Rap Goes Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s Summary

  • Last updated on November 10, 2022

The increasing importance of rap as a part of multicultural popular music was confirmed when Run-D.M.C.’s album Raising Hell sold more than one million copies.

Summary of Event

Rap music originated in the inner cities of the United States as a new voice for the frustration and hopelessness of ghetto life. A continuation of African American musical culture, rap drew from oral traditions and the rhythmic drumming and syncopation of black music. It was also influenced by the Jamaican “sound system” disc jockeys of the 1960’s and the political jazz of Gil Scott-Heron and the Last Poets. Emerging in New York City during the mid-1970’s, early rap was performed almost exclusively for black audiences in Brooklyn, Queens, Manhattan, and the South Bronx. Rap remained a predominantly race- and class-specific form of expression until 1986, when two young rappers known as Run-D.M.C. released the album Raising Hell. This platinum hit crossed cultural boundaries and firmly established rap as an important part of popular music. Music;rap Run-D.M.C.[Run D.M.C.] Rap music Raising Hell (Run-D.M.C.) [kw]Rap Goes Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell (July, 1986) [kw]Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell, Rap Goes (July, 1986) [kw]Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell, Rap Goes Platinum with (July, 1986) [kw]Raising Hell, Rap Goes Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s (July, 1986) Music;rap Run-D.M.C.[Run D.M.C.] Rap music Raising Hell (Run-D.M.C.) [g]North America;July, 1986: Rap Goes Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell[06130] [g]United States;July, 1986: Rap Goes Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell[06130] [c]Music;July, 1986: Rap Goes Platinum with Run-D.M.C.’s Raising Hell[06130] Simmons, Joseph Simmons, Russell McDaniels, Darryl

Raising Hell combined metallic rock, rhythm and blues, and rap into a popular mixture that jumped up the pop music sales charts to number three. The album included a collaboration with the hard rock band Aerosmith on a remake of Aerosmith’s classic “Walk This Way,” which was also released as a music video that received heavy play on the Music Television (MTV) MTV network. “Walk This Way” was the first rap hit to cross over the racial barriers that previously had made rap the domain of black musicians only. Raising Hell’s success opened the door to Caucasian, Hispanic, American Indian, and Samoan rappers, and encouraged collaborations between rappers and musicians best known for their work in other genres. Rap diversified, branching off from the violent and controversial “gangsta” or “hard-core” genre. The late 1980’s and early 1990’s saw the emergence of “pop” or “bubblegum,” “countercultural” or “hippie-hop,” and “party” rap, as well as feminist rappers such as Salt-N-Pepa and Queen Latifah.

Prior to 1986, rap was not completely unknown to the music world. In 1979, songwriter Sylvia Robinson released “Rapper’s Delight” by Harlem’s Sugarhill Gang. This rap hit was the first to make a mark on national music sales charts. It was soon followed by “The Breaks” and “125th Street,” by Kurtis Blow, and by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s graphic protest “The Message.” Rap concerts drew increasingly larger crowds, and the record industry began to take notice.

It was at this time that a young man named Joseph Simmons began developing his own rap style. The son of a civil rights activist and poet, Joseph grew up in the middle-class neighborhood of Hollis, Queens. His elder brother Russell managed Kurtis Blow and sometimes allowed Joseph, a glib fifteen-year-old, a few minutes onstage to do his own thing. Nicknamed “Run” at the age of twelve because of his tendency to run off at the mouth, Joseph was enrolled in college, studying mortuary science, when he teamed up with Darryl McDaniels, his best friend since kindergarten, to form Run-D.M.C.

Run-D.M.C.’s first album, It’s Like That, It’s Like That (Run-D.M.C.)[Its Like That] was released by Profile Records in 1983. Interesting for its dramatic, tense lyrics and the juxtaposition of Simmons’s higher, smoother voice and McDaniel’s rougher tone, It’s Like That sold 250,000 copies and went to number fifteen on the black music sales charts. By 1985, Run-D.M.C. had two gold albums and was headlining concerts. Simmons and McDaniels added Jason Mizell, known as Jam Master Jay, as D.J. and developed a “gangsta”-style look that included black hats and suits and white Adidas shoes. Run-D.M.C.’s major breakthrough came in July, 1986, when their album Raising Hell was simultaneously certified gold and platinum.

Run-D.M.C. followed up on the record’s success with the Raising Hell national tour. The group sold out twenty-thousand-seat arenas across the United States, but the tour was devastated by violence at concerts in at least six cities, including rioting in Pittsburgh, New York, and St. Louis. In Long Beach, California, gang members tore through the arena before the concert, injuring more than forty people. Although rowdiness at concerts was nothing new, the magnitude of the violence in these cases attracted the attention of the watchdog organization the Parents Music Resource Center. Parents Music Resource Center Tipper Gore, Gore, Tipper a founding member of the PMRC and wife of Senator Al Gore, criticized Run-D.M.C. for the use of provocative lyrics, and many concert promoters reconsidered their decisions to book rap groups.

