Volume I: Track 8 (New York City, NY)

New York City, NY

8. Run-D.M.C. – It’s Like That (1983)

First published February 2017

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Summary in a tweet

8. From burning Bronx comes new sound & culture. 3 x tracksuited Queens boys hijack & elevate it to stratosphere

Why is it worthy?

As we approach track 8, some of New York City’s more neglected boroughs are demanding more attention. It is fair to say that tracks 1-7 have had something of a disproportionate central Brooklyn-Manhattan focus – and while Staten Islanders may yet still feel disappointed after this chapter, we do at least acknowledge some of the musical output of NYC’s two other outer boroughs, The Bronx and Queens. While the former provides the geographical basis for us to trace the origins of present day’s most culturally dominant art form back to one single house party in the 1970s, three upstarts from a Southeast neighbourhood in the latter dramatically escalate our story further.

On a personal level, this chapter represents yet another US100 transition from ‘tune I once liked’ to ‘journey of cultural discovery’. Musically it offers another iconic and timeless number, this time providing us with our first taste of a hip hop genre set to intermittently pop its head through the US100 door over the months and years, while from a yarn spinning perspective we can now explore a tale steeped in legends, innovation, and intrigue. You may find this entry devotes surprisingly few words to the specific track question, but It’s Like That is our anchor for exploring a movement as a whole; and it is only right that New York City provides us with our initial US100 hip hop induction, undisputed as it is as its birthplace and spiritual home.

What’s the story?

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A standard Bronxian day in the 1970s

If the US100 journey thus far can be accused of neglecting The Bronx, then that is nothing compared to similar accusations one could have thrown at New York City’s civic authorities some 40-50 years ago. The South Bronx in particular was a victim of short sighted local and federal policy, whether the slashing of social welfare, declining property value resulting in ‘white flight’, or horrifically irresponsible town planning, which saw the 1963-completed Cross Bronx Expressway cut through the heart of communities and displace thousands. Consequently The Bronx overall became a powerful national symbol of widespread inner-city poverty and urban decay – failing to receive the rent payments upon which they relied, local landlords resorted to insurance fraud via arson and, with 30,000 buildings torched over a decade, ‘The Burning Bronx’ became a fairly bleak moniker for the borough.

One individual at 1520 Sedgwick Avenue wanted to provide something of a distraction from the often dangerous and increasingly gang-influenced existence in his neighbourhood. DJ Kool Herc, like many Bronx residents in the 1970s, liked to party. Rejecting the disco fever that was gripping New York City at the time, Herc instead wanted his guests to enjoy dancing to the funk and soul they had grown up with – via an innovative means of manipulating his turntables to provide an entirely new sound to get down to. Isolating the most ‘danceable’ break down elements of a song, often just drums and bass, he would extend the break through two simultaneous records (a ‘breakbeat’), essentially inventing new songs in a way not seen before. Combining this fresh technique with booming bass and dub and complementing it with ‘toasting’ over the mic (inspired by his Jamaican heritage), Herc launched his ‘merry-go-round’ at a Sedgwick Ave gathering on the 11th August 1973 – now generally regarded as hip hop’s date of birth.

The birth of hip hop: the original hand written invitation to DJ Kool Herc's party (cover charge of $0.25 for ladies, $0.50 for men)
The birth of hip hop: the original hand written invitation to DJ Kool Herc’s party (cover charge of $0.25 for ladies, $0.50 for men)

With Herc having established hip hop’s foundation, two further developments were required for its mainstream explosion to occur: the science of the musical technique had to be mastered, and a community and culture forged around it. Enter a pair of Herc party converts who were to become hip hop’s other two ‘founding fathers’. Grandmaster Flash, another South Bronx resident, had the requisite obsessiveness to further the technology – as a child he had a fascination with electrical items and ‘things that spin’, ensuring that a career on the ‘wheels of steel’ was nothing short of destiny. He successfully built himself his own set of turntables through junk discovered in the neighbours’ various backyards, before undergoing something of a R&D process, desperate as he was to find a smoother means of seamlessly mixing records in the Herc style.

