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The Hip-Hop Heroes from Hollis: Everything You Need to Know About Run-DMC

From "My Adidas" to their cover of "Walk This Way," Run-DMC pioneered new-school hip hop in the '80s. 

By Elisabeth Ford

The new Peacock docuseries, Kings from Queens: The Run DMC Storyspotlights the height of the 1980s hip hop scene by honing in on legendary rap group Run-DMC.

The hip hop trio of Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and the late Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell — formed in Hollis, Queens in the early 1980s — are celebrated in the three-part series hitting Peacock on Thursday, February 1, 2024.

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The one-hour episodes will feature exclusive interviews with artists including Eminem, LL Cool J, Ice Cube, Questlove, members of the Beastie Boys, Salt and other music heavyweights. They'll also include a treasure trove of footage showing the group’s pivotal role in the hip hop genre.

The series chronicles major career moments for Run-DMC, from breaking down racial barriers to bringing about skyrocketing sneaker sales after coming out with their 1986 hit song “My Adidas.”  

As the Peacock Original premieres, get to know the group considered to be rap royalty.  

Run RUN-DMC poses in heavy gold chains, hats, sunglasses, and Adidas track suits

Who are the members of Run-DMC?

The three members of Run-DMC made a name in the music industry while they were still in their late teens with their debut single “It’s Like That” in 1983. Fresh out of high school, Simmons, McDaniels and Mizell didn't want to neglect their roots when they found fame.

“Once album covers started being made, here’s me and Run with the Adidas suits on. You didn’t see a celebrity, you saw yourself, right? That’s what our appeal was — we were relatable,” McDaniels told Rolling Stone in a 2023 interview celebrating 50 years of hip hop. “We connected with the streets; we didn’t create it.”

McDaniels added that the group steered away from sporting business suits that other male groups that came before them wore, and they let Russell Simmons — the older brother of Joseph “Rev Run” and the manager of Run-DMC — know this. 

“When we came along, we would tell Russell, ‘We ain’t wearing that sh-t.’ Our idols were the B-Boys, the break dancers, the graffiti artists, the high school kids we grew up looking at,” McDaniels told Rolling Stone.

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The kids from Hollis soon became a worldwide phenomenon.

Run DMC

What does Run-DMC stand for?

Before the group shot to stardom, Simmons was known around the neighborhood as “DJ Run, son of Kurtis Blow,” since he appeared onstage as a DJ alongside rapper Kurtis Blow, who was managed by Run's older brother Russell, according to American Songwriter. He stuck with “Run” for the rest of his career.

As for the "DMC" part of the group's name, it represented McDaniels. Russell reportedly only agreed to help the group out if McDaniels changed his stage name to DMC. Besides containing letters from McDaniels' name, the "DMC" may have also stemmed from Russell’s favorite car company, DeLorean Motor Company, American Songwriter reported. But the magazine adds that members of Run-DMC have said at times that the second part of their group's name stands for “Devastating Mic Controller.”

In 1984, Run-DMC became the first hip hop group to achieve gold status with their self-titled debut album, which featured tracks including their groundbreaking hits “It’s Like That” and “Sucker M.C.’s.”

Run-DMC's "Walk This Way" collaboration with Aerosmith 

But it wasn’t until their 1986 collaboration with Aerosmith that they gained attention across the globe. The music video for Run-DMC’s cover of the legendary rock group's “Walk This Way,” which also featured Aerosmith, showed the destruction of a wall separating the two bands, a fundamental symbol of rap and rock & roll coming together. The song peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard Hot 100 — the first time Run-DMC landed on a mainstream chart.

Aerosmith drummer Joey Kramer told The Washington Post that, though he wasn’t “crazy about” the song cover, “It put them [Run-DMC] on the map and it resurrected us. It just shows you the power of one song.

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In his book Walk This Way: Run-DMC, Aerosmith, and the Song That Changed American Music Forever, Washington Post journalist Geoff Edgers writes: “Hip-hop was a small underground community of independent labels and scrappy promoters" at the time.

Edgers added that the collaboration “made it safe to be Black and mainstream,” “proved that hip-hop, dismissed by many as a fad, had legs,” and became “so many things to so many different people, from bar mitzvah boys in Westchester County to Ice-T.”

What are Run-DMC’s biggest hits?

After their debut studio album, Run-D.M.C., the group's Down with the King was their second album to achieve gold status. Their albums King of Rock, Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather all received platinum status. The group’s singles “Walk This Way” and “It’s Tricky” were certified platinum, while “Down with the King” was certified gold.

Run-DMC attend the 1987 Soul Train Music Awards

Run-DMC and Adidas

Before the explosion that came with “Walk This Way,” Run-DMC rapped about their favorite sneaker, the Adidas Superstar, which they famously wore laceless.

The song “My Adidas” was featured on their triple-platinum album Raising Hell and gained massive traction.

"When US-based hip hop group Run-D.M.C. released ‘My Adidas’ it was about setting the record straight about hard working people in troubled neighborhoods and pure enthusiasm about their sneakers," Adidas stated on its website. "Adidas itself only found out about this love story when the band held up the 3-Stripes shoes during a concert in front of 40,000 fans — one of these concertgoers was an Adidas employee."

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When talking with MTV about the influential track on its 25th anniversary, McDaniels said: “Yeah, we wear Adidas [with] no laces, we got gold chains, we got Cazals and all of that, but I go to St. John's University. These Adidas stepped onstage at Live Aid. People gave and the poor got paid. It was about taking the image of the b-boy and b-girl and letting the world know we're a people of vision, we're inspiration, motivation, we're educated too. So it's kind of a kick in the face to the people that was hating on hip-hop."

What happened to Jam Master Jay?

Run-DMC’s successful run came crashing down when their trailblazing DJ “Jam Master Jay” was shot and killed in his studio at age 37.

While producing an album for another group on October 30, 2002, a masked gunman entered Mizell’s Jamaica, Queens studio and executed the musician. A week after the shooting, the remaining members of Run-DMC publicly declared their retirement from the music industry, saying that they couldn’t perform without Mizell.

In 2020, nearly two decades after Mizell was killed, Ronald Washington and Karl Jordan Jr. were charged in his murder. A third man, Jay Bryant, was charged in May 2023. The trial for Washington and Jordan began Monday, according to the Associated Press. Bryant will be tried separately. All three men have pleaded not guilty.

Where are the remaining members of Run-DMC now?

Since retiring from the group, Simmons and McDaniels have each carved out separate career paths for themselves.

Simmons, now 59, became an ordained minister, prompting the nickname “Rev. Run,” and starred in an MTV reality show called “Run’s House” with his wife and children.

McDaniels, also 59, launched his own graphic novel series called DMC, under the publishing company Darryl Makes Comics, LLC. He also published a picture book called Darryl’s Dream, which he said details how he overcame being bullied in school and followed his dream, the Staten Island Advance reported.

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In August 2023, Simmons and McDaniels got together to perform at the Hip Hop 50 Live Concert, celebrating five decades of the genre. 

In an interview with Rock the Bells, McDaniels said that the that remaining group members wouldn't do much together after that. “Run-DMC is over," he said. "The only way Run-DMC gets back together is if The Beatles get back together. Can that happen?”

Check out the three-part Kings from Queens: The Run DMC Story when the documentary arrives on Peacock on February 1.