It’s impossible to imagine hip-hop or today’s pop music without Run-DMC. The trio of music pioneers, led by Rev. Run, took sample-heavy, hard-rhyming rap from an underground phenomenon to boomboxes everywhere with timeless songs like “King of Rock,” “Walk This Way” and “My Adidas.” Thirty years after the group’s first album debuted, Rev. Run is teaming with a new generation of MC in DJ Ruckus.
The pair have been doing gigs together on and off over the past four years, including a Lollapalooza club show in Chicago over the weekend, and they play Belly Up tonight. Their first show was in Las Vegas, where Ruckus is a resident DJ at Hakkasan in the MGM Grand.
Their shows blend rhymes from Run with old-school rap and scratching (yes, actual record-scratching), hip-hop and electronic dance music. Ruckus has set himself apart among the DJ set with a grab-bag style that can incorporate classic soul alongside dubstep, house or rock samples.
“Ruckus is really good at open format, so I never know what he might throw on,” Run said. “I’ve seen a lot of important DJs, and you don’t want to see anybody open-format unless it’s Ruckus – that’s the truth.”
DJs such as Ruckus are the rock stars of the moment, just as Run-DMC, Public Enemy and the Beastie Boys eclipsed the guitar heroes who came before them with a new style. But Run said that comparisons between the rise of electronic dance music and the game-changing impact of rap only go so far.
“I think EDM comes out of the hip-hop tradition,” he said. “I don’t think it’s as big as hip-hop. It’s great. It’s amazing. I love it. But hip-hop, you can’t compare any music to hip-hop because everything is coming from hip-hop at this point.”
Like Rev. Run, Ruckus was something of a hip-hop teen prodigy.
Ruckus started spinning at age 15 in clubs in Miami, where Sean Combs discovered him and helped usher him onto the world stage. He’s since ascended to the ranks of sought-after, jet-setting international DJs. He came up long after Run-DMC’s groundbreaking records were new. But, he said, the rap icons were a substantial influence on him.
“I saw their influence on hip-hop and the way people continued to do it the way they did,” Ruckus said. “That was always proof to me that they were the best.”
Whether he’s playing in Russia, Italy, Spain or Vegas, he said, dropping a Run-DMC record always translates on the dance floor.
“Rev’s records are timeless — there’s not a place where I can play ‘It’s Like That’ or ‘It’s Tricky’ and not have the crowd go wild,” he said.
Unlike some of the button-pushing sucker MCs working clubs today, Run said, Ruckus has analog turntable skills to complement his digital acumen and ability to work a crowd.
“He knows how to mix it and be down with EDM and all this other cool stuff, but he’s a hip-hop DJ — he can really scratch,” Run said. “You won’t find EDM DJs who can scratch like Ruckus does — that’s what makes him unique. … The fact that he knows how to do EDM while doing hip-hop, that’s why I hooked up with him.”
And while today’s youth might know Run from his reality TV show “Run’s House” or for his work as an author and preacher, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, now 49, has retained his skills on the turntables, Ruckus said.
“When he does touch the turntable, his cuts are mean,” Ruckus said.
Looking back, Run said he knew he had something game-changing on his hands with Run-DMC and that he’s not surprised its music has spanned generations.
“I was competitive — it was almost like playing basketball,” Run said of his early days. “Everything was a competition. Grandmaster Flash was the fastest and whatever, but I was thinking, ‘Oh my God — I just mixed (John Davis and the Monster Orchestra’s) “I Can’t Stop” with the Monkees’ “Mary Mary.” This is going to be ridiculous.’ I used to just throw the CD out of the car window and say, ‘This is ridiculous. This is going to be No. 1 for years.’”