Run-DMC's legacy — and Jam Master Jay's role in that legacy — will be much discussed by fans, peers and pundits in the coming days, but perhaps no one had a better vantage point to observe the hip-hop pioneers than Run-DMC themselves.
MTV News caught up with Darryl McDaniels in August (see "Run-DMC Plan Return To B-Boyism On Anniversary LP") and in a sad twist of fate, again last week, just prior to the news breaking about Jam Master Jay's death (see "Jam Master Jay, Run-DMC DJ, Killed In Shooting). In both interviews, DMC reflected upon the band's place in hip-hop history, and what he'd like to see change for hip-hop's future.
"You know, we did a lot for rap," DMC said. "We were the first on MTV, the first to go gold, the first to prove rappers could sell records, but what we did though, we wasn't thinking for ourselves. We were thinking of the whole hip-hop culture. We were representing everyone who came before us, Grandmaster Flash, Melle Mel, Cold Crush, Afrika Bambaataa, Zulu Nation, and we represent everybody after us, Sean Combs, Jermaine Dupri, Dr. Dre, Ice Cube. We represent hip-hop."
"But personally, our greatest achievement is longevity," he continued. "We're still here. We're like the Rolling Stones of this hip-hop thing, and it's a pleasure to still be down. But we don't just come, sit around and hang out; we want to get on and DJ. Jam Master Jay always got the turntables, just give me and Run a mic and it's on."
DMC credited the existence of star DJs like Jam Master Jay as a splintering of DJ duties from disco's salad days, when the nascent hip-hop culture reacted to the dance scene by creating their own, with DJs and MCs who played at block parties, makeshift venues, and at people's homes.
"What a lot of people really don't know is that hip-hop and rap and DJing actually evolved out of the disco era," DMC said. "The DJ would play the records and people would go into the so-called disco and start dancing. But back in the day, we wasn't really with 'Saturday Night Fever' and John Travolta and the funny white suits and everything that they was rocking in the discos. We wasn't really with that growing up in the 'hood. As a matter of fact, we probably couldn't even afford to go into the disco or we just wasn't really vibing with the music."
"We had to create our own type of discos," he continued. "That's where the DJ emerged. But then it was a time when the music was so powerful, there were so many different sounds of music, the DJ had so many different records to spin, he couldn't possibly play the record and keep saying, 'Get out your seat and dance to the beat.' So the MC became the guy who would keep hyping the crowd, and the DJ keep playing the records."
The DJ also became — at least in Run-DMC's case — the band, and sometimes, even the stylist. "We got our style from Jam Master Jay," DMC said. "Jam Master Jay used to wear the leather suit, the Godfather hat, the big gold chains, the old laces in his sneakers, in high school. When we first formed the group, Russell [Simmons] seen Jay and said, 'That's your look! That's going to be your look!' I probably would've have just worn anything, what I would have worn naturally, but Jay brought the whole Run-DMC, black leather, superhero, Batman and Robin look to us."
Style, though, shouldn't be celebrated over substance, DMC said. With hip-hop's gradual acceptance in the culture at large, rappers and DJs started to lose part of their original motivation to prove themselves, something that infused hip-hop with a search for larger meaning. Even though Run-DMC wore heavy jewelry and rapped about name brands, he said, they didn't forget that, for the most part, hip-hop wasn't just about lifestyle product placement.
"Rap is what we do, not what we are," DMC said. "It ain't about just the video. Some of these rappers need to do the same thing [classic rock artists] did, when there's a problem in their society or in their community. They would make a record about the Vietnam War. They would make a record about stuff going on. We got a lot of stuff that's really f---ed up, but everybody think because you turn a video on, and you see all the pretty women, and the pool parties, and the food, and the liquor, and the cars, that everything in the world is fine. The power of communication is the greatest thing that we can have, but we ain't teaching that to the young kids. We just teaching them, 'Say a rhyme, get a car, get a big house.' But it's not about that."
For their last tour, with Aerosmith and Kid Rock (see "Crazy Cryin' Cocky Cowboys: Aerosmith, Kid Rock, Run-DMC Rock Jersey")," DMC said, the lineup was a powerful expression of the positive messages that music — not just hip-hop — can instill. "You've got three generations of music: Aerosmith, Run-DMC and Kid Rock, and you've got no color boundaries," he said. "This is what the world should be like. Everybody together unified for one purpose and for one cause, and it's a beautiful thing."
To read fans' thoughts on the loss of Jam Master Jay or to add your own, see You Tell Us.
For full coverage of the Jam Master Jay case, see the Jam Master Jay Reports.