Today marks the 30th anniversary of the debut album of one of the greatest groups of hip-hop history, Run-DMC. In the infant days of Def Jam, just five years removed from hip-hop's big breakthrough with "Rapper's Delight," Rev Run, Darryl McDaniels and Jam Master Jay delivered a breakthrough album that became one of the most important landmarks of the genre. The accolades are numerous—it ushered in a whole new style of hip-hop, brought the back-and-forth rhyming style of Run and DMC to the forefront, and its single "Rock Box" became the first rap video ever played on MTV in a day when the station was taking a lot of heat for excluding black artists.
Thirty years later, Rev Run's son, Diggy Simmons, is a budding hip-hop star in his own right. After being featured on the cover of the XXL Freshmen issue in 2011 at the age of just 15, Diggy released his debut offering, Unexpected Arrival, on Atlantic in 2012, and two years later he's hard at work in the studio on his followup record. Though Diggy wasn't around any time near the release of that album—he was born in 1995, more than ten years after the album dropped—he grew up with Run-DMC's influence all around him. We spoke with the former XXL Freshman about the first time he heard his dad's music, what he's learned from the group's legacy, and the massive influence that the trio has left on hip-hop. —Dan Rys (@danrys)
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XXL: When did you first start hearing your dad's music growing up? Diggy Simmons: There was a never a point where it started, it was probably just always, you know what I'm saying? Forever, since I can remember, I've been around it, that energy, the people he was around, the people who produced for him. Just so many great people I've just grown up around being really small. I remember the first show I went to, I was probably six or seven, and that was when they went on tour with Aerosmith and Kid Rock. So that was just, like, a lot of pyro. A whole lot. And I just remember it was legendary, because it was a tour then so they had already done so much and had so many hit records. It's always been great to see what he's done and what he's accomplished—Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame—it's definitely something to look to.
Do you remember first hearing that album? DS: That first album specifically? No, because you know what? I've always just heard records. I've always had favorite songs, favorite records. So never that first album in general, but I've always had favorite songs.
Was there a moment growing up where you realized how big and how influential Run-DMC actually was? DS: You know what? Right now. I watched Tanning Of America; it was funny, I was home for part one, and me and my dad were just hanging out and we happened to catch it. And part one was basically all about them. So I'm always learning more and more and more about how influential he was. And I guess because I'm getting older, I'm getting it more and more. It's an incredible thing to see how far they've come in 30 years, and the music—people are still inspired, and I think it's an amazing thing. People appreciate it.
I'll be out with my dad, and people will go up to him and be like, "It's incredible what you've done, thank you." And then they'll be like, "Yo, Diggy, how's the new music comin'?" It's a crazy moment for people to be able to appreciate both of us when he's already done all those things that he's done. So it's amazing to have him as a dad.
Do you go back and listen to the old stuff a lot? DS: I do, and it's even better in recent times when I get to see him perform live. Because his live show—I'm not saying this just because he's my dad—his live show is amazing. I'm happy with the live show that I've put together with my DJ; it makes me go back [and say], "More this, more that." [Rev's] been doing it for 30 years, or more than that, however long he's been doing that. You see the energy, and you see how amazing it is, and how much of a professional he is. It's basically perfect, how amazing his show is. So when I hear all those songs and connect them, it teaches me lessons.
What are some of your favorite Run-DMC songs? DS: "Rock Box" is one of my favorites—it's just amazing. He'll tell me stories about it, being in the studio with Rick Rubin and all those guys, being in there and adding their own pieces and everything. "Mary Mary" is a favorite. "Peter Piper," the way him and DMC go back and forth on stage, that's just a moment. When they go back and forth it's so cool, and it just shows showmanship, that it's more than just going on stage and rocking in front of a recording. It's about giving people entertainment and a good time.
That back and forth has gotten away from hip-hop lately. DS: Right, right, definitely. We probably saw a little bit on Watch The Throne, with Jay Z and Kanye going back and forth. It's cool when you see people do it now, and you got to see where it came from, where it popped up.