Flash’s primary innovation was to realise that the DJ, through duplicate copies of the same record and the crafty use of headphones and a mixer, had the ability to essentially loop the same break indefinitely by cueing up one section of a record while it played on the other turntable. Considered a standard in DJing today, this was a complete innovation at the time and – crucially for hip hop – laid the foundation for extended vocals, with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five being among the first to showcase the now standard partnership between rapper MC and hip hop DJ. (It should be emphasised that before hip hop was even a concept, something resembling ‘rapping’ could be found anywhere from West African storytellers to comedy overweight members of the judiciary and spoken word poets through Glenn Miller and The Animals – but Flash essentially found it a home).

Afrika Bambaataa, meanwhile, was on a mission to reverse the human impact caused by the decline of his beloved Bronx and so mobilised its community around these innovations – utilising the power of artistic expression, Bambaataa neutralised the effects of poverty and violent division by uniting the community around ideals of peace, love, unity and fun. His ‘Universal Zulu Nation’ movement is said to have rescued the consciousness of black America’s African heritage, and placed an emphasis on what we now consider to be the other two primary elements of hip hop culture alongside DJing and MCing – B-boying (something we incorrectly refer to as breakdancing) and graffiti became creative avenues for young disaffected youths to explore free of a violent gang context. With Herc, Flash, and Bambaataa leading the way, The Bronx went hip hop crazy – aided, interestingly, by a 1977 city-wide blackout that enabled huge numbers of youths to loot prohibitively expensive audio equipment, resulting in a borough-wide explosion in the number of amateur DJs and MCs.

Flash, Bambaata, Herc
Flash, Bambaataa, Herc

As the 1970s raced towards its conclusion, Flash and Bambaataa started exporting their new sound beyond Bronx borders, travelling downtown to trendy Manhattan venues and impressing, among others, Joe Strummer and Debbie Harry and forging a kinship with the punk movement. Record executives started taking note (previously the Bronx hip hoppers had considered this music only suitable for parties) and when Rapper’s Delight by the Sugarhill Gang hit the stores in September 1979, hip hop had made its mainstream explosion. But the original hip hop community in The Bronx rejected Rapper’s Delight, seen as it was as a manufactured novelty disco-infused record rather than anything true to hip hop’s organic origins, and put together by a group from New Jersey of all places; Flash and the Furious Five’s legendary The Message three years later may have introduced socially conscious hip hop to the world, dragging it someway back into mainstream credibility as it did, but by 1983 hip hop in New York City needed something different entirely. When a 19 year old from Hollis, Queens persuaded his older brother to record him rapping alongside his college friend, its effects were to resonate well beyond NYC – thanks to Run-D.M.C., hip hop went global.

Joseph Simmons (Run) had started rapping with a reluctant Darryl McDaniels (DMC) as hip hop had spread like wildfire across the city in the late 70s, the pair later encountering Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay) in Hollis’ ‘two fifths park’ where local DJs regularly battled and competed. Joseph’s older brother, Russell, meanwhile, also developed a deep interest in New York’s latest musical craze – not interested in performing, he adopted a much more entrepreneurial attitude, recognising hip hop’s potential to enrich enterprising middle men on the ground, whether they were organising parties and events or sourcing the hottest talent for record labels. At the time Russell most likely did not suspect that his own younger brother was potentially the most lucrative outlet of them – and perhaps this partly explains why the original 1983 recording of It’s Like That was given to Profile Records, rather than saved by Russell for himself. Run-D.M.C. were never to formally sign for the Def Jam Recordings label that Run’s brother founded with New York University contemporary and future legendary super-producer Rick Rubin.

