As part of the legendary rap group Run-DMC, he has played before tens of thousands. But when hip-hop pioneer-turned-reality-television star-turned-author Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons and his wife Justine Simmons took the stage Saturday to talk about their book, “Old School Love: And Why It Works,” he was stunned by the size of the 600-plus in the audience of the St. Louis County Library Headquarters.
“Wow. It’s so many people,” Rev. Run said. “We’re so happy,” Justine followed up.
“We’ve been to a few book signings, but there’s nothing like ‘The Lou,’ I’ll tell you,” Rev. Run said.
They were so excited that early in the conversation with veteran media personality Tammie Holland, there was a moment where Justine showed off her impressive rhyme skills with Rev. Run handling a steady beatbox to back her up.
They then quickly dove in to telling the serendipitous love story of their nearly 26-year marriage, which they detail in the book. The talk served as the first of many events that will take place as part of the St. Louis County Library’s 2020 Black History Month programming.
The start of their love story precedes Run-DMC. Justine was 15 years old when she joined two girlfriends at a Kurtis Blow concert. Rev. Run, a teen himself, was billed as “The Son of Kurtis Blow.”
“After the show, I said, ‘Can I have the autograph of the guy who is with Kurtis Blow – not Kurtis Blow?’” Justine said.
The trio of teen girls went backstage and were given an autograph and a little something extra to remember him by – an open mouth kiss. The three girls lined up with Justine in the back of the line.
“I know some of y’all think I probably wasn’t having that after he kissed my two girlfriends,” Justine said. “But I took the kiss as well. They seemed to be over it once it happened. I wasn’t.”
She went to the lady who worked the concession stand and handed her a flyer with her phone number written on it. “I say to her, ‘Can you please leave this with the guy who was with Kurtis Blow – not Kurtis Blow?’” Justine said.
The next day her mother told her there was someone named Joe on the phone for her. She lived in Long Island. He lived in Hollis, Queens (which would become famous for being the birthplace of Run-DMC). They talked on the phone. They wrote letters. In one of them Joe said he was going to marry Justine one day. But they were essentially in a long-distance relationship as young teens, so they drifted apart.
Years later, well after his rap career exploded, his cousin was bragging about being “Run’s cousin” while working security at a Long Island High school. Her sister attended the high school and bragged about dating Run back when he was “Son of Kurtis Blow.” His cousin asked him if it was true. He confirmed and asked him to get Justine’s number.
In 1994, he fulfilled the promise he made to her in his letters as a teen.
“I got her number. We went to church together. We developed a relationship,” Rev. Run said. “And the next thing you know we are here signing books.”
In between that time, the world fell in love with Rev. Run and Justine as a couple – and their family – in the hit MTV reality television series “Run’s House.”
A hip-hop happily ever after
The hour-long discussion touched upon infidelity, trust, blended families and faith as they candidly broke down what has kept their marriage and family bond strong.
“‘Old School Love’ the book is about old school principles,” Rev. Run said. “I run into some people in my life that say that the principles that worked then can’t work now. They say, ‘We’re in a new world.’ I’m saying that the new world that is not governed by scripture and by old school principles is the reason the divorce rate is so high.”
Holland pointed out – down to the page- one of the topics that she was happy to see in the book.
“On page 18, you broke it down in bold letters,” said Holland. “You said, ‘Do not cheat on your partner.’”
“It’s very simple. If you want to cheat, don’t get a partner,” Rev. Run said. “If you want to be in a relationship, don’t cheat. If you want to cheat, don’t be in a relationship.”
Holland also gave the couple props for the seamless blend of their family – and that many marriages fail because of the inability to bring children together and forge a single familial unit. On “Run’s House,” their family was so thoroughly blended that at first it wasn’t apparently clear which were biological children and which were bonus children between them.
“When you blend these families and you bring this child into this family and this other partner doesn’t like your child – or doesn’t treat your child right – You have to look at that. That’s a red flag,” Justine said. “If somebody doesn’t treat your child with love and respect, they can’t love you. There is no way. How you feel about yourself is really important in how a relationship works. And sometimes if you don’t feel very good about yourself, then we will accept things that we shouldn’t.”
Beside the biblical scriptures they lay out in “Old School Love,” Rev. Run cites selflessness as their secret to their success.
“If you are a selfish person, you are not supposed to be in a relationship. Period.” Rev. Run said. “We are not on the defense, but on the offense, of trying to make each other happy. Years later we are still like, ‘What can I do to make you happy? ‘Old school Love is grown folks’ business. It’s responsible love. It’s not so much about looking in each other’s eyes, but looking in the same direction.”
“As a brotherhood you all have colored our atmosphere and shown us excellence in art, music, fashion and business,” Monica Tyson said to Rev. Run, giving praise to him and his brothers Russell and Danny Simmons for their contributions to black culture before asking about the blending of and boundaries for business and marital relationships when they opened the floor for questions.
“If you neglect too much of your grass, it’s going to turn brown,” Rev. Run said. “You will make all of that money just to use it in divorce court.”
Up next on the St. Louis County Library calendar is the Frankie Muse Freeman Black History Month Keynote Address, which will be provided by President Barack Obama Senior Advisor Valerie Jarrett on Friday, February 7 at 7 p.m. at St. Louis County Library Headquarters, 1640 Lindbergh. For more information, visit www.slcl.org or call (314) 994-3300.