Music journalist Ronin Ro does not miss a beat in his account of how high-school-age, block-party performers transformed into Grammy award-winning rap group Run-D.M.C. But if you were teaching a course on the evolution of hip-hop, Raising Hell: The Reign, Ruin and Redemption of Run-D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay would be supplemental, not required, reading.
The chronicle begins where it all tragically ended: the murder of Jam Master Jay, né Jason Mizell. Ro interviews key people close to Run-D.M.C., such as Kurtis Blow, Doctor Dre (of "Yo! MTV Raps," not The Chronic), producer Rick Rubin and the Beastie Boys. The two remaining Kings of Rock, Joseph Simmons (Run) and Daryl McDaniels (D.M.C.) also describe how they unwittingly, and sometimes unwillingly, created music that made millions.
Though Ro wrote the book with cooperation from both Simmons and McDaniels, it's no public relations fluff piece. Dirt on the disputes between Simmons and older brother/Def Jam founder Russell on production or promotion ideas demonstrate how difficult it is to be in business with family. Raising Hell also gives vivid accounts about the jealously among other Def Jam artists, and the heated battles (the rapping kind, not the gun-toting encounters so popular now) that went on backstage at a concert or in the studios. Then add the drugs and alcohol to the trio's story -- so much that D.M.C. eventually lost his voice and Run fell into a deep depression.
Run-D.M.C. lost two crucial years to an intense fight between Profile Records and Def Jam, which Ro details but doesn't take sides on. The group's attempt to free itself from Profile and move to Def Jam gives new meaning to the term "slave to the rhythm."
Because of its fast pace, Raising Hell comes across a little uneven at times. Still, Ro's account of Run-D.M.C.'s humble beginnings expresses the group's collective and individual love of music, and can enrich even the most basic knowledge of rap. Class dismissed.