Run-DMC smashed onto the early 80s music scene dressed in tracksuits and sneakers, delivering a raw brand of hip-hop that shook up pop culture. As they spit clever rhymes over hard beats, Run, DMC, and DJ Jam Master Jay became icons of a growing artform. Now the group’s founders get real about their meteoric rise—and tragic fall—in the new docuseries Kings From Queens: The Run DMC Story.
Dropping on Peacock, the three-part series rewinds to the beginning. We follow young Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels as they find their flow on the streets of Hollis, Queens. With plenty of archival footage and interviews with hip-hop legends, Kings From Queens chronicles their early days battling MCs at block parties to later rocking sold-out stadium shows.
But it’s not all glory days. Run and DMC also open up about demons that haunted their success. As they seek closure after bandmate Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell’s unsolved murder, both men emerge as survivors wanting to cement their legacy. Whether you grew up with laceless Adidas or just love a candid music doc, Kings From Queens promises an affecting look at the human stories behind the hip-hop icons.
Brothers From Hollis Spark a Movement
Run-DMC’s origins reach back to the childhoods of Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “DMC” McDaniels. Though coming from different backgrounds, the two future pioneers forged a bond as teens on the bustling streets of Queens. While Run tapped into music early on thanks to his promoter brother Russell, DMC found escape in comic books and superheroes. But both felt the pulsating energy of a new sound taking hold: hip-hop.
As MC rhyme battles raged at neighborhood block parties, Run and DMC jumped in as a duo act. Trading rhymed verses laced with sly humor and slice-of-life themes, they stood out for their raw authenticity. After bringing master DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell into the fold, their sound fully took shape. Jam Master Jay’s aggressive scratching and drum machine rhythms made the perfect backdrop for Run and DMC’s commanding tag-team flow.
When their 12-inch single “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs” dropped in 1983, it was an instant sensation. The record industry initially dismissed hip-hop as a passing fad, but Run-DMC obliterated that idea. With their trademark style of tracksuits, fedoras and shell-toe Adidas, they embodied the culture. As rap contemporaries like Kurtis Blow and LL Cool J praise in the doc, Run-DMC made the music impossible to ignore. Within two years, King of Rock and Raising Hell shot to platinum status. Almost overnight, the kids from Queens birthed a phenomenon that continues to evolve today.
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Crossing Over With Timeless Anthems
As Run-DMC conquered the blossoming hip-hop landscape in the mid-80s, their influence spread far beyond the genre. With Jam Master Jay cutting up unforgettable beats, songs like “King of Rock,” “Walk This Way,” and “It’s Tricky” became cultural anthems. Their game-changing Aerosmith collaboration on “Walk This Way” alone shook up the music industry, melding rock and rap for a new generation.
But beyond sound, Run-DMC reshaped style and attitude. Decked out in track suits and shell-toe Adidas with no laces, their iconic look defined a new cool. As revealed in the docuseries, Run-DMC’s simple request for the sneaker company to send them some gear spawned a business relationship that helped revive Adidas’ popularity. Their bravado and authenticity spoke to fans across color lines.
Run-DMC also passed the mic to spotlight social issues. On “Proud To Be Black,” they flipped their usual boasts into a bold Black pride anthem. And performing at the humanitarian Live Aid concert in 1985, they used the global platform to make rap impossible to ignore.
As the first rap act to notch a platinum record and land on American Bandstand, their accomplishments kept piling up. They earned their first Grammy nomination in 1987 and officially took home the Best Rap Performance trophy in 1992 for “Walk This Way.” By fusing their distinctive musical style with honesty and humor about real life in Queens, Run-DMC built a legacy that went from underground to top of the charts. They didn’t compromise—the world just finally caught up.
Hard Roads and Unresolved Goodbyes
As Kings of Rock reached their peak, lives outside music brought reinvention and tragedy. Run found spirituality, even becoming a minister. But DMC struggled with substance abuse and depression, attempting suicide before getting back on his feet.
Then in 2002, devastation—Jam Master Jay was murdered in a Queens recording studio, the case still unsolved.
