How come nobody ever wrote a song dedicated to 'My Pro Wings'?
The Lineup Card (1984-1999)
Jam Master Jay (turntables)
Rock music doesn't have a group in its history as important as Run DMC were to hip hop. This band was not only innovative within the boundaries of early recorded rap music - being some of the first to use rock 'n' roll samples and a louder, more metallic hardcore sound, they were also the first main popularizers of rap music. In terms of the pop charts, radio, and MTV, before Run DMC there was the Sugarhill Gang and, umm...a whole bunch of blankness. While Grandmaster Flash and Kurtis Blow may have been big on the streets, Run DMC was the first chance most geeky suburban white kids like myself had an opportunity to hear real rap music. Hell, if it weren't for Run DMC, we'd probably have made it through most of the 1980's without seeing a legitimate representative of black culture (at least in music) on our TV sets. Who else was there? Prince? An androgynous middle class pixie-man who had about as much street cred as Sheena Easton? Michael Jackson? Sure, the boy could dance, but anyone who thought that half-grown scrawny featherweight could 'beat' anything was a chump in waiting. Hell, even Lionel Ritchie, at one time a card-carrying black person as a member of the fonky fonky Commodores, had cultivated a bleached-out image of sweaters and loafers one step away from Mr. Roger's own 'hood. Whitney Houston? Lord...in 1986 she may as well have been Debbie Gibson. Nope, since the strong black presence on the R&B and pop charts ended towards the dying days of the 70's, music by black artists that was not calculated to sell to white people was in desperately short supply. The artists I listed above were considered 'safe' for white artists, and from the outset were known by their handlers as having the greatest possible chance of crossover success. Record labels were scared shitless of legitimate black artists that did not cater to white tastes (even if, in the case of Prince and some of Michael's material, they ended up making brilliant music anyway), especially since young urban blacks had become enamored towards this minimalist, noisy, melody-less street poetry over cheaply synthesized drum patterns. It was all too alien, too new, and too black, at least as far as the suits were concerned. It was all a fad that would blow over, this hippity hop crap, and if no black faces were to show up on MTV until it did, well, you gotta do what you gotta do to protect the pale-faces from the big black man.
But some of those same suburban white kids, as they usually do, will seek out the very thing that runs contrary to what they're 'supposed' to like. Everyone's supposed to listen to Jan and Dean and Ricky Nelson? Fuck you, give me Motown. Everyone's supposed to listen to the Rascals and Tommy James and the Shondells? Fuck you, give me Jimi Hendrix and Sly and the Family Stone. Everyone's supposed to listen to Boston and Fleetwood Mac? Fuck you. Gimme Bob Marley, Funkadelic, and the Bad Brains. Rap music, introduced to the rest of Amerika by the runaway success of Run DMC's Raising Hell album, was just another step in that same old progression - white kids latching onto whatever was the latest innovation by the black kids. Partially this is because the cycle rolls over every few years anyway, and kids will grab whatever is new just because of it's newness (when I was in high school, it was Nirvana and G-funk. In the late 90's, there wasn't much new in black music so the white kids found shock-schlock crap like Korn and Marilyn Manson instead. Like I said...good or bad, white kids will pick up on whatever happens to be new at the time the cycle changes.) because black kids don't really have to play-act very much to put 'edge' into their music. Hell, in most urban areas, all you have to do is put a tape recorder on the sidewalk and you'll end up getting something with some 'edge' to it. Either that, or a stolen tape recorder. No wonder people, no matter what their color, embraced hip hop once they got the chance. See, people like to know they're hearing the truth, if even for a little bit. Call it reverse escapism. People who would never in their lives dare drive down MLK Boulevard in broad daylight could buy a rap album and feel, at least a tiny bit, like they're vicariously living right there at ground zero.
Run DMC was first noticed as part of the whole break-dancin' spinoff of hip hop culture, showing up in such Oscar contenders like Krush Groove, associating themselves with some of the more universally accessible parts of the movement. Guys in Adidas track suits and Kangol hats spinning around on their skulls on top of a flattened refrigerator box? Who wouldn't want to see that? It's funny that the first foot in the door of mass acceptance of hip hop wasn't the poetry, or the fashion, or even the music, but was dancin'. How different is this than, say, a smilin' black guy tap-dancin' for white people fifty or a hundred years ago? People may not give a flying fuck what a black wants to say, but you get them out there to perform some physical feat...hooo boy! 'Them Negroes is good dancers, sho nuff! Just as long as one o' them don't wanna date my daughter!' Goddamn white people. Anyway - back to Run DMC. See, it's damned hard for me to discuss this group without going into all the sociology behind it. I just find it funny that in the 1980's, twenty-plus years after desegregation and the civil rights movement, how marginalized black culture had become to the majority of Americans. Well, thank Christ for the kids' love of hip hop for inviting it back in again.
