MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Later in the program I will share a few thoughts in my Can I Just Tell You essay but now it's time for our Wisdom Watch conversation. That's the part of the program where we speak with those whose work has made a difference. Today we are speaking with a hip-hop pioneer.
Even casual listeners of contemporary music have most likely heard of the rap trio Run-DMC. They dominated the scene in the early 1980s and helped make rap music one of this country's most popular musical genres. They did it with danceable beats, interesting, accessible lyrics, as well as collaborations like this 1986 hit with Aerosmith called "Walk This Way."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WALK THIS WAY")
RUN-DMC: (Rapping) It wasn't me she was fooling 'cause she knew what she was doing when she told me how to walk this way. She told me to...
AEROSMITH: (Singing) Walk this way. Talk this way...
MARTIN: As often happens, members of the group eventually went their separate ways. But Run, Joseph Simmons, went in what some might find a particularly interesting direction. He became an ordained minister in the Pentecostal tradition, married his high school sweetheart Justine, and they went on to star together in a popular reality show on MTV called "Run's House."
And we thought this holiday season might be a good time to hear from him. And Joseph Simmons, Reverend Run, welcome. Thanks for joining us.
REVEREND JOSEPH: Thank you for having me.
MARTIN: As we mentioned, you are an ordained minister. At this stage of your life I'm betting that there are some people who only know you as Reverend Run, right? I'm guessing there's like a whole generation of people...
J. SIMMONS: Yeah.
MARTIN: ...for whom that's the primary reason they know you. How did your call to ministry happen? Was it like a gradual process? Was it like a thunderclap?
J. SIMMONS: It was like a gradual thunderclap. So it was a little of both. I made the album "Raising Hell." Then we made the record "Tougher Than Leather." Around "Tougher Than Leather" I started to feel a little uncomfortable, saw some funny things happening around me.
Records sales weren't as high as they was. 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.
And in the black church most people know that when you're in the church you're going to do something. You're going to be on the choir. You're going to be a deacon. You're going to be on the board. You're going to be an usher. You know, something that we do in the church is you take a kind of a position.
And next thing you know, after doing some ushering and I was a deacon - you know, they give you these titles - I ended up being a reverend.
MARTIN: Well, how did you envision your life unfolding once you decided to take that route?
J. SIMMONS: I didn't know how it was going to unfold at first but I started to become very passionate and watching the pastors in different churches in different places. And I saw how grounded and how organized their families were and how cool they were. So I thought that this would be great for me too as I was becoming a minister.
You know, just kind of like the collar got wrapped around my neck. I don't know how it happened. I started to usher; I ended up a reverend. And I thought it was something that was pretty creative about being a reverend, pretty cool about words of wisdom and speaking to people and speaking into their lives.
So, you know, it was a certain, in my mind, a swag about it. We ended up getting the show on MTV with me and my wife and my kids. People were looking at me as I was becoming a reverend saying, you know, this is a reality show, man. Like rapper become reverend.
And I was like, oh, really? Hmm. Never thought of it like that. Next thing you know, that became my pulpit. Just for me to have a platform to help people in their lives. You know, it was a standard that I was setting. You ask that...
MARTIN: Well, hold on a second. Let me play a short clip from the series. As we mentioned, your reality show "Run's House" was popular. It ran a number of seasons. And you really made a point of showcasing your role as not just a, you know, entertainer but as dad. And I just want to play a short clip from that. Here it is.
(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "RUN'S HOUSE")
J. SIMMONS: Ah, isn't this just a beautiful sight? Sun pounding down on my bald head. You see this sweat, Dig? It's the sweat of a father that loves you.
DIGGY SIMMONS: I love you. But don't touch me with that sweat.
J. SIMMONS: You came here not wanting to have fun 'cause you were too cool to let go and enjoy the family vacation. But come on, Dig. You know you loved it here.
D. SIMMONS: I liked it.
J. SIMMONS: To tell the truth, you've really become a man on this trip. And I vow to you, treat you like a man. You only going to get man jobs. That means you're going to have to pay the bills, talk to the accountants, get up at 6:00 A.M. and drive yourself to school.
MARTIN: OK. Yes. The story went from there. As we mentioned, maybe people don't get that this is where you're talking to your son. You're trying to impart - which is a lot of what the program was about, trying to impart some life lessons. Who were you hoping would watch the show and benefit from it?
