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The Reign, Ruin, and Redemption of Run-D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay

by Ronin Ro

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 2005
ISBN: 0-06-078195-5
Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

The rise of the Kings of Rock, and how they did everything wrong.

Hip-hop pioneers Run-D.M.C. were a trio of kids from Queens who came together in the late 1970s under the tutelage of party promoter Russell Simmons, whose younger brother Joe was an up-and-coming M.C. at the club events and parties where the new style of music was gestating. The fiercely sparse beats laid down by DJ Jam Master Jay (whose still-unsolved 2002 recording-studio murder bookends the narrative), and the combative rapping of Run and D.M.C., took some time to catch on with an audience used to the more melodic flow of the Sugar Hill Gang. But once it did, Run-D.M.C. quickly became the first superstars of the new genre. As told by Ro (Tales to Astonish, 2004, etc.), the combination at first seemed unbeatable: Simmons handled the business and marketing end, while long-haired metal-head (and future A-list producer) Rick Rubin helped the group craft their sound. It’s a short, happy period in the book, with hits like “My Adidas,” “King of Rock” and their rock-rap smash with Aerosmith, “Walk This Way” (credited with bringing hip-hop to the masses), helping the group rack up first after first: first hip-hop group on American Bandstand, first hip-hop platinum album and so on. But while Run-D.M.C. helped create the first big wave of hip-hop, greatly influencing the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, a combination of bad management and lousy decisions fueled by binge drinking ensured that their time in the sun wouldn’t last long. Their decline is chronicled here in sad, lengthy detail. The author doesn’t let his obvious affection for these men get in the way of telling the real story in boldly dramatic strokes.

A cautionary tale on the fate of cultural revolutionaries: grim, but rewarding.