“I’m the king of rock/there is none higher/sucker MCs should call me sire.” Though Rev. Run first boasted of this back in 1985 on the title track to Run-DMC’s “King of Rock” album, he continues to be an iconic presence in hip-hop music and an enduring TV personality.
Born Joseph Simmons, Rev. Run has had a deep-rooted influence on modern American music. You can look at Run-DMC’s late ’80s catalog for that lasting impact, but more specifically, there are two songs that helped usher hip-hop from the underground to the mainstream. For the trio’s enduring career (which includes DMC and Jam Master Jay), Run-DMC has taken home a number of lifetime achievement awards, including being the second hip-hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, and the first hip-hop group to be nominated for a Grammy (the group has a pair of Grammys, including Hall of Fame for “Walk This Way” in 2014, and a Lifetime Achievement in 2016). They were also the first hip-hop group to have gold (for 1984’s self-titled album) and platinum-selling albums (1985’s “King of Rock”).
“I’m very proud of what I’ve accomplished,” Run told TheWrap. “I’m not the EGOT guy like John Legend, but once you’ve got a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame trophy and a Lifetime Achievement Grammy, you’re pretty much killing it…or killed it.”
Unlike some of his legendary contemporaries who have publicly decried or all-out dismissed modern hip-hop, Rev. Run not only keeps up with the genre he helped popularize, but also embraces it. He cites Drake and Bruno Mars among his favorite newer artists.
“I’m giving my wife and her mother Bruno Mars tickets,” Run said of his gift recommendation, which is part of a promotion he’s doing in conjunction with StubHub ahead of the holidays and includes a personalized greeting from Murs. “He’s dope, you won’t find a better concert that’s for sure. Bruno Mars does splits, he spins on his head, he does it all. He’s outrageous live.”
“I still love rap,” he continued. “I love seeing Beyonce and Jay-Z tour the world. I love what Meek Mill just put out. I’m not one of those old-school guys who says, ‘Back when I was younger…’ I’m not the old-school angry rapper. I actually look for new hit records and enjoy them, like Nicki Minaj, Flipp Deniro and other stuff. I’m into rap, I’m not only up on it, I love it.”
On top of being hip-hop pioneers, the group has helped to usher in a credible run of hip-hop Christmas music with their “Christmas in Hollis” song from 1987.
“Don’t put me up against Nat ‘King’ Cole,” he said of the song’s standing among top Christmas songs. “I may be the first to make a rap Christmas song, but I’m not ‘Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.'”
Run credits the group’s then-publicist Bill Adler for urging them to do “Christmas in Hollis,” which was part of “A Very Special Christmas” compilation album and has since become a holiday classic. Knowing that he couldn’t sing (being that he’s a rapper and all), he had other ideas for how to put a then-modern spin on a popular niche genre.
“I sat there with a pen,” Run recalled. “I remember bacon, eggs and jelly and I wrote the rhyme within one minute. I called him (Adler) back, and I think there was a Holy Ghost takeover because the rhyme was very much spiritual and beautiful. I thank God for that moment of giving me that rhyme.”
Run-DMC recently resurfaced as power players as described in the new “Beastie Boys Book,” which has an intro and outro read by Run in the audio version (“Very funny stories about moving to California”). It describes the trio having played an important role in molding the Beasties into what they ultimately became. In particular, the group credits Run-DMC with a variety of recording tactics — including doubling vocals — and Run himself is credited for coming up with the first two lines of the Beasties’ spaghetti western classic, “Paul Revere.” The energetic Run is described in the book as running down the street, telling the befuddled trio, “Here’s a little story I got to tell,” over and over, which he confirms is true.
The same goes for when the Beasties mentioned being in studio with Run-DMC and Aerosmith when they were remaking the now-iconic cover of “Walk This Way.”
“I thought we were making hillbilly jibberish,” Run recalled of the song. “We used to rap over that beat and never wanted to hear the lyrics and never knew what was being said by Steven Tyler. The job of the DJ was to make sure that Steven Tyler didn’t say anything. When Rick Rubin told us to do those vocals, we had to go home and find out what Steven was saying because as a rapper, you’d be biting if you took someone else’s lyrics. We used to rap over that beat in the hood and those vocals were not the hippest thing for us to do. And it ended up being a big hit and confounded our minds.”
However, when the conversation shifted to the Beasties’ acrimonious departure from Def Jam and his brother, Rev. Run brusquely dismissed any and all talk, saying that he was only focused on “preaching positivity.”
As for any new Run-DMC music, don’t count on it. Though he and DMC continue to play “seven-to-eight” shows that are “the right opportunity,” Run dismisses any iota of opportunity that a new album will surface — and with good reason.
“How often does an iconic group make another hit record?” he asked rhetorically. “And how often do they go out and perform all of the hits? How badly do you not want to hear the material from the new record that’s replacing ‘My Adidas?’ How bad do you want to hear ‘Walk This Way’ instead of a new record?
“You’d be pissed if I tried to play my whole new album and miss you all of your favorite songs,” Run added. “So that’s the answer.”