When Run DMC emerged in 1983, they incited a paradigm shift in how rap records were produced and created. Their stripped-down, drum machine-only sound, courtesy of super producer Larry Smith, initiated an era of drum machine-dominant production.
This period lasted for more than four years until sampling technology became affordable. Their fusion of rock guitars and drum machines turned them into mainstays on MTV, where Hip-Hop and Black music in general were virtually nonexistent initially. While Profile Records had released Rap and Dance records before signing Run-DMC, it was certainly Run and D who made the label a formidable entity in the burgeoning Rap industry.
Their look, inspired by their DJ, Jam Master Jay, replaced the "costume" attire of some of their predecessors and motivated their fanbase to imitate their influential dress style, complete with Adidas, gold rope chains, and fedora hats. Run-DMC helped create and define one of Hip-Hop's most memorable and revered eras.
"Sucker MCs" was the group's first single and the shot heard 'round the world. Produced by Larry Smith, and based on "Action," by his group Orange Krush, "Sucker MC's" introduced a new cadence and stripped down, drum machine-only production. The only rap recording before "Sucker MC's" to contain only drums as 1980's "Love Rap" by Spoonie Gee, which contained only drums played the legendary producer Pumpkin.
"Sucker MC's" was originally just an instrumental drum beat that Larry Smith programmed on the Oberheim DMX drum machine and named "Krush Groove 1." Profile Records co-founder Cory Robbins told The Foundation that it was he who suggested that Larry create a full song from the instrumental track.
"I asked him why didn't he just give it a real name and make it a song," Robbins remembers. "We made it the second song on the single 'Its Like That' and it became just as big, if not bigger."
"Jam Master Jay" is an ode to Run-DMC's DJ, the late great Jam Master Jay. There hadn't been many dedications to DJs prior to this '84 hit. Grandmaster Flash released "Adventures on The Wheels of Steel" in 1981, but it was a showcase of his incredible turntable skills with no vocals.
"Jam Master Jay" praised JMJ's skillset and also allowed him to show them on the song. Run and D proclaim, "J-A-Y are the letters of his name/cuttin' and scratchin' are the aspects of his game/we got the master of a disco scratch/there's not a break that he can't catch, Jam Master Jay that is his name/and all wild DJ's he will tame."
"Jam Master Jay" opened the doors for rap crews to create similar dedications to their DJs, and these dedications became standards of full-length rap albums.
'Jam Master Jay' was a weird song musically. There was no snare drum. When we played it for the first time in The Fever, people just stood around because it was so different.
- Sal Abbatiello, owner of The Disco Fever nightclub and record label
Mcs have rhymed over the drums of Rock records since the culture's inception. Records by Aerosmith, Billy Squire and Thin Lizzy are foundational Hip-Hop breakbeats. The Pumpkin-produced "Body Rock" from 1980, was the first rap record to combine MCs with Rock guitars, but four years later, Run-DMC broke down the unspoken, but obvious "no rap" policy at MTV with "Rock Box."
"Rock Box" made the later crossover success of "King of Rock" and the gargantuan hit, "Walk This Way" featuring Aerosmith possible. Profile Records co-founder Cory Robbins explained the deliberate moves made to ensure the video would be aired on the burgeoning MTV.
"We intentionally casted a little white boy on the video in a White Rock club with a predominantly white crowd, so that MTV would play it — and it worked," he said.
Larry Smith scored another hit with the Kings of Rock.
By the mid 1980's, the "big bass" rap records were starting to take shape. The Roland TR 808 kick drum can be heard and felt on the Soul Sonic Force's 1982 hit "Planet Rock," but it was on full display on 1984's "It's Yours" by T La Rock & DJ Jazzy Jay. Run-DMC's 1985 single, "Together Forever," was the previously unreleased b-side to the LL COOL J-penned "Can You Rock It Like This" from the King of Rock album.
"Together Forever" not only contained thunderous bass, but the tempo was one of the slower rap songs of the time, influencing the Beastie Boys' sound on songs like the Run-DMC-written "Slow & Low" as well as the slower tempo bass heavy records that became popular in various regions of the country.