Left to right: Jam Master Jay; DJ Run; Russell Simmons; DMC
Left to right: Jam Master Jay; DJ Run; Russell Simmons; DMC

Although not formally on their label, Run-D.M.C. were given by Russell and Rubin the innovative ingredients that enabled them to become a global sensation. Their canny ability to draw a very clear line between their output and what had came before them – the music and style of Grandmaster Flash and pals – ultimately resulted in the distinction we now draw between ‘old school’ and ‘new school’ hip hop, with Run-D.M.C. the undisputed kings of the latter. These lines were drawn on stylistic as well as musical grounds (see How does it sound?) and with no hyperbole can be said to be the foremost factor that led to hip hop’s now seemingly permanent residency within mainstream America and beyond.

How does it sound?

Like something that had never come before. One can make a compelling argument that Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s ‘old school’ hip hop records, along with those of Afrika Bambaataa (for his part DJ Kool Herc had no interest in getting in the recording studio), had more in common with the disco and funk movements that came before them than they did ‘new school’ hip hop records that followed subsequently. It’s Like That (along with Sucker MCs, with which it shared its A Side) and all other tracks on Run-D.M.C.’s eponymous debut album are defined by Jam Master Jay’s drum machine minimalism and heavy staccato – described by one review as having a ‘proud disdain for melody [which] may prove too avant-garde for some’. This stripped down approach was so unusual at the time that record executives refused to believe Russell Simmons when he informed them that the record was complete – they had anticipated that guitars, bass and more instrumentation would flesh out the track. This complete lack of elaborate production forced the hip hop listener for the first time to focus entirely on the message contained within the song’s lyrics – and it was a message that was to clearly resonate with young people across America and beyond.

In contrast to hip hop’s lyrical focus up to this point being on partying and good times, a key aspect of Run-D.M.C.’s ‘new school’ approach to lyricism was to take the social commentary of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s The Message and deliver it through the filter of an aggressive ‘B-boy’ attitude. To listen closely to the words of It’s Like That, for example, is to place one in a lecture theatre at the University of Life, with two particularly passionate Professors in Practice providing poignant and pertinent life lessons as part of Module RD1983 – ‘Fatalism and Generation X: It, What It Is Like, and The Way That It Is‘. Should you be someone who typically views rap as primarily a vehicle for chauvinistic self-aggrandisement and violent behaviour (a phenomenon that was to come much later), then consider that hip hop’s first ever global hit contained the lines:

Here’s another point in life you should not miss
Do not be a fool who’s prejudiced
Because we’re all written down on the same list
It’s like that (what?) and that’s the way it is

The song’s message overall is something of a combination of self-empowerment and fatalistic disillusionment – on the one hand the killing of the elderly in foreign wars is cited, as Run rhetorically questions ‘What ever happened to unity?’ but more optimistically we’re advised ‘Stop playing, start praying, you won’t be sad’. Summarising the way in which this approach appealed to a generation, the aforementioned Village Voice review concludes: ‘Do you have zero tolerance for namby-pamby bullshit? Do you believe in yourself above all? The chances are you share Run-D.M.C.’s values.’

These values were symbolised most strikingly in the stylistic imagery that Run-D.M.C. were able to project. If their music contrasted sharply with that of old school hip hop groups due its simplistic and unelaborate nature, then that is nothing compared to the equivalent contrast in their fashion and appearance. Compare the ostentatious hats, expensive looking fur, and general Village People vibe of Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five (they were said to have their own tailors) with the threads of Run-D.M.C.:
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This was, once again, the brilliant vision of Russell Simmons – it is said the smartest thing he ever did was to rid the boys of check jackets they had wanted to wear on stage, and bring in the street clothes that instantly embedded ‘keeping it real’ as a key component within hip hop culture.

Where are they now?

The ‘new school’ take on hip hop was a global sensation – shorter and more punchy records lent themselves more naturally to radio play, artists wore the same clothes as disaffected youths on the street, and their lyrics provided a relatable combination of impetuous boasting and social commentary. As the drivers of the ‘New School bus’, Run-D.M.C. picked up LL Cool J and the Beastie Boys along the way, who got to work producing albums with Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin on Defjam released records, foreshadowing hip hop’s ‘golden era’ that was to define the genre in the late 80s and early 90s. Rubin, for his part, was a visionary genius in the studio and the first to conceptualise rap’s enormously successful marriage to rock – he worked closely on Run-D.M.C. 1985’s King of Rock, which features a number of exemplary examples of the sound of Run and DMC’s vocal skills being heightened significantly by an epic heavy rock guitar riff winding away in the background. The Beastie Boys, originally a punk band, would go on to work with Rubin on further defining this sound.

