NEW YORK — With this past October marking the one-year anniversary of the death of Jam Master Jay, much of the talk about the legendary trio of late has been solemn. Apparently the news of Jay's early demise and the subsequent hunt for his killers has managed to overshadow the fact that this year marks the group's 20th anniversary.
Leave it to their old friend and former publicist Bill Adler to remind us. Adler's Eyejammie Fine Arts Gallery in New York is currently running an exhibit entitled "It's Like That: 20 Years of Run-DMC-JMJ."
"There's no erasing what these guys did in their prime," Adler said while sitting at his desk in the gallery last week. "A show like this helps focus on their various achievements. People, think back and get happy ... it's no different than going back and listening to Run-DMC's records again. You go back and listen and the stuff has not aged. They still sound crisp, vital, entertaining. People will see them more and more as the Beatles of rap."
Adler, who worked as the group's publicist from 1984 to 1990, called upon some of the photographers he'd developed relationships with over the years to donate pictures they'd shot of the rap triumvirate.
"I wanted to show the span of what they'd done," Adler said about his game plan. "I knew a lot of photographers — I'd hired them back in the day. The actual process of putting the show together was not difficult. You talk to the photographers and work with them to choose the best images. The question of what's the best is kind of a tricky thing. There's no formula. It's just a feeling."
Adler amassed 52 photos taken from 1983 to 2002 by such esteemed photographers as Glen E. Friedman, Ernie Paniccioli, Al Pereira and Ronnie Wright. A standout in the exhibit includes a 1994 photo taken by Pereira at Madison Square Garden's Paramount Theater. In it DMC is at the front of the stage and Tupac Shakur is looking up at him from the front row of the audience.
"You see, Tupac was not just a practitioner of hip-hop — he was a fan of hip-hop," Adler said of the photo. "If you're a fan of hip-hop, you're gonna do that. You're gonna get at DMC's feet [at a show] and look up at him because he's a damn god and you're just gonna be happy. D came to the [photo] show and he stood there looking at [the picture,] and he was in shock. First of all, he didn't remember when it happened. Second of all, he'd never seen that photo before. He was delighted."
Other stills include one of Jam Master Jay striking a triumphant pose atop his newly purchased jeep in the fall of 1986; one of Run and DMC the night of their first-ever performance at the Bronx nightclub Disco Fever in 1983; and a 1986 photo of the "Walk This Way" recording session at Magic Ventura Studio in New York.
"There wasn't a place in this small complex of rooms where Rick [Rubin] didn't have the music playing at earsplitting volume," said Adler of the studio, looking at a photo of himself, Rubin, Aerosmith and Russell Simmons. "It was impossible to talk. I had to get up and shout in your ear just so you could hear whatever I had to say. I remember getting up and asking Rick if he could turn it down please, and he screamed at me and said, 'No.' It was a fine atmosphere for him to do his work in. Run-DMC were so unfamiliar with Aerosmith [at the time that] they thought the name of the group was [their 1975 album] Toys in the Attic."
"It's Like That: 20 Years of Run-DMC-JMJ" is free to the public. It opened on October 17 and will run through January. You can check out eyejammie.com to see thumbnail pictures of the gallery's display and purchase photos at prices ranging from $195 to $1,500, but know that your experience won't be complete until you visit the collection in person.
"Everybody was so delighted with the exhibition itself," Adler said about the response he's been getting. "It's just a reflection of everybody's enduring love for Run-DMC. They represented what's come to be recognized as b-boy culture. They sold it to the world as nobody had before them."