The King Of Rock
It was 1985, just six short years removed from the incident known as Disco Demolition Night in Chicago where a frenzied crowd of thousands gathered in Comiskey Park with hate in their eyes and hearts. The abhorrent mob assembled for the sole purpose of sealing the fate of the long standing disco movement by setting their albums and cassettes of the music on fire en masse. It was a revolt in the truest sense, unlike any negative display towards a particular style of music before. This was not simple a slip in the charts; it was an execution.
Disco was dead.
The era of heavy metal had truly begun. The Bee Gees, now the official former kings of the airwaves, would be Stayin’ Alive no longer. Their bass lines and high pitched vocal stylings were ablaze in a fiery Disco Inferno that an all too happy slew of long haired rockers was throwing gasoline upon.
It wasn’t Kung Fu Fighting. No. The war between disco and rock that raged from the mid seventies throughout the mid eighties was finally over. Rock prevailed and claimed the throne at the top of the mountain, its sole challenger vanquished.
Who else dare challenge the king?
Blues? “Come again?”
Country? “Are you serious?”
How about rap? “Rap? What’s rap?”
Rap was still very much a new and relatively unknown commodity, largely ignored by the mainstream audience, critics, and radio stations. Most of the rising form of music’s sales could not even be tracked with any accuracy since most of the artists were selling their material out of the trunks of their cars, unable to secure a record deal.
Distributors stared blank eyed at rappers as they listened to demos. The supposed professionals didn’t have the vision to see and understand the music that would eventually launch a revolution. Backed into a corner, the only way to move forward was apparent.
A few courageous entrepreneurs started their own rap labels. One was known as Sugarhill Records. It received modest distribution and was the label that released what has been called by many “The first real rap song.” Rappers Delight, by the Sugarhill Gang, was the best received rap single up to that point by far.
Looking back, some define the moment as the official start of rap music being that the classic single received airplay, reached number thirty eight on the music charts, and was available in many stores.
The Sugarhill Gang was knocking on the door to legitimate entry into the music world, but a twenty something rapper known simply as DMC was not content with banging his knuckles against the door. He had his hand wrapped around the doorknob and was twisting it open.
There would be no knocking for Darryl Mcdaniels who, along with fellow rapper Joseph “Run” Simmons, and DJ Jam Master Jay, released the self titled Run DMC album in the spring of 1984 on Profile Records.
It seemed like no one knew what to make of it. Run DMC was nothing like anything or anyone before them. The group of three black men from Hollis Queens defied any and all classification. They weren’t rock, though they had electric guitar in some of their songs. They weren’t disco.
What are they? What style of music is Run DMC?
“Oh, rap. I think I heard of that.”
The trio was slowly gaining an audience, catching on with their catchy combination of back and forth rhyming between Run and DMC laid over the skillful record scratching and 808 drum machine beats of Jay. Throw in a few samples and an occasional guitar riff and you had a fresh new sound that cried out to be listened to.
Run DMC would not be denied, nor could that historic first release which has sold well over three million units. Things didn’t explode yet for Run DMC, but that was just a matter of time.
The door was cracked open, but rap music still just a foot inside. Rock music was still looking down the mountain, unworried, at rap music and laughing. The reigning king felt no threat. There could be no challenge to the throne unless someone from the rap world was ready to step up big time.
Enter DMC stage left.
Slavery may have been abolished in 1862 and there was a supposed equality among the races that was talked about, but a quick glance of the music charts was all that was needed to show the flagrant divided still present. White artists dominated the airwaves. The number of black rock groups was minimal and the number of them that hit the charts was close to nonexistent.
Run DMC eventually changed the face of the music world and helped to bridge the gap of racism by promoting racial equality – not favoritism in either direction – and becoming celebrities in an era that embraced the exact opposite of what they embodied.
Forget rock. Forget rap.
Run DMC transcended musical style and classification and in doing so changed the look of music world in one defining moment when Darryl Mcdaniels summoned up enough testicular fortitude for the entire rap community and performed an act that held with it the ramifications of painting a bulls eye on his back. He easily risked being a dead man.
It seemed like suicide.
During a year when sales of rock music to a predominantly Caucasian audience were in the millions, Run DMC released their sophomore album. The title track features a confident DMC spewing five words, without the accompaniment of music, which changed the musical scenario forever.
The young man who went on to inspire so many to come after him made an undeniably thought provoking statement when he rapped five simple words acapella into a microphone so many years ago.
In the world of politics and government, it was Martin Luther King with the famous words, “I have a dream.”
The world of music has its equivalent and the quote belongs to Darryl Mcdaniels. His five words, just as powerfully as King’s four, continue to inspire as they reach a whole new audience. No one can forget the first time they heard DMC utter the last words anyone ever expected to hear from a black man’s mouth.
“I’m the king of rock!”
Darryl Mcdaniels was a legend.
The statement was so powerful; it was used to name the album and was largely responsible for the eventual platinum status.
DMC kept up the theme with his next lyric, “There is none higher,” just in case someone missed the fact that he was indeed the king of rock and the blazing electric guitar that pulsed throughout the track and the album – which can only be described as a groundbreaking masterpiece – was not enough to persuade them.
Rock music was on the ropes; it needed to perform a rope a dope if it wanted to survive. It got its help from a most unlikely source.
Rather than pick a fight, Run DMC continued their merging of rock and rap by extending the olive branch to a group of fallen from grace rockers whose best days were well behind them buried in the seventies. Aerosmith produced some lackluster records since and hadn’t had a hit in nearly a decade.
Mcdaniels and his cohorts joined forces with the struggling rockers and went on to record a classic remake of one of Aerosmith’s old hits. Walk This Way was an even bigger seller the second time around and helped to catapult Run DMC’s third release, Raising Hell, into international multi platinum sales.
Run DMC didn’t appear to be battling with rock for musical supremacy, but if anyone was keeping score; it was clear to see who indeed the king was.
It’s been quite a roller coaster ride for the young men who made Adidas a phenomenon. Since Raising Hell’s release over twenty years ago the superstars have put out four more albums all of which have achieved platinum status.
Unfortunately the trio was reduced to two on October 30th. 2002 when the legendary Jam Master Jay was called to his maker.
Joseph “Run” Simmons is now known as Reverend Run. The new man of the cloth, when not filming his hit reality TV show, still finds time to rock the microphone with his often imitated but never duplicated emceeing skills. His solo release Distortion served to fill many fan’s desire for a new Run DMC recording.
DMC, years removed from his days at St. John’s university, is set to match his partner in crime and will even be featuring the Reverend on a few tracks of the King Of Rock’s solo debut Checks, Thugs, & Rock -N- Roll.