The slightly awkwardly named Run-DMC JMJ Way in Hollis, Queens. Surely the Walk This Way was the obvious choice.
The slightly awkwardly named Run-DMC JMJ Way in Hollis, Queens. Surely the ‘Walk This Way’ was the obvious choice.

For Run-D.M.C., their lyrical talent combined with the crucial components provided to them by Rubin and Russell launched them into the celebrity stratosphere, just as MTV began to redefine the way music was consumed. They were the first hip hop superstars period – among other achievements, they were the first in their genre to have a gold album, be nominated for a Grammy, have a platinum record, have videos on MTV, appear on the cover of Rolling Stone, and appear at 1985’s Live Aid. Their 1986 ‘crossover’ cover of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way – another Rick Rubin brainwave which also served to resurrect the hard rock band’s career – affirmed their place as musical royalty once and for all. Meanwhile Adidas took notice of the marketing potential provided by this unexpected product placement and quickly moved to neutralise any prospective rivals, securing a $1.6m endorsement deal with the group that enabled My Adidas to appear on their third album, 1986’s Raising Hell. This deal in many ways represents the advent of hip hop’s fast track towards mass commercialisation.

Rev Run and DMC at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 2009
Rev Run and DMC at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony, 2009

After the devastating success of Run-D.M.C., King of Rock, and Raising Hell, three more albums came between 1988 and 2001 with mixed results – the last of which, Crown Royal, debatable as to whether it should even be called a Run-D.M.C. album, produced as it was in a period of acrimony between the pair which led to DMC featuring on only three of the tracks. The hole was filled by a number of special guests appearing alongside Run, from Nas to Kid Rock, resulting in a disappointing and disjointed effort. The band were officially still active until 2002 when Jam Master Jay was tragically shot dead in a recording studio in his native Queens, his name now found alongside Tupac Shakur and The Notorious B.I.G. as hip hop victims of unresolved murders. Despite Run-D.M.C.’s celebrity, he never moved from Hollis, Queens, and prior to his death had been something of a mentor to Onyx and 50 Cent at his Jam Master Records. He sadly did not live to witness Run-D.M.C.’s ascent into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when Eminem inducted the group in 2009.

Mural to Jam Master Jay in Hollis, Queens
Mural to Jam Master Jay in Hollis, Queens

With Jay gone, Run-D.M.C. officially became no more, its two frontmen finding time for a few strange collaborations and vocations. Both went down the solo career route, Run releasing Distortion in 2005 (a listenable return to form) and DMC putting out Checks Thugs and Rock n Roll a year later. Run’s more bizarre exploits include collaborating with British reality TV band Liberty X on Song 4 Lovers, becoming an ordained minister, and starring in Run’s House, MTV’s hip hop take on The Osbournes in which a camera crew documents an odd mix of genuine family life and producer-dictated drama (see Further learning). Those seeking spiritual guidance can try out Rev Run’s (as he is now officially known) ‘Words of Wisdom’, daily affirmations of faith broadcast on various US stations each morning.