J. SIMMONS: Everybody.
MARTIN: Well, what about that? You know, one of the reasons this interests me, well, a couple of reasons, is that a lot of people who have been through the reality show experience, their families have really suffered as a result. "The Real Housewives of D.C." for example, all of the principals in that show either are separated or divorced now. Were you ever concerned that this would have an impact on your family life?
J. SIMMONS: I went into it not so much for fame, I went into the show, it was my ministry. I told my family that from the beginning, we will show our family on television but we will teach. Each show had a lesson. And it was the truth. I was always teaching a lesson in my house anyway, and at the end of every show I'd do a word of wisdom from my bathtub and that's what I was doing anyway. I'd send out words in the morning to my friends, and whatever the show was - 'cause there's always a conflict in your home. So there'd be a conflict, I would try to solve it on camera, whether it was my son breaking his Game Boy over and over or whatever it is, I'd wait until the cameras were rolling to solve a problem and bring it to a good head and then do the word of wisdom at the end. So we weren't so caught up in it where it affected us the way it has some other families, because it was a ministry.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm Michel Martin. We are speaking with hip-hop legend Reverend Run. He was the Run in Run DMC. We're talking about his long career, what he's up to now, and hopefully he's going to share some wisdom with us in a few minutes.
You mentioned growing up in Hollis, which is in Queens, you know, I have to play - it is that holiday season - I've got to play a little bit from "Christmas in Hollis." I must drop it.
J. SIMMONS: OK.
MARTIN: It is that time of year.
J. SIMMONS: Hit it.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS")
RUN-DMC: (Rapping) It was December 24th on Hollis Ave after dark when I see a man chilling with his dog in the park. I approached him very slowly with my heart full of fear. Looked at his dog, oh my God, an ill reindeer. But then I was illin' because the man had a beard and a bag full of goodies, 12 o'clock had neared. So I turned my head a second and the man had gone. But he must have dropped his wallet smack down on the lawn.
(Rapping) I picket the wallet up then I took a pause. Took out the license and it cold said Santa Claus. A million dollars in it, cold hundreds of G's, enough to buy a boat and matching car with ease. But I'd never steal from Santa, 'cause that ain't right. So I was going home to mail it back to him that night. But when I got home I bugged, cause under the tree. Was a letter from Santa and the dough's for me.
MARTIN: What doesn't love that?
MARTIN: Who doesn't love that?
J. SIMMONS: I wrote that and at the time he just jumped in my mind and I just flowed, my pen just kind of took over.
MARTIN: I was going to ask you that. Where did you get the idea?
J. SIMMONS: Well, I took over. Well, a old publicist of mine, Bill Adler, called with a opportunity to be on an album called "Special Olympics." And I was just sitting there and I came up with the story about a kid running into Santa Claus On Hollis Avenue, Santa Claus losing his wallet, the kid having a good heart, trying to return the wallet and Santa Claus sending back the wallet saying, thank you for returning it but I dropped it on purpose. I saw you looking at me. That money was for you. And that was, it was funny, great, but it was also a story of a kid trying to do the right thing and passing the test and God saying, well done. Good job. So I was a reverend before I was a reverend.
MARTIN: You were. I was going to say you were a reverend before you were a reverend. And one of the things about the song I think a lot of people, people still love this song. Did you at the time, you know, one of the things that's so funny about it is that the time, you know, hip-hop rap was seen as so transgressive. And now it's, as we know, one of the top musical genres in the United States. At the time when you put the song out there did you think you were doing something, you know, out-of-the-box. Or did it just seem...
J. SIMMONS: Well, you know...
MARTIN: You know what I mean? Did it seem as special as it was?
J. SIMMONS: My father was a poet and he actually, I have that in me, you know, I was write - it was poetry for me. When I finished that rhyme, in my heart, like I said, the pen was taking over. I couldn't, it was almost like I wasn't writing. Sometimes stars line up or whatever it is, it just fell in place. And the rhyme meant a lot a lot to me that, you know, I was going back to mail Santa his wallet that night and got home, I bugged 'cause under the tree was a letter from Santa and the dough was for me. I knew that was a powerful, interesting, funny, incredible rhyme.
MARTIN: But I also, you mentioned earlier that you kind of feel in a way you've always had ministry in you. You are now working as a paid spokesperson -that has to be said...
