It’s been an eventful year for Reverend Run (born Joey Simmons). With a new show on MTV premiering this fall as well as the completion of his first solo album, Distortion, the artist who once revolutionized hip-hop by putting the “Run” in the power trio that was Run-DMC certainly has his plate full, but you would hardly suspect a thing from merely speaking with him.
“I’m just doing what I love,” he summarizes. “I believe that we all come with different gifts and it’s our job to wrap it up and give it away. And that’s how I got into music because I love doing music and most of the time, people love it when I do music.”
The sentiment is perhaps an oversimplification for someone whose career in hip-hop has spanned 22 years and whose influence in the genre has shaped an entire generation of musicians. Born in Queens, Run along with fellow New York natives Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell (better known as DMC and Jam Master Jay, respectively) formed Run-DMC in the 1980s with encouragement from Run’s brother, Russell Simmons, who was himself busy making a mark on hip-hop through the creation of Def Jam Records with Rick Rubin.
With Run and DMC on vocals while Jam Master Jay worked the turntable, the trio released their first single, “Sucker MC’s” in 1983. The resulting track packed a powerful punch and possessed a refreshing directness achieved through harder beats paired with unaltered vocals. Run-DMC’s innovative “street” sound permanently altered the evolution of hip-hop and constructed a lasting legacy that still continues to influence artists today.
The group’s success did not stop there. Eventually becoming the most popular rappers in America, Run-DMC continued its trend of experimentation by fusing hip-hop with rock and roll. Layering rap lyrics over metal records merely accentuated the trio’s trademark hard-hitting, spare style and eventually led to their famous 1986 cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk this Way.” Run-DMC made numerous more contributions to the music industry all the way through the ’90s until Jam Master Jay’s untimely death in 2002.
Distortion marks Rev Run’s return to the beloved genre that he had once helped define and fans of Run-DMC will be pleasantly surprised when they discover the album to contain a sound that recalls moments from the group’s past. The release of Distortion will actually coincide with the reissue of Run-DMC’s first four albums. “Mind on the Road,” the album’s first single, is reminiscent of Run-DMC’s hip-hop/rock days and Rev Run, himself is as electric as ever as he spits out sharp rhymes with his usual flare. The back-to-basics approach is also evident when considering the fact that Distortion was produced not by any music industry power players.
What brought on this sudden decision to go back to the studio? “I wanted to make my album because I am a poet,” explains Run. “I love writing rhymes, I love doing rhymes in the studio, I love scratching beats and I just want people to hear it.”
In addition to the album, Rev Run has also been occupied with filming on his own MTV reality show set to hit the air this October. “It was actually quite easy,” said Run of the filming experience, “because you don’t have a script.” Being hailed as the “first hip-hop reality sitcom,” the show, aptly titled Run’s House, focuses primarily on Run’s family life.
“He’s hip-hop grown up,” says Russell Simmons of his brother’s life and adds, “This show is ‘Father Knows Best on Steroids.'” Run’s House will follow Rev Run’s solo album recording experience as well as the daily going-ons of the Simmons household in their New Jersey homestead. The cast of characters will include Run’s wife Justine, a former rapper; 21-year-old Vanessa, a Ford model and aspiring actress; 17-year-old Angela, the model of academic excellence and an aspiring fashion designer; 15-year-old JoJo, a rapper in his own right; nine-year-old Diggy, basketball star and aspiring rapper; and eight-year-old Russell, Jr., described as “the mischievous little brother.”
But don’t expect any sort of scandalous The Osbournes-type shenanigans here because you’ll soon realize that Run’s house is far from being out of control. “The cameras don’t just follow me around all the time,” Run specifies. “We do it a bit differently. The cameras are in my house but we turn them on only after we explain what is going on for the day.”
Rev Run’s personal goals for the television show contain a quality of enlightenment and contemplation usually lacking in typical reality fare. “My job is to inspire and help people,” he explains. “Therefore, me and my family will be on MTV and hopefully people who are relaxing in their homes can get something out of the way I raise my family.”
Describing the entire experience as “rewarding and enjoyable,” Rev Run attributes the smooth filming to his role in the process. “It doesn’t take my time away and it’s very much controlled by me. Episodes are basically what my life is and its not just running around my house hoping to find a story. I know what’s happening in my house and those events eventually became episodes.”
Comfortable and in full control, Rev Run is the striking image of a man who has found his calling in life. “When you’re in your right place, you’ll get more out of it,” he advises. “Don’t go chasing money because then you’ve got it backwards. Do what you love and the money will follow.”
Archived article by Tracy Zhang
Arts and Entertainment Editor