Childhood friends Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels were barely 16 when they started rhyming together at loosely organized DJ jams in their neighborhood of Hollis, Queens, in New York City. After graduating high school, they met DJ Jason Mizell, who was spinning records as Jazzy Jase before adopting the handle Jam Master Jay. As Run-DMC, the trio changed the course of Hip Hop music and fueled its commercial acceptance by the “MTV generation” of the mid-1980s.
Their 1984 debut album, Run-DMC, made the case almost overnight. With the stripped-down arrangement of the single “It’s Like That” and its flip side “Sucker M.C.’s,” Run-DMC resisted the slick, Disco-Funk sound popularized by the Sugarhill Gang in favor of a tougher, more aggressive edge. Encouraged by Run’s big brother Russell Simmons, who co-produced the group’s first three albums (and co-founded the Def Jam record label with producer Rick Rubin), they also developed a stylish look, punctuated by black leather jackets and hats and their ubiquitous Adidas sneakers.
“Rock Box,” the Rock-influenced third single from their debut, was the first Rap video to air on MTV, and secured Run-DMC’s mainstream success. They soon released a follow-up album, 1985’s platinum-selling King of Rock, appearing that summer at the Live Aid benefit concert.
Their next album Raising Hell, co-produced with Rubin, was a crossover smash. “Walk This Way,” a cover version of the Aerosmith hit, featured Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler and Joe Perry; one of the first collaborations between Rock and Hip Hop artists, it was an instant hit on MTV, and is widely credited with helping to expand Hip Hop’s appeal. At year’s end, Run-DMC made the cover of Rolling Stone magazine.
Toward the end of the ’80s, as other hip-hop acts like Public Enemy, the Beastie Boys and De La Soul caught on, Run-DMC claimed less of the spotlight. They would make seven albums together, but 1988’s Tougher Than Leather is generally considered their last great studio effort.
Between Run’s booming voice, DMC’s agile rhyme skills and Jay’s deft touch on turntables, Run-DMC defined a sound and style that made them, in Rick Rubin’s words, “the first true artists in Hip Hop, and the template for all who followed.” That mold was shattered in 2002, when Jam Master Jay was shot and killed at a recording studio in Queens; grief-stricken, Run and DMC officially dissolved the group. In 2009, they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, becoming the second Rap act, after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, to be so honored.