Run DMC was considered the very top of their craft at their introduction, and while today their deliberate, straight-up, often ridiculously simple Disney-rated rhymes are almost laughable, at the time they were innovators. Neither one of the MC's was particularly fluid as we would judge nowadays, but they were confident. Hell, it feels good to be the best, and Run DMC were seen as that. Jam Master Jay was one of the most accomplished turntablists and beat-creators of his time, going so far as to using heavy metal rock guitar samples cribbed from old records to rap over in addition to the usual breakbeats. Most of the time they rapped about rapping, or how cool they were, which had been going on ever since the Harlem house parties of the mid-70's, but they also rapped about 'Hard Times' and wrote that it was time to 'wake up' from a dream about an idealistic, fair society that, it's implied, was never going to happen. Sure, they weren't out-and-out political agitators like Chuck D or KRS One, and these well-spoken college students can't sniff 2Pac's soggy do-rag when it comes to philosophic reports on the state of the modern gangbanger, but they still helped, at a time when rap was struggling to be taken seriously in any context, to make rap into more than just party music. Not that the band couldn't party, either - they had a goofball, sometimes self-deprecating sense of humor that helped them score some of their biggest hits ('You Be Illin', 'Christmas in Hollis'), and Jay's knack for scoring beats that were heavier than the competition kept the booties rollin'.
Run DMC's real breakthrough, of course, came by hooking up with the walking dioxin spills in Aerosmith for a collaboration on 'Walk This Way' in 1986. Run DMC had been rapping over the first few bars of the song for years, but had thought the band was called Toys In the Attic because they couldn't read the twirly, swiry, pothead logo on the front of the album. They saw a connection with Aerosmith as being a potential 'in' to wider (and whiter) acceptance. Joe Perry and Steven Tyler, in turn, were clinging to the last frayed shreds of their toxified brain stems and trying to get their band back on track after being terribly uncool for almost ten years. The match was, as Tyler used to say in line at the pharmacy, just what the doctor ordered. Aerosmith became unimaginably successful based on increasingly distressing levels of pandering, and Run DMC put rap on the tongues of America for good.
As these things usually play out in hip hop, Run DMC was phenomenally successful for about a year, setting sales records for rap artists. But by the time they returned for their 1988 album Tougher than Leather, though, the wheel had turned on to the heavily Run DMC-influenced (but heavier and more lyrically mature) Public Enemy, Erik B and Rakim, and Boogie Down Productions. Run DMC reacted to their changing fortunes with all of the foresight and careful consideration of a starving great white tossed into a kiddie pool. Run (the one that looks like his relative Russell Simmons) had to beat out a rape charge and DMC (the one in the thick-ass glasses) drank like a fish. By the early 90's they were a faded memory, sometimes referred to with reverence by their artistic children (and grandchildren), but more often poked at as a joke along with the rest of mid-80's fashion. They released albums that no one bought, one that looked like a terrible retread (1990's Back From Hell, which might have also indirectly influenced Meat Loaf to his own regrettable bout of sequelism. Then again, pretty much everything that Meat Loaf involves himself with is regrettable.), the Christian 12-step one (Down With the King) and the one that followed about a year behind a small scale old-school nostalgia revival among electronic musicians (Crown Royal). Then in 2002, Jam Master Jay was assassinated in a hail of bullets and the band was snuffed faster than the secret plans to invade Iran once the media found out. Nowadays, DMC is one of the regular pundits on VH-1 ('1981! Atari! Right! No one in Hollis could afford one of those growing up, either!'), looking fit and seemingly enjoying his Lasix surgery, and every once in awhile people pay lip service to the towering altar of Run DMC, but mostly, the biggest innovators and popularizers of hip hop music are forgotten.