DMC’s journey also contains no shortage of spiritual revelation but on an entirely different plane. Struggling with alcohol abuse and depression in the late 1990s, McDaniels had considered suicide – he claims he was persuaded against it when he happened to hear on the radio a song named Angel by Canadian singer-songwriter Sarah McLachlan and, reinvigorated by its beauty, decided to write an autobiography. It was in the research process that DMC found out from his mother that he had been adopted and was born in Harlem, Manhattan and not in Queens, sparking further life assessment and a VH1 documentary entitled DMC: My Adoption Journey; the show ultimately concluding with the rapper meeting his biological mother and thanking her for enabling the opportunities that defined his life. In addition, having been giddishly excited to meet her at the Grammy’s, DMC teamed up with McLachlan who agreed to a collaboration for his solo album – the singer appeared on Just Like Me, a song all about his adoption story, sampling Harry Chapin childhood anthem Cat’s In The Cradle. Tying it all into a heart-warming package, McLachlan revealed to DMC during the recording process that she too was an adoptee. With Run finding solace in the Lord, DMC found his own path and can these days be found producing his own set of DMC graphic novels (its title standing for Darryl Makes Comics), in which he portrays himself as some kind of skyscraper-sized Adidas and gold ring wearing administer of justice, with Jam Master Jay featuring as his sidekick mechanic.

Meanwhile if we are considering legacy, then let us posit an alternative history in which Rick Rubin and Russell Simmons never involve themselves in hip hop. In this world, hip hop remains a fringe interest for very select regions. Run-D.M.C. – now called The Treacherous Two (this was genuinely name they had to be persuaded out of using by Rubin and Russell) – take to the stage in fur coats and a full live band, while Aerosmith are only vaguely recalled at some kind of relic who disappeared in the early 80s. It is also a world in which there is no Public Enemy, no Eminem, and no Kanye West; and there is no such thing as rap rock, and so no Red Hot Chili Peppers, no Kid Rock, and – heaven forbid – no Limp Bizkit. Thankfully that is not the world we live in, and it is a world in which Simmons’ and Rubin’s respective status’ as mega mogul and legendary producer are absolute. For Rick, his genius in the studio was swiftly recognised by the industry as a whole, moving on from hip hop to work with a litany of musical legends, from the Red Hot Chili Peppers to Johnny Cash, even finding time for a five year spell running Columbia Records along the way.

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Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin in 2014

14 years after its founding, Russell sold Defjam Records to the Universal Music Group for $100m in 1999. While he continues to maintain links to the world of hip hop, including close connections with Ja Rule, DMX, and 50 Cent, a large proportion of his time today is taken up by activism: a staunch vegan since 1999, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals awarded him the 2001 PETA Humanitarian Award, he became Chairman of Board of the Foundation for Ethnic Understanding in 2002, and in May 2009 he was appointed Goodwill Ambassador for the UN Slavery Memorial. He was last seen protesting against the policies of President Trump.

1520 Sedwick Avenue: the birthplace of hip hop
1520 Sedgwick Avenue: the birthplace of hip hop

Life for the three founding fathers of hip hop has naturally been defined by the enormous impact their movement had on the world. Afrika Bambaataa continued with the Universal Zulu Nation until a series of unpleasant (and at time of publication unproven) sexual abuse allegations led to his stepping down as leader of the movement last year; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five became the first hip hop group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2007; and DJ Kool Herc successfully campaigned to prevent 1520 Sedgwick Ave (now recognised officially as the birthplace of hip hop by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation) from being purchased by developers, seen as a significant victory in the struggle to preserve affordable housing in New York City. Meanwhile, while by no means affluent, The Bronx burns no more – over $1bn was spent on rebuilding the area in the 1990s, with 19,000 apartments refurbished and 4,500 houses built. Perhaps the biggest indication that The Bronx is no longer a no-go zone is the fact that it is now a tourist attraction – ‘hip hop tours’ come complete with celebrity tour guides from the movement’s old school era.

As for hip hop, as we all know, ‘where it is now’ is near round-the-clock in our faces. Following Run-D.M.C.’s awesome impact, hip hop’s ‘golden era’ saw a flurry of releases that experimented with the genre in a series of innovative ways, with seminal efforts from the America’s eastern side including but not restricted to: The Beastie Boys’ Licenced To Ill (1986); DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince’s Rock the House (1987); Public Enemy’s It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back (1988); A Tribe Called Quest’s The Low End Theory (1991); Wu Tang Clan’s Enter the Wu-Tang (36 Chambers) (1993) and Nas’ Illmatic (1994). But at the same time the image hip hop projected to the world was about to become permanently and dramatically altered by developments on another coast – when the US100 reaches that coast, we will explore how and why.