RUN-D.M.C. (from left to right): Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell.

(AP/Wide World Photos)

Simmons argued that he was serving as a role model for inner-city youth: “They listen to me because I act tough and cool. I got a lot of juice with them. . . . So when we say don’t take drugs and stay in school, they listen.” One music critic described Raising Hell as “highly moral,” and others pointed to Run-D.M.C.’s history of social involvement, including an appearance at the Live Aid concert and participation in public-service announcements aimed at discouraging drug abuse and the risky behaviors associated with exposure to sexually transmitted diseases. After the Long Beach incident, Simmons went on the radio in Los Angeles to urge people to calm down. “I told the gangs,” Run said, “if you’re listening to me—you’re stupid.”

The next significant crossover hit was inspired when Russell Simmons teamed up with heavy metal producer Rick Rubin to form Def Jam Records. Def Jam Records Def Jam managed more than a dozen rap acts, including Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys, Beastie Boys three white punks turned rappers. The two groups collaborated on “Paul Revere,” released in late 1986 on the Beastie Boys’ Licensed to Ill. Licensed to Ill (Beastie Boys) This hit album continued the musical direction started by Run-D.M.C. and appealed to black fans as well as white. In 1987, Run-D.M.C. and the Beastie Boys went on the road with the Together Forever tour, selling out major arenas despite bad press and attracting mixed audiences of blacks and whites. Rap had become the music of the youthful masses, a multicultural voice expressing anger, joy, political opinion, and idealism.

Significance

When Run-D.M.C. went platinum with Raising Hell in 1986, rap became an undeniable force in the popular music industry. “Walk This Way,” the hit collaboration with Aerosmith, broke the precedent that rap was created by black musicians only for black youth only. Rap’s increased popularity with a racially mixed audience provided incentive for artists of different ethnic backgrounds to experiment with this musical form, and rap diversified and flourished. The impacts of rap were not limited to the music world alone. Heated debates regarding the violence associated with rap concerts and the obscenity, sexism, and hostility prevalent in the lyrics of “gangsta” or “hard-core” rap raged in the media, the courtroom, and the classroom.

Although “gangsta” rap was the most visible because of its controversial nature, a variety of distinct approaches to the genre developed, each with its own stars and audience. “Pop” or “bubblegum” rap, pioneered by M.C. Hammer, was characterized by its repetitive musical samples and innocuous lyrics. Acts such as Hammer, Heavy D. and the Boyz, Sir Mix-a-Lot, and Kris Kross, as well as white rappers Vanilla Ice and Marky Mark, were popular with the media because of their inoffensive style. Pop rap received airtime on MTV, and advertising campaigns targeting teenagers utilized such hits as Hammer’s “Can’t Touch This” (1990), Vanilla Ice’s “Ice Ice Baby” (1990), and Kris Kross’s “Jump” (1992).

Female rappers assumed a more dominant role with the 1986 release of Hot, Cool, and Vicious Hot, Cool, and Vicious (Salt-N-Pepa) by Salt-N-Pepa. Salt-N-Pepa[Salt N Pepa] Women had performed in rap since its inception but were usually labeled as novelty acts. Salt-N-Pepa’s feminist attitude encouraged other women to respond aggressively to the misogyny of most male rappers. Queen Latifah Queen Latifah delivered a powerful message on All Hail the Queen All Hail the Queen (Queen Latifah) (1989) and Nature of a Sista’ Nature of a Sista’ (Queen Latifah) (1991) and created a niche for female fans in a genre known for its endorsement of violence against women.

Another female rapper, Sister Souljah, Souljah, Sister elicited Democratic presidential candidate Bill Clinton’s criticism in response to remarks she made on interracial violence. The militancy of her album 360 Degrees of Power 360 Degrees of Power (Sister Souljah)[Three hundred sixty Degrees of Power] (1992) is expressive of the politicized rap for which Public Enemy Public Enemy is best known. That group’s innovative albums It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Back (Public Enemy) (1988) and Fear of a Black Planet Fear of a Black Planet (Public Enemy) (1990) received the attention of musicologists, jazz musicians, and composers. Director Spike Lee Lee, Spike used Public Enemy’s “Fight the Power” as the theme song for his film Do the Right Thing Do the Right Thing (film) (1989). Because of Public Enemy’s association with the Nation of Islam, the media generalized political rap as Black Nationalistic and anti-Semitic, obscuring the actual diversity of political opinions being expressed. Rap albums released in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s included the antiapartheid collaboration Sun City, the militant Sleeping with the Enemy by Paris, the spiritual Afrocentrism of X Clan’s To the East, Blackwards, and Isis’s Rebel Soul.

