Talk this way

At Syracuse University, Rev. Run discussed race and religion's role in hip-hop

Hip-hop pioneer Joseph Simmons addressed an audience Wednesday night in Syracuse University's Gifford Auditorium. He spoke about the relationships between race, religion and hip-hop. Simmons — also known as Rev. Run and part of Run DMC — was the featured panelist at "Race Relations: Race, Religion and Hip-Hop in the Modern World," sponsored by the Theta Xi Chapter of the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity and the Student African American Society.

Run spent a career in hip-hop and religion. The former master of ceremonies joined the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in the '80s and '90s. In the early 2000s, he changed. He shed his former nickname — DJ Run — for one that would reflect his newfound faith and ordainment: Reverend Run.

Hasan Stephens, a local disc jockey who teaches hip-hop and culture studies at SUNY Cortland and the Hillbrook Youth Detention Facility, and Don C. Sawyer III, an SU sociology instructor, joined Run on stage.

Run busted quick rhyme for the audience. The next hour and a half was a serious discussion about the media's influence on hip-hop music and hip-hop's influence on society. Run said he believes that hip-hop hasn’t changed much since his days. Hip-hop came from the streets, he said, and has always been a game of strength and toughness. “Back then it was about being the king, and that’s still what it’s really about today," he said.

Run repeated a message of positivity. He said it is important to promote a positive message in hip-hop. He connected that message to his religious beliefs. “I used to smoke weed. A lot,” he said. “I needed to mature and raise my family, so I turned to my faith.”

He argued that rap has more religion than any other musical genre, especially rock. “Rappers are always thanking God for everything,” he said. “Everyone else is always thanking their agent.”

When Sawyer proposed that every real American music form originated with people of color, Run laughed and agreed. “That’s because it’s cool,” he said. “We’ve got swag.”

Run received more groans than laughs when he mentioned modern rappers. He said he respects rappers like Nicki Minaj, Drake and Lil Wayne. “Nicki Minaj is a dope emcee,” he said. “She’s a poet and an uplifting woman.” Some members of the audience booed.

The evening was intimate and informal. Justine Simmons, Run's wife and co-star on the reality show "Run's House," sat in the front row and bantered with her husband from her seat in the auditorium.


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