Behind the Meaning and the History of the Band Name: Run-DMC

Videos by American Songwriter

Videos by American Songwriter

Run-DMC didn’t invent hip-hop. But without the Hollis, Queens trio, the genre may never have become what it has today: the most influential art form in the world.

Formed in 1983 by Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell, with a little help from businessman Russell Simmons, the group of musicians went on to enjoy a 20-year career that established them as maybe the most important collection of talent in rap music.

But how did this happen? And how did the act get their name? And what do Adidas shell-toe sneakers have to do with it?

Let’s dive in.

Firsts

Run-DMC, who were contemporaries with the Beastie Boys, LL Cool J and Public Enemy, put rap music on the map in a larger, commercial way after the genre was founded in the parks of New York City and brought to life by artists like Grand Master Flash, KRS-ONE and Rakim.

The group released their debut self-titled LP in 1984 and then became the first hop-hop act to achieve a Gold record. Their sophomore release, King of Rock, was certified Platinum, thus making Run-DMC the first to achieve that feat, as well.

In more firsts, the group was the first hip-hop act to have its music played on MTV. It was also the first to be on the cover of Rolling Stone and to be nominated for a Grammy Award. The group was famous for black clothes, gold chains, black hats and sunglasses and Adidas shell-toe sneakers. Their aesthetic was almost as famous as their rhymes.

Origins

The three members of Run-DMC grew up in the Hollis, Queens neighborhood of New York City. Joseph Simmons was brought into the rap game by his older brother, famed businessman Russell Simmons, who was then an up and coming show promoter.

Joseph was a DJ for the famed rapper Kurtis Blow, who was managed by Russell. Jospeh was known as “DJ Run, Son of Kuris Blow” as he continued to perform with the groundbreaking emcee.

McDaniels had been an aspiring DJ, who even purchased a set of turntables. But Simmons convinced him to start rapping and he was known later as Easy D. Simmons. McDaniels began hanging around a park in Hollis in the late 1970s, just as the art from was being invented in the Big Apple. There, local rappers and DJs competed. That’s where they met Jason Mizell, aka Jazz Jase, at the time.

After the men graduated from high school and started college, around 1982, Joseph and McDaniels convinced Russell to let them record as a two-piece and they recruited Mizell, known at that time as Jam Master Jay, to be their official DJ. Synergy was found.

The Name Begins

In 1983, Russell agreed to help record them and even land a record deal, but on one condition: that he could change McDaniels’ stage name to DMC, an abbreviation, some say, for Russell’s favorite car company, DeLorean Motor Company. It’s also the D from his first name and the MC from his last name—so, perhaps that’s more believable. With that, Russell coined the group Run-DMC (Run being Joseph Simmons’ DJ name), which the group admits they hated at first.

DMC later said, “We wanted to be the Dynamic Two, the Treacherous Two—when we heard that shit we was like, ‘We’re gonna be ruined!'”

In the end, the group used Simmons’ DJ name, DJ Run, and combined with with DMC from Darryl McDaniels’ name. All with Jam Master Jay behind them on the ones and twos. Since then, the group has sometimes said the DMC stands for “Devastating Mic Controller.”

But however you slice it, the group is likely the most important rap combo ever.

Photo by Oliver Morris/Getty Images

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