This is the first 'old school' hip hop album I've ever reviewed (out of clarification, lots of people refer to this album as the first 'new school' rap album, but I would say that most people would refer to an album released in 1984 as 'old school', not that the difference in semantics makes a whole lot of difference in the price of blow jobs in Ankara. Still, Run DMC were some of the first to primarily write their own backing tracks rather than using Top 40 radio hits, so maybe it is really 'New School' like the first people said. Daaaaaamn. All this talk about 'school' has me thinking about cheerleader butts peeking from beneath their little ruffly skirts. Goddamn you, black culture, for perverting my mind! It's far too perverted already, can't you see?), in fact the first non-gangsta rap album I've ever reviewed, and even MORE in fact, only the fitfth or sixth black artist I've reviewed at all. What the motherfuck is wrong with me, anyway? These people only invented the very music I've devoted so much time to discussing, and in reality I listen to black artists about as much as I do white ones. Is there some writing block I have because I don't want to piss some black guy off for writing about a person whose life I don't necessarily identify with? I mean, I tried FOUR FUCKING TIMES to begin James Brown reviews, starting as far back as over a year ago, and I just could not get anything done. I wrote goddamn reviews of goddamn Kiss two years ago, and I can't even put together enough words to tell people to go out and buy What's Goin' On? What the fuck am I so afraid of? I wrote reviews of U2 and I'm not Catholic, I wrote reviews of Kraftwerk and I'm not German, and I wrote reviews of Yes and I'm not a brain damage victim. So, in case you get the wrong idea that somehow I'm almost exclusively a 'hard rock' guy, that's really not the case. It may have been ten or more years ago (and the LONG time I've had to absorb every single note, say, Led Zeppelin ever put out makes them extremely easy for me to review since I don't really need to even listen to the album to know what each song sounds like), but now I've got to say I'm an Integrated Reviewer who somehow needs to punch up the melatonin level on his site.
Not the estrogen level, though. I'm, honestly, not that much into female pop artists. I admit it, I'm a boy-club misogynist who loves hearing about jelly rolls and squeezed lemons, and I also admit that trying to view the world from a woman's point of view is, if not really all that difficult (my entire family is women, as are most of my friends), not that entertaining either. In short, fuck Joan ", Joan, Lez of the Jungle" Jett and Pat "Can't Play Guitar" Bitchatar for not singing about their sweet titties like I want them to.
Anyway, the problem with reviewing Run DMC is not a black of white issue. It's a 'there's not much going on here' issue. This thing is so old school it makes Darryl Dawkins look like Usher. The beats on this thing are so low-res it makes Colecovision look like Half Life 2. The production is so spare it makes Nebraska look like Smile. It's hilarious to me that this thing was once considered groundbreaking. What did they do before this? Forget actually recording a record and just send out a dust jacket with a lyric sheet and instructions to 'clap loud'? This thing wasn't made with an 808, it was made with an abacus by slapping the counters really loud. No really, this shit is OLD school. 'Sucker MC's' is a lyrical classic of bragging and creative put-downs, but only the heavy-metal riff sampling classic 'Rock Box' really sounds like something new. Besides having one of the sweatier interchanges between the two MC's, it also has one of the better cheese-metal riffs ever put to vinyl in 1984. Still, judging Run DMC poorly because it's not more dense is like pounding The Chirping Crickets for not sounding like Sketches of Spain - no one had any idea if this genre was going to do Jack Palance in terms of actual sales, so they threw $20 of budget money at it and saw if it would stick. And they spent all that on McDonald's the first day in the studio.
As minimalist and seemingly rinky-dink as it sometimes sounds, it doesn't mean there aren't great songs here - after 'Rock Box' comes three fairly standard, enjoyable but somewhat lightweight 'hey-lookit-we're-rapping' tracks (one of which is one of the two homages to their fantabulous DJ Jay, and two of which are labeled 'Krush Groove', making me think maybe they were from the soundtrack to Apocalypse Now, maybe), but the record takes an interesting turn with 'It's Like That'. Here the MC's delivertheir most muscular performance of the record, trading lines like they're not just finishing each other's thoughts, but are declaring an alliance against all comers. Though maybe lacking some polish, they decry rising murder rates and rising bills and ask why people don't attempt to learn when 'someone's teaching' and not later. DMC also proposes 'walking through life with glasses blurred', which is related somewhat to the point of the next track, 'Wake Up'. In this track we hear about a dream of a Utopia where the world 'works as a team' and 'that we weren't afraid to show our faces'. However, throughout the song a distorted, slowed down sample of someone saying 'Wake Up!' keeps repeating (it's actually kind of irritating), as if to say that this is just a dream and that we ought to snap out of it if we're going to live in the real world. To me, after such a heartfelt wishlist of things that could be attained in this world of ours (no starvation, full employment, freedom from greed and hate), to see it tossed aside like that is a bit heartbreaking.
