By Michael Ashcraft —
Before his influence, hip hop was a backwater movement off most people’s radar. Then Joseph Simmons and his group Run DMC brought rap to the mainstream in the mid 1980s and suddenly it became an international sensation.
Joseph Simmons banked millions, landed his own $2.0 million Adidas shoe deal and had innumerable adoring fans. A few albums later, he had fallen off.
One member of the trio was murdered, another was lost in drugs, and Joseph Simmons, succumbing to alcoholism, was left scratching his head wondering why the genre he helped found had all but forgotten him. His wife was divorcing him. He was accused of rape. His fame, finances and family were frittering away.
Thankfully the New York native turned to God.
“There are always your darkest moments before the birth of a beautiful thing. Rev Run at his low point was not quite Rev Run,” he says, speaking in third person about himself, to The Guardian. “He was trying to understand this great thing that was happening to him. There was a time to reap, a time to sow. A time for it to be sunny outside and a time when it’s so dark you have no option but to just be or you’ll go nuts.”
“Records sales weren’t as high as they was (sic),” he says on NPR. “I was a little unhappy with what was going on so I started going to church. And when I started going to church I started to feel better. Things were starting to look brighter for me. I started to see that learning the principles of God was helping to shape my life better.”
As the rap genre turned dark and promoted drugs and gang violence, Simmons turned to church. It was a former Run DMC bodyguard, Bobby Walker, who finding Run wallowing in depression persuaded him to attend New York’s Zoe Ministries Church in 1990. Within five years Run had gone from usher to ordained minister, donning the moniker Reverend Run.
Today, the 55-year-old who once rapped Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” on colab now teaches people to “walk His way” and preaches an aggressive, rhapsodic message wherever he’s invited: “You must be born again, my friend, or you’re going straight to hell,” Southcoast Today quoted him at a 1996 church service.
Yes, you read that right. MTV — that profane purveyor of hedonism, anti-God-ism and ADD — the last a result of the rapid fire succession of endless images to music. It was MTV where potty-mouthed Ozzy Osbourne, the satanic concert chicken-head decapitator, had his reality show. It was an imponderable spot for a reverend to be preaching — or rather practicing what he preaches.
MTV was also an extraordinary opportunity to shine light into an incredible dark space, and he was given the opportunity to dispense sound spiritual advice on “Run’s House” because of his previous work as Run DMC’s front man. Now he had, instead of platinum sales, an eternal view toward streets of gold.
In 1994, Rev Run remarried, to his childhood sweetheart Justine, with whom he has three children: Daniel “Diggy” Simmons III, Russell “Russy” Simmons II and Victoria Anne Simmons. His latest is a book on marriage “Old School Love and Why It Works.”
“I’m a family man. If I’m going to do something, I’m going to do it to the best of my ability,” Rev says on Sway in the Morning. “If I’m ‘husbanding,’ I’m going to strive to be a good husband.”
He wears a white clerical collar every day and his message puts significant emphasis on the prosperity gospel. He lives in a $5.5M, 9,000-square-foot colonial mansion on the Saddle River in New Jersey.
“What I appreciate about Reverend Run is that he is always transcendent and he’s searched out his purpose,” said Sway Calloway on his show in 2015. “And he’s waving the flag ever since he’s found that light. There’s never a time I can’t go on his social media and not be uplifted.”
Michael Ashcraft teaches journalism at the Lighthouse Christian Academy in Santa Monica.