Late last winter Joe “Run” Simmons was in a deep funk. First among the three equals who are Run-D.M.C., Simmons despaired because his group was “between albums,” a painful state of pop purgatory. “You get thinking you’re not a star,” Run remembers. “I’d turn off the TV ’cause all I saw was L.L. Cool J [a 19-year-old rap rival and fellow favorite son of Hollis, Queens, N.Y.]. All I heard on radio was L.L. Cool J. Oh my God! It was like I was Richard Pryor and he was Eddie Murphy. But then I dropped my new album and it just—it went stupid.”
Like through-the-roof stupid. Sales of Raising Hell, Run-D.M.C.’s third LP, were so bad—as in good—that Simmons, 22 (center), and his partners, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, 22 (left), and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, 21 (right), looked like rapping Einsteins. And pop pundits who dismissed rap as a penny-ante phenomenon looked less than prophetic.
Propelled by a remake of Aerosmith’s 1977 hit Walk This Way and bristling with hard rock guitar hooks, funky wordplay and dazzling rhythm mixes, the record has sold nearly 2.5 million copies and reached No. 3 on the monitor of the musical mainstream, Billboard’s Top Pop chart. For rap’s ruling troika, it’s been life in the jet stream ever since. They’ve already wrapped a feature film, Tougher Than Leather, chatted with the two Davids—Letterman and Brenner—and responded in syncopated rhyme when Joan Rivers asked, “Can we rap?”
But all has not been happy talk. “I’m real mad at musicians who don’t respect rap,” says Simmons, who’s particularly miffed at a member of Kool and the Gang who had the temerity to “dis” (express disrespect for) rap in public. “The day rap fades I’m gonna find him and beat him up, so he better hope it don’t fade,” Simmons jokes.
Then there’s the bad rap rap received after marauding gangs injured 45 people at a Long Beach, Calif. Run-D.M.C. concert last August. “It’s not rap that caused the trouble,” Simmons insists. “And it’s not the fans. I got beautiful fans and the shows are cool, peaceful. But there’s robbers outside who prey on Run-D.M.C. fans. Anybody says rap provokes violence never listens to rap. That’s it.”
Unfettered by the demands of modesty, Simmons is equally sure that the group’s appearance on a daylong radio program in L.A. helped stop gang violence in that city. Says Simmons: “Afterwards, gang violence was down to nothing.” Really? “No gang activity goin’ on at all, man. That’s what I’m told. I’m so big in L.A. that when I talk, like E.F. Hutton, they listened.”
Today the albumless winter of Simmons’ discontent seems a distant memory. “I have an exciting life,” he says. “I roll over every morning and I think, ‘Oh my God, I’m Run-D.M.C.!’ ” And by the way, “I called L.L. Cool J the other day,” adds Simmons. “He said that when Run-D.M.C. is on TV, he turns it right off. I respect him for it.” After all, “Didn’t I turn off the TV when L.L. was on?”