Capn's Final Word: Run DMC is probably not going to be too interesting to most listeners because it bears more resemblance to a Folkways field recording than a 'real' pop album. It's sort of like listening to a chain link fence. But Run DMC are still quite impressive given the limited number of tools they were given to carve out an album with, especially lyrically and on the headbanging 'Rock Box', which sounds like the future now.
This album already sounds like Run DMC have topped the charts - the drum machines are still about as realistic as a Nerf AK-47, but infinitely better production, including some touches of echo and synthesizer, automatically fill many of the gaping holes that left the debut album sounding a bit unfinished. It also makes the album a more psychedelic listening experience - what is the opening 'Rock the House' if not a ganga-drenched dub tune perfect for blazing buds and honking sniffers and chewing Crossanwiches and whatever else those wacky kids are dong to music in their basement rec rooms nowadays. It's almost as if the band opened their album with this song as to say 'Hey, goddamn it! We're real-life musicans!', and, you know, I guess I got that message. They are pretty good musicians, or at least have a great sense for 'what rocks' or 'what sounds heavy' or 'what will make 300 pound chunky black chicks wiggle their saddles' and what doesn't. For a perfect example, dig on 'King of Rock', which once again scores with a brilliant metal guitar riff sample and some tough-as-nails brag-rapping, just dripping with attitude. If the guitar line's not original, I don't know who did it first, though it sorta sounds like Eddie Hazel's style on the Maggot Brain album. You know, when three rap artists score two of the better heavy metal riffs of the mid-80s on subsequent albums, you know that you're dealing with the real Kings of Rock.
If the title track is metal, 'Can You Rock It Like This', an LL Cool J contribution, is more New Wave-jerkiness (a great emulation of Talking Head/Devo's cold modernism is what it is), and the dub/rap fusion (not really that far of a stretch, really) 'Roots Rap Reggae' is like Sandinista! perfected by people who know something about real groove.
If this review and the last one make it sound like I enjoy it more when Run DMC do things other than simply rap over hip hop tracks, it's because I do. I have to admit it, while I've got infinite love for a set of lyrics as groundbreaking as 'Sucker MC's', I'm simply not going to love it as much as I do 'Rock Box'. Likewise, as much as I like the sleazy grind of 'Master Jammin', the rock addict monkey on my back is going to prefer 'King of Rock'. Hell, they sound like heavyweight rock stars on 'Master Jammin' anyway, so I guess the lack of stylistic variation isn't critical. The lack of lyrical imagination is, however. After some pretty brave songs like 'Wake Up' on the debut, the fairly pale 'It's Not Funny' sounds like a rehash. Luckily, 'You're Blind' makes up for it with menace and darkness, and 'Daryl and Joe' with blazing flow.
King of Rock is extremely well titled...they sound more in control of themselves as musicians (the riffs really are that good, and the reggae really is that convincing) than as standard-bearers of hip hop or as particularly witty lyricists. Their attempt at comic relief, 'You Talk Too Much', is simply incompetent (not to mention about as funny as a Jennifer Lopez vanity flick), like a Richard Pryor monologue read off the page with as much comic timing as two Speak and Spells. Still, the raps do get it done, and the record in general sounds terrific. I may be underrating it, but I feel like some of the pure balls it took to make Run DMC have been compromised by a taste of commercial success. Still, whether musically, lyrically, philosophically, or pharmaceutically, innovation is still innovation, and Run DMC are still popping new buttons on King of Rock.
Capn's Final Word: Oddly enough, the title may not be too way out, considering the date of release. There's more rock power here than on a thousand Aqua Net metal albums, but I guess I could use just a little more rap power, too.
