This time Run-D.M.C, the country’s top rap group, hadn’t even gotten onstage before the trouble closed the place down. Some 60 security guards at the Long Beach (Calif.) Arena had waved metal detectors over the 14,000 fans filing in and collected an arsenal of guns, knives and pipes. But sometime before 10 p.m., as opening act Whodini played, nearly 200 Los Angeles youth gang members waded into the crowd, wielding fists, knives and snapped-off chair legs against their fellow concertgoers. “Please,” one Whodini member reportedly said into the mike, “this is a place to party. This is a place to hear music.”
But for the fifth time this summer, a rap concert on Run-D.M.C.’s “Raising Hell” tour was also a place for violence. Members of the audience said ghetto toughs were clustered near the doors; when the guards, bolstered by 60 reinforcements, charged the crowd to clear the hall, the fighting near the exits increased. Long Beach hospitals treated about 40 people who were roughed up, clubbed or stabbed. (The same weekend in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn, gunfire erupted in a crowd of 200 people gathered for a rap concert called “Monster Jam ’86.” A 14-year-old boy was killed and three others wounded.)
The day after the California incident Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell threatened to ban rock concerts from his city. “There’s no revenue worth this kind of violence,” he said. For its part, Run-D.M.C. called off its concert the next night at the Hollywood Palladium and said it would not play in the Los Angeles area until police could guarantee better protection. “The security was soft,” said band member Joe Simmons, known as Run. “These kids have nothing to do with Run-D.M.C. They would have hit me in the head too. They are against everything I’m for.”
Well, yes and no. Run-D.M.C., the rap kings of Queens, N.Y., and the ghettobred street gangs who have terrorized the band’s fans may share styles of jargon and dress and a love for rap’s edgy, big beat urban sound. But the group’s three members hardly hail from the same streets that spawn gangs bent on mindless violence. Made up of Simmons (Run), Darryl McDaniels (D.M.C.) and Jason Mizzell (Jam Master Jay), Run-D.M.C. was first promoted by Run’s brother, Russell Simmons, who managed Kurtis Blow, once rap’s hottest star, and whose career as a young record mogul helped inspire the 1981 film Krush Groove. Run, Jay, and D, all 21 and reared in the quiet, middle-class Hollis area of Queens, released their first single in 1983, shortly after graduating from high school. Three successful albums followed—Run-D.M.C, King of Rock and Raising Hell, which includes the crossover hit single Walk This Way and is by far the most successful rap record ever.
Run-D.M.C, with their Stetson hats and favored Adidas sneakers, have achieved mainstream pop success without abandoning their black denims or trading their street scowls for Hollywood smiles; the three continue to live in Hollis with their families. They took part in the Sun City video to raise money to fight apartheid in South Africa, and many of the group’s lyrics are antidrug and antiviolence, if self-celebrating:
The things I do make me a star,
And you can be, too, if you
know who you are.
Just put your mind to it, you’ll go real far,
Like the pedal to the metal
when you’re drivin’ a car.
Some critics, like Parents’ Music Resource Center crusader Tipper Gore, believe there is a subliminal message in rap music—that “it’s okay to beat people up.” Run-D.M.C., which delights in Rambo, does project an image of toughness onstage. Periodically, during a show, Run and D will grab their crotches and run to the wings to slug down Old English Beer, the beverage of choice in the New York ghetto. Then of course, there’s the music, driving, funky, reflective of black life on urban streets, even provocative.
“It’s not the music,” said Run when questioned before Long Beach about the violence, the gold-chain snatching and fights that seem to accompany rap concerts. Jam Master Jay disagreed. “The robbers definitely do come to see us,” he said, ” ’cause we make their music, you know that. They come here to party, then after the party they’re gonna rob somebody, if it’s in ’em.” Run demurs again. “A lot of our records have positive messages,” he argues. “People that put rap down ain’t listenin’ to what we’re talkin’ about. They think we’re just ghetto kids braggin’. But we’re handin’ out a lot of information on what the world is like.”