Further learning

Trivia:
Russell Simmons entrepreneurialism is not restricted to the musical arena: he was also co-producer of Eddie Murphy’s 1996 hit, The Nutty Professor.

Watch:

This particular 1984 performance of It’s Like That (with It’s Tricky medley) showcases the clear chemistry between Run, DMC, and Jay, and contains some alternative lyrics not found on the original recording, my personal favourite verse being: Nowadays it’s hard to cope / When everybody is into coke / They even tried to kill the Pope / It’s like that / And that’s the way it is

Run-D.M.C. ‘break through the wall’ and quite literally cross over into the world of rock in simply one of the most symbolic, important, and enjoyable music videos of all time. Compulsory viewing for anyone who wants to appreciate the way in which rap hijacked and ultimately embedded itself within rock, and how 1986 saw Run-D.M.C.’s elevation into superstardom.

Tougher Than Leather (1988)
After 1985’s Krush Groove, this is the second of two unnecessary attempts by Run-D.M.C., Russell Simmons, and Rick Rubin to underline their credentials as producer of high quality cinema as well as groundbreaking music. They fail spectacularly: this cliche and stereotype ridden mess serves only to expose a cynical attempt to exploit Run-D.M.C.’s musical status. It is fair to say that Rubin’s awesome talent for producing records did not translate to directing, or indeed acting – his character is Head Bastard White Man in a cast in which white people exclusively play Bastards. Ironically, this film seems to invoke so many hip hop stereotypes around violence, misogyny and race hate that was never evident in the music or character of its primary protagonists. Highlight: full rendition of Run’s House at the film’s conclusion which at least reminds you of the brilliance of Run-D.M.C.’s music.

Run’s House (2005-2009)
If you’re trapped in a building for an entire weekend with nothing but Amazon Prime for company, you could do worse than catching up on all six seasons of Rev Run and family’s reality TV debut. Covering 2005-2009, this coincides with the Reverend releasing his solo album through to being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Hip Hop Evolution (2016)
Commissioned by Netflix to complement The Get Down (Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc are both characters within this fictional series set in the 1970s Bronx), this documentary explains how hip hop evolved in as a comprehensive and accessible manner as anything outside of US100. Presented by Canadian MC, Shad, its four episodes are divided between hip hop’s embryonic origins, its ascent into the mainstream, the mass success of the new school, and the switch to gangsta rap.

The Get Down (2016)
An absolutely wonderful fictional dramatisation of the period of New York history that corresponds with hip hop’s origins. Set in the Burning Bronx, the 6-part first series follows the fortunes of two primary fictional protagonists struggling to balance their passion for the dominant music forms at the time (the newly emerging hip hop and the ubiquitous disco) with the trauma of growing up on America’s most dangerous streets. Delightful cinematography does a definitive job of placing you directly onto New York’s streets, while hugely enjoyable cameos from dramatised versions of Grandmaster Flash and DJ Kool Herc ensure the show gives hip hop’s genuine history its dues.

Read:

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-12-27-12
Jessi Brattengeier’s hip hop infographic

Jessi Brattengeier, US100 Stateside Hip Hop Correspondent, on the origins of hip hop
Graphic designer and hip hop acolyte Jessi Brattengeier spent months on presenting the evolution of hip hop and its many many factions through a holistic infographic, connecting them all across something of an enormous family tree. Recognising a familiar level of geeky devotion to presenting musical topics, the US100 has since moved to secure Jessi’s services as our official Stateside Hip Hop Correspondent, and Jarek chatted to her about the origins of hip hop as well as its later evolution (“there has a been a serious divide within the hip hop community about the genre’s intentions”) – read here.