J. SIMMONS: OK.
MARTIN: ...on a diabetes awareness campaign, partnering with Novo Nordisk. I'll want to mention here, they're also NPR underwriters. But how did you get interested in this? You yourself don't suffer from diabetes.
J. SIMMONS: No, I don't have diabetes but my father did. My manager, his father died from complications of diabetes and he called me about it and I told him, you know what? My father also had diabetes. He's like, whoa. And he was like Rev you're at that age, you're 48 years old, once you get 45, you're African-American, then you are at risk. As a matter of fact, African-Americans are at risk double the amount. So we had a meeting over at Novo Nordisk and I told them, you know, they knew I was a minister and I was a reverend, and I knew at that moment that it was God calling me. So this is my message that health is your first wealth. A lot of people are afraid to get tested. They don't want to know the answer. And like, Rev, I'm scared. I just tell them do it afraid. Afraid might not leave but do it afraid and you'll conquer this. When I'm speaking about diabetes and telling people to get screened, they know that it's coming from a pure place, a place where not only am I telling them, I'm eating better. Everything is in moderation and I lost 22 pounds, so I'm happy about that and I'm still losing weight and made a decision today to have, you know, half a piece of bread because we know that bread turns into sugar. And I didn't have a real burger, I had a turkey burger. It doesn't taste exactly the same but, you know, I had my share of real burgers so I can calm down a little bit.
MARTIN: What's next for you? I mean as a person who achieved real success and fame at a very young age. And many people might know that you are in a number of halls of fame, for example, I mean your place in, you know, music history in this country is well assured at this point. I mean what's, but in your - you're still a young man. I mean so what's next?
J. SIMMONS: Ministry is my top priority. I mean I did a couple of shows with Darrell, DMC earlier this year, but this is it. I have a book coming called "Manology" with a close friend of mine, Tyrese Gipson of "Transformers" fame and of "Fast and Furious," and we're talking to people about relationships.
MARTIN: Well, give us - can you give us a hint?
J. SIMMONS: Yeah, the book is called "Manology" and it's coming out...
MARTIN: Give us one...
J. SIMMONS: Simon & Schuster.
MARTIN: Give us some of your - give us a taste.
J. SIMMONS: Well, I can't let the cat out of bag. I can tell you that "Manology" is going to be raw, uncomfortable truth for some people. It's a big deal and it will be out in February.
MARTIN: You've been offering some words of wisdom. But as you mentioned, you used to offer words of wisdom from the bathtub at the end of your reality show. What's up with the bathtub, by the way? Why were you in the bathtub?
J. SIMMONS: I think baths. It's like...
MARTIN: Well, yeah, I did too. But I don't...
J. SIMMONS: I need to be clean.
J. SIMMONS: No. But everybody takes showers. I'm...
MARTIN: Was that were you did your good thinking was at your bathtub?
J. SIMMONS: Yeah, I relax in the bathtub.
MARTIN: But do I have it right, that you had bubble - you did have bubbles in the bathtub on the show because...
J. SIMMONS: I had to have bubbles on the show. You want to see all what was going on.
MARTIN: You didn't want to see all that.
J. SIMMONS: That's not what you're here for.
MARTIN: I got you. Before we let you go, can you offer us some words of wisdom? As we mentioned, this is the segment we call Wisdom Watch where we like to ask people if they have some wisdom to share.
J. SIMMONS: Well, I do.
MARTIN: Can you share some?
J. SIMMONS: Something jumped right in my mind when you said that. And that is, do what you got to do so you can do what you want to do. You have to go get tested. You want to live a happy life. So for me, whatever it is that's the responsibility that's ahead of you, you have to make sure that you take responsibility so you can have a good life. You know what I mean?
MARTIN: Rev. Run, the "Run" of the pioneering rap group Run-DMC, is now a motivational speaker, an ordained minister in the Pentecostal tradition, a hip-hop pioneer and legend. He was kind enough to join us from our bureau in New York.
Rev. Run, thank you so much for speaking with us. Happy Holidays to you.
J. SIMMONS: Happy Holidays to you. Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "CHRISTMAS IN HOLLIS")
RUN-DMC: (Rapping) Snow's on the ground, snow white so bright. In the fireplace is the Yule log. Beneath the mistletoe... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.