Chester Higgins Jr. spent 40 years as a staff photographer for The Times before retiring in 2014. Writing from Ethiopia, he described covering Run-DMC at Madison Square Garden in 1986 for a benefit concert against crack cocaine. We never published photographs from the show or wrote about the performance.
Arriving to photograph this new group Run-DMC, I had mixed feelings. The music was slamming. The wordplay structure was mesmerizing, delivered as a diatribe that delineated the injustices experienced by this generation of young black people living in a society that held them in contempt. It resonated as a cry for justice giving voice to frustrations. The music’s relentless tempo, driving earnestness and poetic structure had become a new creation with its own energy that spoke to these young people, but I found some of the lyrics horrifying, especially the use of the word “nigger.”
Growing up in the South, I felt the sting of this derogatory word; to embrace it in a song smacked of self-hate.
But at the same time, it was clear these entertainers connected with the youth of their generation. The audience loved them, and I realized how powerful and totally off the radar the new music called rap had become.