A ‘Bronx Renaissance’?
Having looked at the 1930s Harlem Renaissance in our third chapter, I pondered whether the cultural activity in The Bronx in the 70s and 80s could be considered as an equivalent ‘Bronx Renaissance’ – and so I put this question to Professor Davarian Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Not dismissing my idea, he asserted that: “there is no question that the popular arts of B-boying, MCing, and graffiti were not just inspirations for art but arts themselves – and part of a rich cultural explosion that emerged in the bowels of despair.” Read his full thoughts here.

Review of DMC #1
While copies of the graphic novel are difficult to come by, this review from Infinite Speech would seem to suggest that DMC has found his post-musical calling in life, as the product is praised for its imagery (professional graffiti artist Mare139 was recruited to portray the streets of New York City) and its characters, asserting that it is ‘filled with everything that makes a comic great’. I asked the reviewer about hip hop’s influence on DMC’s comic (“it seamlessly merges hip hop culture with superhero stories”), as well as its depiction of New York City (“it’s almost as if NYC is a character itself in the story”) – read his full thoughts here.

The Musical Moron reviews Run-D.M.C.’s eponymous debut
“It is the start, not only of a band but of a genre. The style of intricate lyrics placed over simple beats is one that has stood the test of time [but] for a medium that relies so heavily on what is being said, to have only a third of your tracks have a message other than ‘look at us, we are great, our music is the best’ presents quite a fundamental problem.”

The Musical Moron – peddler of plain speaking album reviews minus the jargon, and a man single-handedly bringing the haiku into vogue – takes a look at the album from which It’s Like That came.

Genius.com lyrical analysis of It’s Like That
My new favourite website offers a Wiki-style open source line by line breakdown of US100 Track 8.

‘DMC: Saved By An Angel’ – IGN, February 2006
A highly engaging read which essentially details DMC’s post Run-D.M.C. life (as described in Where are they now?) in his own words, focusing on the extraordinary story of his adoption revelation and subsequent collaboration with Sarah McLachlan, highlighting just how affable a character Darryl McDaniels truly is. Perhaps most pertinently he concludes:

“…even though Run, DMC, and Jay were the baddest muthaf****** to ever pick up a mic and a turntable, we always talked about good, normal stuff that people could relate to. I’m part of the number one rap group in the world and one of my lyrics was ‘I’m DMC / in the place to be / I go to St. John’s University.’ Our whole point is that we made it gangsta to be positive.”

They took Grandmaster Caz’s rhymes without giving him credit. Now, he’s getting revenge. – The Washington Post, September 2016
Grandmaster Caz aka Curtis Brown aka Casanova Fly of the Cold Crush Brothers seems to have made an unfortunate habit of going through life without being appropriately recognised for his contribution and talent. Caz has a strong claim to being a founder of hip hop, along the lines of Bambaata, Flash, and Herc, but is rarely mentioned in the same breath; this article details his story, in which he missed out on the record deals and Netflix cameos awarded to Flash, and instead today conducts hip hop tours around The South Bronx. This article also recalls the legendary story of how the Sugarhill Gang stole his rhymes for Rappers Delight, hip hop’s first major chart hit – for which he also never received any reward or recognition.

Listen:
Blondie – Rapture (1981)
Spotify
YouTube
As the hip hop scene began bubbling away in the mainstream cooking pot, Blondie’s Debbie Harry was so inspired by a meeting with Grandmaster Flash and rapper Fab Five Freddy that she decided to incorporate her own attempt at rap in this 1981, incredibly becoming the first rapper to have a US Billboard Number 1 as she did so. The rhymes she spat, which included direct reference to the two hip hop figures, were certainly alternative to say the least (And then you’re in the man from Mars / You go out at night eating cars / You eat Cadillacs Lincolns too / Mercurys and Subaru). In the genius.com lyrical analysis of this number, Fab Five Freddy himself appears in the annotations to explain his involvement with the singer, although he fails to explain what in God’s name she is talking about.

Run-D.M.C. – King of Rock (1985)
Spotify
YouTube
Run-D.M.C.’s second album, and in particular its title track, quite simply nailed ‘rap rock’.

