Rap icons Run-DMC to play tonight in Leede Arena

by Christopher Warren | 10/9/98 5:00am

In the two decades since rap hit American pop culture like a tsunami, Run-DMC has virtually been riding its own wave. The duo's self-titled 1984 album was the first of its genre to ever reach gold sales, and, nearly a decade later, the band hit gold again with its 1993 album "Down With the King."

But tonight's 8 p.m. concert at Leede Arena marks for many the first time in years that the group has crossed its musical consciousness. Dartmouth Programming Board Chair Brian Sleet '00 says the bands influence has garnered Run-DMC a sort of "architect respect."

Their prominence in the mid-80s was largely due to a rap-rock hybrid that energized fans of each style, but since then the group has been eclipsed in popularity by the branches of rap it has helped to spawn.

The Public Enemy-style political rap and the hard-core Gangsta Rap of N.W.A. and its modern disciples have dominated the pop charts in the years since their rise to prominence. Nonetheless, in recent years Run-DMC has carved itself a new niche in the current rap landscape.

Infused with positive Christian lyrics and an energy followers say they haven't seen since the mid-80s, Run-DMC appears on the verge of a monumental comeback.

Tonight's show will feature the reemerging Run-DMC, as well as performances by Dartmouth's Sheba Dance Group and hip-hop newcomer Down Low Connection.

"Just to be able to perform with [Run-DMC] is crazy," Sheba member Derek "D" Wedgeworth '01 said. Sheba will perform a 10-15 minute set between the Boston act, Down Low Connection, and Run-DMC. Wedgeworth said that tonight will be "definitely my biggest performance," and the performance will include two brand new routines.

Run-DMC is often credited with spawning hip-hop's embryonic growth, heavily influencing the mid-80s work of succeeding rap artists. And after its 1986 release of the Aerosmith cover "Walk This Way," accompanied by rock mainstays Steven Tyler and Joe Perry, Run-DMC crossed into mainstream rock and forged itself a place in pop history.

Most recently, the band's 1994 release of the Christian-influenced "Down With the King" debuted at number seven in the pop charts and was met with good critical response after less successful late '80s releases. Discussing the latest album, longtime Run-DMC fan Wedgeworth called Run-DMC "one of the few rap groups that actually tries to rap about positive things."

Articulating the new Christian message, DMC (Darryl McDaniels) said, "All God wants is his props. Just as the Five Percenters rap about Allah and the Rasta sing about Jah, we're praising God in our music."

Joseph Simmons ("Run"), McDaniels and their longtime DJ companion Jason Mizell ("Jam Master Jay") have persistence on their side. In its 16 year existence as Run-DMC, the group has weathered the type of storms that have claimed a number of prominent industry artists.

After the 1990 release of "Back From Hell," both Simmons and Daniels suffered personal problems that could have scuttled the group. Daniels is said to have battled alcohol problems while Simmons was accused of rape -- a charge that was subsequently dropped. Meanwhile, Daniels righted himself, and the duo used their renaissance to praise God in their work.

Rap fans cite these triumphs as the turning point Run-DMC needed. The new Christian message is to many a fresh alternative to the violent and abrasive lyrics that critics say characterize Gansta rap.

With the three members at 34 years-old, however, the group's chance for full popular revival may be limited. Run-DMC may still be relegated to the dustbin of '80s nostalgia, but Simmons, Daniels and Mizell are fighting to stay out.