Reverend Run: Pray this way

He brought rap to the masses. Now, Reverend Run is bringing family values to TV. Gill Pringle meets an unlikely minister

Wednesday 07 June 2006 00:00

In a schedule filled with reality-TV shows in which foul language and disrespect are applauded, a new programme has emerged that stands out from the rest. Cursing and bad behaviour simply won't be tolerated in Run's House, where Reverend Run, formerly of the seminal rap group Run-DMC and now an ordained minister, rules his five children with tough love and plain old common sense.

"Call me old-fashioned," says Run, 45, whose bling-tastic lifestyle seems anything but, "but sometimes you have to say 'no' to your kids, even if they don't want to hear it. My family is my ministry. I'm gonna raise it up with or without the cameras."

Having initiated the genre of fishbowl celebrity families with The Osbournes, Newlyweds and Meet the Barkers, MTV breaks from its winning formula with Run's House, a show that can be described only as wholesome. "Reverend Run is one of the great pioneers in hip-hop," says Brian Graden, president of MTV Music Group. "While Run's House gives viewers an inside look at the lives of hip-hop royalty, audiences can relate to and laugh along with the family whose life is fundamentally about heart, humour and everyday challenges.

"After the massive success of The Osbournes, we had a number of celebrities come to us with ideas for reality shows based on their families, but we would only do something that is organic and has a strong connection to the MTV audience. Run's House is both of those," says Graden, noting that Run-DMC were the first rap group to air their video on MTV.

It also helps to have friends in high places. Run's big brother is the rap mogul and Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons, and his production partner is Sean "Diddy" Combs. "Rev Run is a legend and one of the most interesting individuals I know," Combs says.

In Run's House, the Reverend and his wife, Justine, deal with the usual challenges of family life - albeit in a palatial New Jersey home complete with swimming pool and a new Rolls-Royce - raising their five children, whose ages range from nine to 22. A product of generation bling, the kids, dubbed the "hip-hop Hiltons", still manage to come across as sweet and genuine. Vanessa, 22, is a Ford model and aspiring actress; Angela, 18, wants to be a fashion designer. Run's sons JoJo, 16, and Diggy, 10, both rap like their dad, while Russell Jnr, nine, just wants some attention.

But the Reverend isn't your average dad and, in between attending church and composing daily sermons on his Blackberry from the luxury of a bubble-filled bathtub, he still finds time to offer marital advice to his pal Diddy as well as splurge on a Mercedes for Angela's high-school graduation gift. "I think maybe the more well-heeled you are, and the more a person has, the easier it is for the kids to become pompous. The best way to combat that is to always be in your children's business," says Run.

"I make sure that none of this goes to their heads by dealing with them face-on. We go to church and have constant meetings. I won't tolerate any cussing from my children, and they respect that."

The show also serves as a valuable marketing tool for his fledgling solo career, Run-DMC's 19-year union having officially ended in 2002 with the murder of the group's DJ Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell). Bursting on to the scene in 1983 with the classic single "It's Like That", the trio followed through with hits such as "My Adidas" and "Christmas in Hollis". And they famously collaborated with Aerosmith on an audacious remake of "Walk This Way", which became the first Top 10 single in hip-hop history.

But by 1991, the hits had dried up and Run was dealing with depression and weight issues when he met Bishop Jordan, founder of a newly formed non-denominational Christian church called Zoe Ministries. "Bishop Jordan rejuvenated my life and predicted unimaginable business success," recalls Run, who later expressed his gratitude to Bishop Jordan with a $325,000 Rolls-Royce Phantom.

Born Joseph Simmons and educated at a Catholic school in Queens, New York, Rev Run will never be described as your traditional man of the cloth, and he is no believer in poverty as a virtue. "Poverty should never have been a virtue and whoever came up with it, it was a misunderstanding, but they preached it so hard. I don't see how it can be a virtue, because sickness isn't a virtue, and being impoverished - that's not a good thing either," he insists.

Run recently published Words of Wisdom, a collection of personal "daily affirmations of faith". His WoWs, as they're referred to, are broadcast on various US radio stations and e-mailed to several thousand private subscribers and friends, among them Kid Rock and the X-Men 3 director Brett Ratner, who insists: "I won't shoot a scene until I read Rev's Words of Wisdom in the morning." Ratner cast Run in a small role as a janitor in Red Dragon, starring Anthony Hopkins.

Run-DMC may have been the acceptable middle-class face of rap, but they certainly had their moments. Run was charged with raping a college student in Ohio in 1991 although the charges were later dropped. But he is philosophical about the past. "There's nothing to regret, and I wouldn't consider myself to be a total holy man," he says. "I abide and pray a lot and do the best I can. But it wasn't like we were the craziest group. We always had good messages in our music and we were pretty well respected. We weren't trashing dressing rooms. I'm not perfect - I'm not even perfect on the show."

Run's brother Russell Simmons is less understated: "The world needs Rev Run to show his reality. He's hip-hop grown up. This show is 'Father Knows Best' on steroids," he says.

The season finale of 'Run's House' airs on MTV at 7pm on Sunday, repeated on MTV Base, 10pm, 13 June

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