When Run-DMC's DJ, and founding member, Jam Master Jay was killed in October of 2002 I took a big step back and questioned my self-ascribed status as a rap fan. Sure, his murder wasn’t the first to rock the rap world but it really made me look at what the style had become and if I wasn’t part of the problem.
Sure, I was a fan of Tupac, although of his work with Digital Underground more than anything and I was a huge fan of The Notorious B.I.G., in fact I think actually wore out a CD copy of Ready to Die So I’m not trying to take away from their talent by means with what I’m about to say.
Despite my love for their music I really think both of those cats, in one way or another, brought their deaths on themselves with the lifestyles they led. Their music brought “thug life” to the forefront of the American consciousness and I can’t help but think that their revelry in it contributed to their murders.
In contrast, Jam Master Jay, and the rest of Run-DMC for that matter, seldom glorified a life of guns and violence. That’s what makes Jam Master Jay’s murder all the more tragic, to me at least.
It’s that lack of gangster mentality that makes Live at Montreux such a great DVD. Filmed in 2001 at the Montreux Jazz Festival in Sweden, the DVD shows why Run-DMC were true pioneers in the rap game.
The concert clocks in at a short 66 minutes, and almost half of that is filled with the pointless, non-musical crowd-hyping that plagues almost all live rap performance. Still when Run-DMC gets down to business it’s worth every second.
The band rips through signature tunes like “Mary, Mary” and “King of Rock” with the confidence of the legends they are and the DVD provides a close-up look at the strong fraternal camaraderie that held Run-DMC for so long. The group also busts out tracks like “Peter Piper,” and their cover of Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way” which helped pave the way for rap music to reach rock fans.
In a lot of ways this DVD highlights everything that is good and bad about rap. On the positive side you can see the musical power of three dedicated men armed with only microphones, turntables and an endorsement deal from Adidas. On the negative side the DVD shows how much rap performances lack in substance, even when they come from a group as legendary and important as Run-DMC.
Either way, as intended, this is a fitting tribute to Jam Master Jay, a life that was cut too short way before his time.