When it comes to icons of hip hop, Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons is the best of the best. As a member of the legendary group Run-DMC, along with Darryl "DMC" Daniels and the late Jason "Jam Master Jay" Mizell, Rev. Run has been instrumental in taking rap music to the mainstream and making hip hop the most dominant cultural expression across the globe. Regarded as one of the most influential acts in the history of rap music, Run-DMC became the first hip hop group to earn gold and platinum albums and were the second hip hop group to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ( Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five were the first).
For his latest endeavor, Rev. Run stars as the narrator of The Hip Hop Nutcracker, a remix of Tchaikovsky's beloved score. The film follows Maria-Clara (Cache Melvin) who wants her mom (Allison Holker) and dad (Stephen Boss) to get back together as her only Christmas gift. With the help of a wizard and toy shop owner Drosselmeyer and a nuts vendor, her Christmas wish just may come true.
This reimagined adventure conveys lessons about the true meaning of the holiday season set against the backdrop of New York City, with appearances from Mikhail Baryshnikov, the Jabbawockeez, dancers from So You Think You Can Dance, and the legendary Kurtis Blow.
EBONY caught up with Rev. Run and spoke to him about the creative process of The Hip Hop Nutcracker, the making of “Christmas Time In Hollis” and his favorite holiday traditions.
EBONY: How did you become a part of the film?
Rev. Run: I knew Kurtis Blow had been doing a version of it for a while. One day, I saw it on his Instagram and I was like, “Kurt is selling out all venues over the world with something called The Hip Hop Nutcracker?” Then, I got a phone call out of nowhere asking if I would be the narrator. For Disney? I love Disney. When I got to L.A, Kurtis was there; Mikael Baryshnikov, the Jabberwockies, Twitch, his wife Allison were all in it. They took The Nutcracker and flipped it on top of its head. They told me there would be a New York City set and dancing the entire time band they wanted me narrate it.There's going to be some real popping, locking, breakdancing, spinning on their head and, of course, some rapping.
As a legendary MC, how did you approach translating the lyrics into your style?
When I got the call from my managers, filming was already in progress and I had to get in where I fit in. The dancers already had their choreography together and then I came in to tell you what was going on on the screen. I had to take the lyrics they gave me to make them fit me. I might have worked three days for my part but the total production took several months. I had to get my mind together and get these lyrics that they gave me to fit my style because it's the telling of the story of The Nutcracker through a hip hop voice. So I was like, “Alright, let's get this cracking.”
On the film, you worked with Kurtis Blow who also co-starred with you in Krush Groove, a bonafide classic. How was it to reconnect with him?
When I saw him in L.A., I was like, “How are you, father?” He's the King. He was Kurtis Blow and I was the son of Kurtis Blow. Before rap records came out, I used to DJ for him and rap with him. We're family. So to connect with something that he's already been doing on tour for years around the world was just amazing.
What do you hope that viewers will take away after watching The Hip Hop Nutcracker?
The main thing I want everybody to know is that this production is reimagined. If you're up on the Nutcracker, you're going to love this version. You won’t see any ballerinas—there are breakdancers instead. Baryshnikov is there but his role is to pass the torch to this generation.
A big part of your legacy is forever tied to the Christmas season. Along with Kurtis Blow, Run-DMC helped to popularize Christmas rap songs. Without question, “Christmas Time in Hollis'' is a holiday standard. What’s the backstory behind the track?
I got a call from a Very Special Christmas and they wanted us to do a Christmas record. I was like, “I can't sing ''Silent Night” or “The Christmas Song” by Nat King Cole, so I had to pull out a pen and start writing. One day it just flowed out of me from heaven. When I finished, I dropped the pen, called them back, and said, “I'm finished.” DMC added his lyrics and Jay had the beat. It was a charity song for Bobby Shriver and his foundation. 35 years later, it’s a classic.
Lastly, around the Christmas season, what is one of your favorite traditions that you share with your family?
Decorating the house with lights. The Christmas tree is already up. We take this thing seriously. I'm telling you about my house. It's the most lit-up house in the neighborhood.