The Reverend Run (Joseph Simmons) with Curtis L. Taylor
St. Martin's Press, $18.95
"It's Like That" is the autobiography of Run--now the Reverend Run-a founding member of the rap group Run D.M.C. Spiritual memoirs can be good, as examples from Augustine's "Confessions" to Dietrich Bonhoeffer's "Letters from Prison" attest. But usually they are boring, and that is because spiritual people are usually boring. Or, to be fairer, the people might be interesting, but their spiritual lives are quite tedious. When the television cameras cut away from Rams quarterback Kurt Warner's post-Super Bowl prayer rally last year, many evangelicals screamed bigotry, suggesting that prime time was not yet ready for avowals of naked faith. But the truth is that faith is about the last thing we want to see naked, and Reverend Run's autobiography shows us all the reasons why.
Run was once the man. When I was 10, there really was nothing more exciting than hearing "My Adidas," "King of Rock," or "It's Like That" on the radio. Run, D.M.C., and their deejay, Jam Master Jay, were "phat" back when the word only had its white-guy spelling. They took the warm-up suit--fashion trademark of suburban martini-drinking dads proud of their late-model lawn mowers-and turned it into a statement of urban chic. They brought rap to the white man. And, we all knew, deep down, they got absolutely insane amounts of hoochie. Oh, to count the notches on Run's bedpost.
Occasionally, obliquely, in scattered passages of his autobiography, Run confesses that it's all true. Drugs, money, honeys. But he absolutely refuses to go into details. Now that he is Reverend Run, he's above all that. He's a married, settled, family man, and he is sparing the world the details.
My conscience dictates that I thank him. When Kathryn Harrison wrote "The Kiss," her 1997 memoir of her incestuous affair with her father, I remember thinking with horror, "This woman has children, children old enough to read and certainly old enough to be teased mercilessly on the schoolyard. She ought to be ashamed." Hefty advances, I guess, pay for a lot of shame. Harrison got her due in the book reviews and on the op-ed pages; I imagine John Updike and Edward Hoagland, who both have children and have written much too candidly about their infidelities, have never been shunned or lost face. After enough parties on the Vineyard on in the Hamptons, morality cedes all ground to vanity, and nobody cares if you mine your family's pain for literary material.
The good Reverend Run, then, must be commended for his class. He refuses to earn money the cheap way, with tales of exploits that he'd not want his children to imitate. Instead, he earns his money by writing a very bad book. And I can't say that's so much better.
"It's Like That" is a self-help manual, and its 150 pages of repetitive musings that dance around, without ever describing, his life story could have been reduced to a charming if derivative pamphlet. In short, it's like this: He and two friends from Hollis, Queens, got into the rap game early, pioneered a fashion and microphone style, became unbelievably famous and rich, did drugs and women from sea to shining sea, then crashed and burned. Exhausted and depressed, Run was watching TV in a hotel room one night. He saw the televangelist Robert Tilton, and this happened: "Something just drew me to him, and I needed to hear what he was saying. He was up there, on the screen, talking about how when we forget God bad times come into our lives. At one point during the program, Tilton directed his congregation and the viewers at home to bow their heads, close their eyes, and pray. It was the first time I had looked inside myself in years."
He began going to church, became a good family man, and decided to witness to the rest of us. Hence this book, which is built on the edifice of 13 intercalary chapters describing Reverend Run's "House Rules." Some of the House Rules are: "You get what you put out"; "Dreams come true"; "Reinvent yourself"; and so forth. It's the Thirteen Habits of Highly Effective Ex-Rappers, with vague stories from Run's life to illustrate just how righteous is the knowledge he's dropping on us.
Reverend Run's is a victimless crime, really, except that a) unsuspecting kids with a fondness for old-school rap might actually spend money on this book, and b) if they do, they might take some of the book's less thoughtful counsel to heart. Run is, for example, a rather naïve capitalist, Ayn Rand with a boombox. "If everybody in the world were given a million dollars in cash today, I guarantee you in a very short amount of time 95 percent of the people who were poor before they got the million dollars would be poor again," Run writes. "Water seeks its own level." People like Donald Trump have a "wealth consciousness," while poor people, who by definition lack the proper consciousness, have only themselves to blame: "Trump lost it all and gained it back in a few years. My neighbor got it, lost it all, and never regained it. He's homeless and broke now, in worse shape than before. All this goes to show that money is not a physical thing. It comes to you asan effect. There's a cause and effect. The effect is the cash. You have it because you believe you have it and deserve it."
Silly me, grinding out prose for pennies a word. I just need to listen to Run. He may be just a family man now, dishing out a Bible's worth of truth via his mediocre ghost writer, but at least he has the wealth consciousness. Now I do, too. I'll soon be rich, and then I will buy lots of cool things. Reverend Run even tells me how to do that without succumbing to materialism, how to serve both God and Mammon: "I have the Mercedes," he writes, "the Rolls-Royce, the customized limo, the diamond Rolex, but this time it's different. Those things don't control me. I control them and I have them in the proper perspective. I always put first things first."
It's like that.