michael Jackson at that point. Once I heard Sucker MCs you couldn't get me to listen to anything besides rap.

    I would have to say Sucker MCs is my favorite. Second is Together Forever, the live version from Hollis Park in '84. Third is Here We Go from the same Hollis Park session and of course: My Adidas. And don't get it twisted DMC was better than Run. He had that Grandmaster Caz, Melle Mel, He-Man flow. Dude sounded like a superhero.

    Salute Run-DMC. Rest In Peace JMJ.

  8. Fav song: King of Rock

    Rest In Peace JMJ

  9. to the rhyme!
    jam master jay
    down with king
    run's house
    it's like that....shit...the whole collection...get that greatest hits!

  10. My favs:
    "Jam Master Jay"
    "Sucker MCs" -which fucking destroyed my mind the first time I heard it.
    "Peter Piper"
    "My Adidas"
    "Hit it Run"
    "Here We Go"
    the list is endless.

    The Run DMC album was the first rap album I owned and I would see Run and D around on the regular.. my grade school was on Hollis Ave.
    My classmates and I saw Jay get his first speeding ticket in his first new car (I actually got to talk to Jay about this years later) The cop looked at us asking for his autograph and just couldn't comprehend.
    RUN, DMC & JMJ - Kings, Legends.

  11. My first rap album ever was Raising Hell. I think the folks bought it for me to temporarily stop the shitty 80's metal pouring out of my cheap-ass stereo. I remember bringing it to the park (along with some freshly shoplifted cigarettes to impress the older metal-babes). Groans of disapproval down-the-line. Normally, in this situation I would have feigned hate for it too, and acted like I must have brought the wrong tape but I decided to stick to my guns and JAM THE FUCK out of it. The women laughed, the way-too-old camaro dudes with pedo-smile mustaches chucked racial slurs at me, but I was proud to like something that they all hated. It was just a bummer that I was in Casper, Wyoming and it was years before I could find friends to share my love of rap. My parents were more than happy to see my Krokus tapes (and my "friends") go out the window, though, and those people mostly ended up going to prison for meth and having premature babies. I'm not a vindictive person, but I still get a chuckle when I see one of them with their names on the Burger King bad-check list, or listening to ICP at the car-wash they work at.

  12. ^ ". My parents were more than happy to see my Krokus tapes (and my "friends") go out the window, though, and those people mostly ended up going to prison for meth and having premature babies. I'm not a vindictive person, but I still get a chuckle when I see one of them with their names on the Burger King bad-check list, or listening to ICP at the car-wash they work at."

    I take it it's safe to say Run-DMC saved your life. lol.

  13. I'm DMC in the place to be
    I go to St. John's University


    Which was quite a thing to say back when the Big East was totally hardbody.

    Except for "Sucker MCs," word for word no Run-DMC hit me like "White Lines," "The Message" or "Beat Street" but as a GROUP they were awesome.

    Historical side question: While not disputing hip-hop born in the Bronx etc I have to believe that will all the West Indians in BK, there had to be Kings County dudes coming close... Or maybe not but it's something I think about; was there a Kool Herc of Brooklyn?

    CJ: were into B.T. Express at all as a kid?

  14. That was a great read and i could relate to a lot of it. I'm 39 years old and i remember getting Run-DMC's first album (on the same day i got Newcleus' "Jam on revenge") and out of a classroom of 35 kids, only 4 others in my class were aware of Run-DMC and it stayed that way until Raising Hell came out. When we had a show & tell in Grade 10, i played RUN-DMC "King of Rock" for my class (from a DJ red alert tape.. so the song was cut up and mixed live on air) and kids didn't know what to make of it. They stayed silent for another year but by the time "walk this way" dropped, those same kids were walking around with "King of rock" t-shirts and it disgusted me. As happy as i was for Run-Dmc to finally get to the top, i was pissed that a white upper class suburban audience were perpetrating like they were down from day one and had so many opinions about Run-Dmc. It wasn't until "tougher than leather" dropped that i saw those same kids totally abandon Run-Dmc and move onto the next thing (which was the beastie boys) I luckily got to meet Run-DMC years later and hang out with JMJ which was my dream come true. Meeting Jam Master Jay was the most memorable thing ever. He had no rock start attitude or anything.. he was totally like meeting someone you knew your whole life. I can't pick a favorite Run-DMC track but i will narrow it down to 4 : Peter Piper, Daryll & Joe, Together Forever (krush groove III) and Here We go (live at the funhouse).

  15. RE: Combat Jack

    Yes they absolutely did, but Ice-T ruined it again when he made me boost O.G. because noone would sell it to me. That was the beginning of a long line of petty crimes.

  16. I remember seeing RunDmc for the first time live in Jacksonville Fl in 87. JMJ calling out Run to the stage by scratching his name has got to be the deffest concert intro ever.
    Best studio and live rap act ever hands down.

    My faves:
    Can You Rock It Like This (written by LL btw)
    Hit It Run
    Jam Master Jammin' (remix)
    Raising Hell
    Daryl & Joe (Krush Groove 2)
    Rock Box
    Tougher Than Leather
    Beats To The Rhyme
    King Of Rock
    Peter Piper
    My Adidas
    Jam Master Jay
    Run's House
    Groove to The Sound
    Big Willie
    Can I Get It Yo
    Here we Go many to name


  17. As said previously by others, this is a great post. reads like something I coulda wrote myself... those early Hip Hop recollections sound just like mine. But I guess stuff like those live tapes and hearing "Sucker MCs" for the first time affected all of us old school b-boy types the same way. RESPECT.

  18. Peter Piper is my fav. Even though I was a little shorty at the time. I knew these dudes were gonna be icons. "Down With The Kings" was dope too! *Remembers taping "Video Music Box" for my archives*

  19. Anybody that isn't saying "P Upon the Tree" is Run-DMC's best track is only lying to themselves!!!!!!!

  20. great post CJ.

    favorite - can't really say. while i recognize RUN-DMC's contribution to hip hop, i wouldn't say i'm a huge fan.

    but without a doubt, i can absolutely say that i hate "You Be Illin'." ugh!

  21. Beats to the rhyme



    Peter Piper


    fuccccck now i gotta dig my tapes out

  22. the white dude with the kangol is vincent gallo when he used to call himself prince vince. he also battled ice-t.

  23. Beats to the Rhymes. Hard, funky and dirty, 3 elements of a dope song.

  24. Beats to the Rhyme. Greatest beat ever.

  25. Peter Piper. Hands down! Beats and rhymes are on point.

    I thought Down with The King was tight tho ...back to raw rap w/o the rock riffs. Run and DMC updated their skills and killed it on 'Ooh whatcha gonna do'. Even Jay ripped it on 'Get Open'.

    Damn I'm soundin old but alot of rappers today need to get back to the basics: Can you MC? Can you rock a party? Or are you gonna bore everyone to death?