LL Cool J – Hip Hop (1995)
Spotify
YouTube
If you’d rather get your historical overview of hip hop in musical form, punctuated with a guy saying ‘Y’nahhhI’msayin?’ every 12 seconds, then check out LL Cool J’s attempts to condense these six tabs into 5 minutes of audio on the dot.

DMC feat. Sarah McLachlan – Just Like Me (2006)
Spotify
YouTube
One of the only songs I’ve heard in which a rapper details his own birth (The child was born it was a beautiful day / It was 1964, the 31st of May / The girl gave birth to a baby boy / He’s not a burden, he’s a bundle of joy), this is a pleasant enough audio insight into the DMC adoption experience.

Visit:
Birthplace of Hip Hop Tour
If you’re in New York City, then please do it for me and report back which celebrity guide you got.

Help me find:
DMC: My Adoption Journey (2006)
This VH1 documentary forms part of the holy DMC post-Run-D.M.C. trilogy, along with the Sarah McLachlan record and the DMC graphic novel.

US100 cross references:
Tracks 9-11
Mentioned in reference to:
– Connection between the 1977 blackout and the 2003 blackout in New York City
– Rick Rubin producing a Gogol Bordello album

US100 interviews

Professor Davarian L. Baldwin on the concept of a ‘Bronx Renaissance’
Having looked at the 1930s Harlem Renaissance in our third chapter, I pondered whether the cultural activity in The Bronx in the 70s and 80s could be considered as an equivalent ‘Bronx Renaissance’ – and so I put this question to Professor Davarian Baldwin, Paul E. Raether Distinguished Professor of American Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, Connecticut. Not dismissing my idea, he asserted that: “there is no question that the popular arts of B-boying, MCing, and graffiti were not just inspirations for art but arts themselves – and part of a rich cultural explosion that emerged in the bowels of despair.” Read his full thoughts here.

screen-shot-2017-02-17-at-12-27-12
Jessi Brattengeier’s hip hop infographic

Jessi Brattengeier, US100 Stateside Hip Hop Correspondent, on the origins of hip hop
Graphic designer and hip hop acolyte Jessi Brattengeier spent months on presenting the evolution of hip hop and its many many factions through a holistic infographic, connecting them all across something of an enormous family tree. Recognising a familiar level of geeky devotion to presenting musical topics, the US100 has since moved to secure Jessi’s services as our official Stateside Hip Hop Correspondent, and Jarek chatted to her about the origins of hip hop as well as its later evolution (“there has a been a serious divide within the hip hop community about the genre’s intentions”) – read here.

Infinite Speech of comicattack.net on DMC Issue #1
While copies of the graphic novel are difficult to come by, this review from Infinite Speech would seem to suggest that DMC has found his post-musical calling in life, as the product is praised for its imagery (professional graffiti artist Mare139 was recruited to portray the streets of New York City) and its characters, asserting that it is ‘filled with everything that makes a comic great’. I asked the reviewer about hip hop’s influence on DMC’s comic (“it seamlessly merges hip hop culture with superhero stories”), as well as its depiction of New York City (“it’s almost as if NYC is a character itself in the story”) – read his full thoughts here.

US100 podcast

US100 podcast Vol01Ep04: Birth of Hip Hop
It’s whistle stop hip hop, as JZ drops this pod from the blocks of The Bronx. Covering approximately 453 years (1541-1994), Jarek speedily runs us through an all-encompassing narrative of how the independent elements of rap, DJing, funk, soul, MCing, graffiti, b-boying, disco, and rock – along with some ludicrous lyrics written by Debbie Harry – all melted into the boiling pot that was to be known as hip hop.

Running Chris and BD through the story of hip hop’s three Bronx-based forefathers, Jarek then explains how Queens-based Run-D.M.C. dramatically changed the game, via a listen to US100 track 8, It’s Like That.

Drawing a line at hip hop’s golden era, the guys move on to how DMC found comic books as Run found the Good Book.

Play through the embedded player above or on our Podcasts page; download for offline listening; find us on iTunes; or find us on all other major podcast platforms by searching ‘US100’.

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