Before Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels, and Jason Mizell formed Run DMC in 1983, rap had been sidelined, pushed underground, and had zero commercial appeal. Along with the Beastie Boys, Run DMC changed that for good. With their harder, leaner attitude, ebullient personalities, pioneering approach to samples, and reckless disregard for genre boundaries, they ushered in the new age of hip hop, taking rap to the mainstream and breaking down the barricades between rap and rock forever. From the moment they dropped their debut single, nothing would be the same again. In tribute to one of the most influential acts in hip hop history, here’s our pick of the 10 best Run DMC songs of all time.
10. Christmas in Hollis
When Bill Adler (who at that point was serving as the director of publicity for Rush Productions, Run DMC’s management label) first asked the group to contribute to the compilation album A Very Special Christmas, they refused. Then they heard his idea for Christmas in Hollis, which struck enough of a chord to entice them to sign up on the spot. Produced by Rick Rubin and released as a single in 1987, it’s got a good claim to being one of the most entertaining Christmas songs ever committed to tape.
9. It’s Tricky
It’s Tricky might not be one of the group’s best efforts from a technical standpoint, but the combination of that beat (which the band borrowed from The Knack’s My Sharona) and that hook (“It’s tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that’s right on time / It’s tricky”) make it one of the most memorable songs in their catalog.
8. Run’s House
Tougher than Leather, the group’s follow-up to the blockbusting Raising Hell, might not have reached the same heights of glory as its predecessor, but there’s still a lot to love about the album, not least its opening track and lead single. The premise of Run’s House is simple – no matter where they, and where they perform, Run-DMC owns the house. Based on what they achieve here, only a fool would disagree. Released in 1988, it became the album’s highest-charting single, hitting the top ten of the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Singles & Tracks chart.
7. Beats to the Rhyme
As the Guardian says, although there’s a lot of cracking material on Tougher Than Leather, it’s hard to shake the feeling that the album follows in the footsteps of its predecessor, Raising Hell, a little too closely. Most of the time anyway. But then you find a track like Beats to the Rhyme, a mould breaking, high-energy earworm where Jay lays down a masterclass for every DJ in the house.
6. Walk This Way
Until Rick Rubin suggested the band should cover Aerosmith’s Walk This Way (the opening drum break from which they’d already sampled during live performances), they’d never listened to the song past the first guitar riff. As it turned out, it didn’t really matter – supported by a hugely entertaining video and cameos from Aerosmith, it managed to revitalize Aerosmith’s flagging career and push rap into the mainstream in one fell swoop. If any song made rappers the commercial equals of rockers, it was this.
5. My Adidas
“Rap records have gotten louder, more camouflaged, faster and dirtier, with a thousand samples. Those records are colorful but it doesn’t mean that Run DMC should just be considered ‘oldies’. They’re important pieces of art, and art isn’t looked at as something old or new, it’s looked at as something that moves ya. And here’s a record that moves me.” So said Bob Dylan about My Adidas, a song that ushered in hip-hop’s golden age and turned the genre from something you played to worry your parents into a multi-billion dollar business.
4. Rock Box
As hiphopgoldenage.com says, Rock Box broke new ground, becoming the first hip hop record to incorporate guitar riffs and other rock elements into its hooks and beats. Described by Creem as a “searing rap rocker,” it became one of the biggest hits from the band’s self-titled debut album, as well as one of the very first hip hop songs to get heavy rotation on MTV.
3. King of Rock
The title track from the band’s second album is a big, bombastic showstopper, with enough rock influence to secure the band’s crossover appeal. Released as the album’s lead single in January 1985, it hit number 8 on the US Billboard Bubbling Under Hot 100 Singles chart and number 14 on the US Billboard Hot Black Singles chart.
2. It’s Like That
In 1983, Run DMC burst onto the scene with their debut single It’s Like That. It was the song that put them on the map, ushered in the first golden age of hip-hop, and which, fourteen years later, became one of the biggest selling singles of all time when underground club DJ Jason Nevins came along and turned it into a dancefloor staple.
1. Sucker MC’s
Sucker MC’s got its first airing in 1983 as the B side to Run-DMC’s first single, It’s Like That. Initially written off as a pointless “bonus beat,” it’s since come to be regarded as one of the most important rap singles of all time, ushering in a new era of hip hop in which the glossy beats that had dominated the genre until then were replaced with a more abrasive, stripped back style and a harder image. Simple to the point of austere, but still infused with the ebullient personalities of its creators, it’s served as an influence on everyone from the Beastie Boys to Kendrick Lamar. Not only Run DMC’s best song, but one of the best and most important songs in the history of hip-hop, period.