Criticized in its early days for nihilism and lack of utopian vision, rap experienced a resurgence of optimism and ethnic identity common to black music. Combining spiritual and mystical lyrics with the rhythmic textures sampled from 1960’s music, P. M. Dawn’s Of the Heart, of the Soul, and of the Cross: The Utopian Experience united those alienated by other forms of rap. Along with P. M. Dawn, De La Soul, Arrested Development, and A Tribe Called Quest met with great success in the mainstream, receiving acclaim for their work in such popular publications as Rolling Stone, Spin, The New York Times, and the Village Voice.

As early as 1980, rap was used by educators who took advantage of its retainability. Douglass “Jocko” Henderson, a radio personality of the 1950’s and 1960’s, formed Get Ready, Inc., Get Ready, Inc. an educational rap program with topics ranging from black history to career preparation skills. Later, performers such as KRS-One (Knowledge Reigns Supreme Over Nearly Everyone), the Poor Righteous Teachers (PRT), and the Intellectual Hoodlum incorporated the message that knowledge is a crucial aspect of survival.

Rap music flourished in the decades after Run-D.M.C. caught the public’s attention in 1986, as many artists unique in music and message came on the scene. Rap also influenced American culture more widely. The controversial nature of some rap music encouraged people who had never listened to it to hold strong opinions about it nevertheless. The effect of explicit rap on society (and vice versa) could not be ignored, and rap music contributed to debates concerning censorship and restrictions on material that could be presented to children.

The controversy surrounding the graphically violent and sexist lyrics of 2 Live Crew’s 2 Live Crew[Two Live Crew] As Nasty as They Wanna Be As Nasty as They Wanna Be (2 Live Crew) came to a head on June 10, 1990, when the group, led by Luther Campbell, Campbell, Luther was charged with violating obscenity laws in an adults-only concert in Hollywood, Florida. After a two-week trial, the members of 2 Live Crew were found not guilty of all charges. Freedom of speech as guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the limits of this right, if any, are issues critical to American society. When a rap musician expresses him- or herself freely and without censorship in the public eye, the content of rap cannot go unnoticed. One impact of controversial rap music was to provoke examination and evaluation of the environmental conditions that foster antagonistic philosophies.

Rap continues to extend the tradition of African American music. It is the honest voice of a diverse set of people, espousing divergent viewpoints and encompassing many attitudes. Run-D.M.C., the first rap group to enter the limelight of popular music, opened the door for a segment of society that had been shut out for too long. Music;rap Run-D.M.C.[Run D.M.C.] Rap music Raising Hell (Run-D.M.C.)

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Blauner, Peter. “The Rap on Run-D.M.C.: The Kids from Hollis Strike Gold.” New York 19 (November 17, 1986): 62. Describes Run-D.M.C.’s rise to fame and fortune. Gives the background of Joseph “Run” Simmons and follows the group’s development under the management of Simmons’s elder brother Russell. Includes quotations from fan interviews and criticism by old friend and fellow rapper Kurtis Blow.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Chin, Brian. “Rap Hits Home: The Biggest, Brashest, Freshest Breakthrough of the Decade.” Billboard, December 27, 1986, Y8. A brief history of rap from 1979 to 1986 by a music expert. Chin rejoices in rap’s freshness and free expression, which he attributes to a lack of acknowledgment by the “overground” music industry.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Dyson, Michael Eric. “Rap Culture, the Church, and American Society.” In Sacred Music of the Secular City: From Blues to Rap, edited by Jon Michael Spencer. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992. A professor at the Chicago Theological Seminary depicts rap as the continuation of black oral culture. Analyzes rap for both its positive and its negative influences.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">_______. “Rights and Responsibilities: 2 Live Crew and Rap’s Moral Vision.” In Sacred Music of the Secular City: From Blues to Rap, edited by Jon Michael Spencer. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992. Thoughtful essay defends 2 Live Crew’s right of expression according to the First Amendment and also criticizes American society for producing such violent and sexist attitudes.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Manuel, Ruth Dolores. “The Three R’s: Reading, ’Riting, Rapping.” Essence, April, 1984, 56. Profile of Douglass “Jocko” Henderson, radio personality turned educator, who created rap records on such subjects as black history, drug abuse, and career-preparation skills.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ogg, Alex, with David Upshal. The Hip Hop Years: A History of Rap. New York: Fromm International, 2001. Uses interviews with more than one hundred rappers, music producers, and others in the music industry to trace the history of rap. Includes photographs and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Southern, Eileen. The Music of Black Americans: A History. 3d ed. New York: W. W. Norton, 1997. Excellent scholarly account of the history of African American musical forms provides both background and important detail. Places the rise of rap music within a larger context. Includes critical bibliography and extensive index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">West, Cornel. “On Afro-American Popular Music: From Bebop to Rap.” In Sacred Music of the Secular City: From Blues to Rap, edited by Jon Michael Spencer. Durham, N.C.: Duke University Press, 1992. Interesting commentary on music’s function in black society places rap in the broad historical context of African American music. Includes discussion of bebop, gospel music, jazz, soul, Motown, and technofunk.

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