As the doc shows, Run and DMC processed the loss in different ways. But the pain brought clarity. “Losing Jay showed everything has an expiration date,” shares Run. Through their grief, seeds of reconciliation were planted.
They reunite at shows here and there, and even emerge to perform at hip-hop’s 50th anniversary celebration in the Bronx, the bittersweet gig captured in the doc. “We don’t get together as much as we should,” Run muses, “but every time is special.”
While Jay’s death permanently severed their bond, Run-DMC’s legacy still endures. They brought rap its first blast of mainstream visibility and inspired music icons like Eminem and the Beastie Boys to stay true to their vision. Beyond acclaim, they gave generations a masterclass in authenticity—remaining real even when the spotlight fades.
As McDaniels puts it, “Run-DMC is not a group, it’s an attitude.” Though the last chapter of their story stays unwritten, Kings From Queens immortalizes their fighting spirit and timeless sound. Whether on the stage or streets of Queens, the kings stay legends.
Vibe and Visuals Immerse You
Guiding the docuseries as director is Kirk Fraser, known for music-focused projects like American Rapstar and The Rise and Fall of Death Row Records. True to form, he brings intimate access and high energy to Kings From Queens.
Weaving new interviews with Run and DMC together with a goldmine of archival footage, Fraser constructs a propulsive trip through hip-hop history. Their origin story unfolds through a mix of VHS tapes from early park jams, gritty NYC street scenes, and colorful animated graphics. Iconic videos and electrifying live performances remind you of Run-DMC’s prowess in their prime.
The candid reminiscing from dozens of musicians also gives context, with Chuck D, Questlove, Salt-N-Pepa and others adding flavor. But the most affecting moments come through Run and DMC’s vulnerability about demons confronted and brotherhoods broken. The rare realness connects you to the men behind the mythos.
With an equally seamless flow, Fraser sonically takes us back. Snippet glimpses of the group’s vintage tracks provide the addictive soundtrack, making you want to follow that bass right to the old school. Kings From Queens mixes sight, sound and soul for a holistic journey through rap’s hallowed past. Whether you lived it or not, you’ll feel it.
A Time Capsule for All Generations
In just three episodes, Kings From Queens: The Run DMC Story brings an entire musical universe to life. Like all great music documentaries, it transports us to a specific time and place—the kinetic streets of 1980s Queens that bred hip-hop royalty.
Even if you didn’t come of age in gym shorts and gold chains, you’ll connect with this intimately told story of ambition, brotherhood, demons faced and dreams achieved. Run and DMC’s candid reflections on their meteoric rise reveal motivations both relatable and inspiring. Though hip-hop has evolved, that underdog spirit still rings true.
And thanks to animated graphics, era-evoking music cues and electrifying archival clips, the sights and sounds completely immerse older fans. You’re right back watching Yo! MTV Raps in your bedroom. For Gen Z viewers and hip-hop newcomers, it’s a portal into an energizing movement often sanitized in history books.
Ultimately, Kings From Queens offers a compelling time capsule you won’t find on Spotify playlists. This is living history relayed by pioneers who manifested something enduring from simple rhymes, beats, determination and camaraderie. That’s a legacy worth knowing, no matter your background. Press play and witness greatness coming together.
Kings From Queens: The Run DMC Story
Kings From Queens gifts viewers with an all-access backstage pass to hip-hop history. Run and DMC pull no punches, getting real about the fame, demons, tragedy and enduring bond that defined rap’s first icons. Even if you don’t call yourself a hip-hop head, you’ll come away moved by their triumphant rise straight outta Queens. This docuseries earns a solid 8 out of 10 rating for its raw nostalgia, propulsive pace, and a story filled with both inspiration and heartbreak. Run—don’t walk—to catch the kings reclaiming their rightful crowns.
- Raw, candid interviews with Run and DMC
- Wealth of archival footage and photos
- Insights from hip-hop luminaries
- Propulsive energy and musicality
- Mix of inspiration, nostalgia and tragedy
- Light on details of Jam Master Jay's murder
- Interviews can feel superficial at times
- More backstory would be welcome
- Russell Simmons' presence feels uncomfortable