Saturday, July 08, 2006

Raising Hell, by Ronin Ro

(hb; 2005: biography)

From the inside flap:

“The year is 1978. Saturday Night Fever is breaking box office records. All over America kids are racing home to watch Dance Fever, Michael Jackson is poised to become the next major pop star, and in Hollis, Queens, fourteen-year old Darryl McDaniels – who will one day go by the name D.M.C. -- busts his first rhyme: 'Apple to the peach, cherry to the plum. Don't stop rocking till you all get some.' Darryl's friend Joseph Simmons – now known as Reverend Run – thinks Darryl's rhyme is pretty good, and he becomes inspired. Soon the two join forces with a DJ – Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizzell – and form Run-D.M.C. Managed by Run's brother, Russell Simmons, the trio, donning leather suits, Adidas sneakers, and gold chains, become the defiant creators of the world's most celebrated and enduring hip-hop albums – and in the process, drag rap music from urban streets into the corporate boardroom, profoundly changing everything about popular culture and American race relations.

“Through candid, original interviews and exclusive details about the group's extraordinary rise to the top – and its mortal end brought on by the tragic murder in 2002 of Jam Master Jay – Raising Hell tells of Run-D.M.C's epic story including rivalries with jealous peers, their mentoring of such legendary artists as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, and the battles with producers, record executives, and one another...”

Review:

Well-written biography of the landmark hip-hop band that started as out street-true (they were all about the “beats”), but got stymied by label-negotiations (which quickly escalated into legal battles). As a result, most of the later discs they recorded – anything after King of Rock, the third of their seven discs – were “dropped” (released) long after they were recorded, and received by a public that was being thrilled by new rappers, starting with Beastie Boys (who were friends with Run D.M.C.) and Public Enemy (also friends with Run D.M.C., and whose 1988 disc, It Takes A Nation of Millions To Hold Us Back, radically altered the musical landscape).

This is a quick read, less in-depth than other musical biographies I've read, but no less enjoyable because of it. It's also a mostly-pleasant trip down memory lane for this book reviewer, who was coming of musical age about the time that Run D.M.C. (too briefly) ruled the airwaves.

Ro is a wonderful writer with a light but meaningful touch, but that's only fitting: Run-D.M.C., when it was leading the musical pack, was the same way.

Good read, great band.

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