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The year is 1978. Saturday Night Fever is breaking box office records. All over America kids are racing home to watch Dance Fever, Michael Jackson is poised to become the next major pop star, and in Hollis, Queens, fourteen-year-old Darryl McDaniels—who will one day go by the name D.M.C.—busts his first rhyme: "Apple to the peach, cherry to the plum. Don't stop rocking till you all get some." Darryl's friend Joseph Simmons—now known as Reverend Run—thinks Darryl's rhyme is pretty good, and he becomes inspired. ...
The year is 1978. Saturday Night Fever is breaking box office records. All over America kids are racing home to watch Dance Fever, Michael Jackson is poised to become the next major pop star, and in Hollis, Queens, fourteen-year-old Darryl McDaniels—who will one day go by the name D.M.C.—busts his first rhyme: "Apple to the peach, cherry to the plum. Don't stop rocking till you all get some." Darryl's friend Joseph Simmons—now known as Reverend Run—thinks Darryl's rhyme is pretty good, and he becomes inspired. Soon the two join forces with a DJ—Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell—and form Run-D.M.C. Managed by Run's brother, Russell Simmons, the trio, donning leather suits, Adidas sneakers, and gold chains, become the defiant creators of the world's most celebrated and enduring hip-hop albums—and in the process, drag rap music from urban streets into the corporate boardroom, profoundly changing everything about popular culture and American race relations.
Through candid, original interviews and exclusive details about the group's extraordinary rise to the top—and its mortal end brought on by the tragic murder in 2002 of Jam Master Jay—Raising Hell tells of Run-D.M.C.'s epic story, including the rivalries with jealous peers, their mentoring of such legendary artists as the Beastie Boys and Public Enemy, and the battles with producers, record executives, and one another. Ronin Ro delivers a meticulously researched, compellingly written, affecting behind-the-music tale of family, friendship, betrayal, murder, and the building of the culture and industry known as hip-hop.
Grandmaster Get High
During the spring of 1978, thirteen-year-old Darryl McDaniels was finishing eighth grade at St. Pascal-Baylon Elementary, a Catholic school that required students to wear blue and yellow uniforms each day. The short, stocky black kid with the close-cut Afro and earnest expression was also taking care to avoid being robbed by larger, poorer bullies waiting outside the school each day to run up on kids, tap pockets, steal hats, loot, and shoes, chase them in packs, or send them home naked on the bus.
Hollis was working class, but these ruffians acted as if the neighborhoods south of the Grand Central Parkway, west of Francis Lewis Boulevard, north of Hollis Avenue, and east of 184th Street were the drug- and crime-infested South Bronx. So he'd liter-ally cross streets to avoid someone coming his way while he was in uniform. Only after rushing past the group standing by the store on his block, getting home, and changing into streetwise jeans and sneakers would he go back out to buy whatever he needed.
He'd lived here since at least age five, among aluminum-sided one- and two-family houses, tiny patches of lawn, concrete driveways, and teens trying to live down the fact that their parents—many from down south—owned real estate and provided middle-class comfort. And because other boroughs were battling to determine which was toughest, and didn't consider Queens anything but a good place to come rob a wealthy soft kid, D's young neighbors and friends were acting even worse.
Unlike other neighborhoods, Hollis was filled with private houses, not apartment buildings, withblack working-class neighbors, and bustling main streets with stores and movie theaters. It had a small-town feel, with everyone inevitably running into everyone else. If D and his friends weren't hanging out in an alley behind the only high-rise building in Hollis, a place they referred to as "the building," they were playing basketball in 205th Street Park near where the Hollis Crew, a group of somewhat older, tougher teenage neighborhood residents, spent their days and nights. Or D and his young neighbors passed each other while crossing the street at the corner near the park, where local dealers ran their drug supermarket. It was a small, remote enclave for the black working class and the children these hardworking adult parents hoped would have easier lives.
A typical weekday for Darryl involved going to school, then drifting over to "the building" after dinner to get high with his friends Butter, Ray, and Cool T; during weekends, he went to one of three local parks to shoot basketball, get a little high after the game, and escape his parents' strict rules. He didn't really fit in with the neighborhood tough guys, the drug dealers, the stickup kids, the older college students, the athletes, or the neighborhood DJs.
One afternoon in the spring of 1978, he reached his modest home and saw his brother Alford—three years older, bookish, into sci-fi and comics—playing new tapes he 'd bought on the street. Alford liked this new street music kids in other boroughs created with turntables and microphones in city parks, house parties, or rented halls and community centers. Darryl had heard it before, in concrete school yards in the neighborhood and on portable radios in Hollis, but had never paid much attention to it. But Al's new tape by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five was different.
Amid the usual calls for zodiac signs, a teen named Melle Mel (Melvin Glover) rapped about a high school dropout turned stickup kid who gets locked up and raped in Rikers Island. Darryl wanted to hear Mel's unsettling story-rap again.
The verse was cinematic, cautionary, and reflective of D's private fears about his own lifestyle of the past two years. Until 1976, D had been a quiet, meek, acquiescent A student, the sort neighborhood toughs would point at and call brainiac. Leaving St. Pascal's back then, he 'd come straight home and stay in the house. His father usually left at four to work as a station agent for the Metropolitan Transit Authority. His mother arrived from her job as a nursing coordinator at a nearby hospital at about five. After cooking dinner she usually went to bed by seven so as to be up early enough the next day to cook everyone breakfast before heading to work again.
After a certain hour, D found himself alone and unsupervised. For a while he 'd been content to sit in his mother's neat living room with some of the thousand comic books he and Al owned, or at a table in front of a window, spending hours drawing pin-ups and comics. And if that got boring, he 'd pull out his collection of G.I. Joe dolls or little green plastic army men and engage them in epic battles. But this too got boring, so at age twelve he gravitated to football, and spent a year lifting weights, feeling good about his broadening shoulders and the attention he received from girls, and seeing his reputation in the neighborhood change. With eighth grade graduation coming up, he learned his parents planned to send him to a high school in Harlem that didn't have a football field. He then gave football up and fell into the habit of sneaking out of the house after dinner. With his mom sleeping, he 'd walk to "the building" and join his friends to share joints, crack jokes, and drink quart bottles of Olde English 800 malt liquor.
The Flash tape ended. Darryl felt this new music offered a new, safer way to escape his boredom. He carried his mom's turntable down into the wood-paneled basement and tried to scratch a record. In the background, Alford stood, offering moral support and encouragement.
Days later, Darryl arrived from school with plans to spend the afternoon playing basketball at the new hoop their father had installed in the backyard. But Al led him into the . . .Raising Hell. Copyright © by Ronin Ro. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Posted April 29, 2012