More commercial, but that don't mean it's the buffalo's lunch in terms of great rap albums. In fact, I think this one takes all the advancements of King of Rock and sets them one higher, with heavier, more convincing beats, some wicked-ass flying trapeze tradeoffs between Run and DMC, and something so stupid simple even the jocks could get it - great, memorable songs. Not that Run DMC was having any problem coming up with great material, but you'd think that sooner or later they'd start slowing down, taking it easy, and letting the hits come to them ala Puff Daddy - take an easily recognizable sample and rap with minimal competency over the top. It's a formula for instant success among the folks who only care about shaking their Flo and Eddie all over the dancefloor every Tuesday night. See, Run DMC do it once here (and, as far as I know, this is the only time they tap this particular keg), on their mega-smash 'Walk This Way'. At least the band had the decency (and balls) to actually hook up with the originators of said famed rump-humpin' sample, and took Aerosmith straight to the Top 40 for the first time since, god, I dunno...since Eliot Gould was considered handsome? There's really not a lot to be said about this version other than it's pretty goddamn well perfectly calculated (oddly, like a lot of stuff Run DMC did in the mid-80's) for maximum crossover success without selling out their essential sound. Jeez, when I think about it, Run DMC had been making so many great 'rock' tracks by this time, I wonder if they couldn't have made a hit track like this without slaving themselves to a couple of powder chowders like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry. Hell, is 'Walk' really any better of a song than, say, 'Raising Hell' or 'Rock Box'? I guess I kinda like Tyler's hornball panty-sniffing lyrics, but as for riffs, I'd say probably not. *Dodges hail of bullets from 'Smith fans*.
The other big hit I remember being completely inundated by in 4th grade was 'You Be Illin', a much more successful novelty track than 'You Talk Too Much' (not to mention the gnarly 'Dumb Girl' on this record) was on the last one. This one is actually kinda funny in an elementary school playground sorta way - the dude goes to KFC and orders a Big Mac, goes to a basketball game and yells 'touchdown', you know, the usual sort of highjinks you might expect from any Andrew Dice Clay skit you care to name. Yeah, it's stupid, really, but the Big Fat Guy Walking backing sample is hilarious, and besides, as every female fan obsessed with Brad Pitt must know deep down - it's not what they say, it's how they say it. With this track they slap up the Fat Boys (their main 1986 competition, let me remind you) like a tardy sweatshop worker.
The rest of this album (i.e., the stuff I don't remember sitting on the radio playlists for an eternity that year) is simply even better than the stuff you know. It's as if they're playing the bait-and-switch - bring you in the door with the mindless stuff with the funny and the old fart rockers and then slam you over the head with raps so blazing they seem to be on a different planet than what was going on in the rest of the scene. The beats, some still mechanized, some sampled, and some live ('Perfection'). Unlike King of Rock, which simply fleshed out their musical backing to real-live status, here they seem to be developing their vocal skills at something just south of light speed, especially the psychic tradeoffs on lines. The MC's show off their blazing skills on the hypnotic double-time opener 'Peter Piper' over a layered drumbeat that pretty much became standard equipment for rap in the late 80's. 'It's Tricky' is even better, based on a riff that probably began life as 'My Sharona' but that has been reborn into a song that, most definitely, does not suck like a jet-engine bird blender flying at treetop level through Capistrano.
Again, I'm not sure the real emphasis here is on lyrics. They sling some of the best boasts in rap history, and 'My Adidas' did nothing but characterize an entire hip-hop fashion with one track, but they don't really get past the 'boy, we're really fucking good at this rap stuff' or hardy-har level until 'Proud to Be Black', which is pretty damn convincing, I admit. Still, man, I know this thing was created for rap culture and not to change world culture, but I still demand more from my Beatles of Rap when given the chance. Just to know how far Public Enemy would take the lyrical and political possibilities of this form of music in just a year shows me not that Run DMC couldn't write something more thoughtful when they needed to, it's just that at the time of Raising Hell, they preferred to be rock stars.
Damn good thing that they played the rock star rapper thing about as well as it's ever been done. This band does rock, even when they're playing straight, no-guitars hiphop (the crackling, snapping 'Is It Live' seems to be hooked up to a nuclear power plant, the delightfully freestyle, live-in-the-studio 'Perfection'). I've barely even mentioned the title track, which is another distortion-driven bender of brains that could probably, in a better world, deserve a paragraph of its own. Even if they weren't preaching it, the fact that a group of undeniably powerful and talented black men were one of the standout stars of a year as low on octane as 1986 was a statement of its own. Run DMC are convincing, so much so that I will stand by my statement that, outside of a couple of punk/indie bands like Husker Du strewn here and there, the best rock 'n' roll of 1986 was made by Run DMC.
Capn's Final Word: The jewel case of Raising Hell? The real rock box.
Two years of fucking around with their record company had passed since the Top 10 big Chevy dealer blowout clearance sale of Raisin' Smell by the time the boys released Tougher than Leather in 1988. For most normal rock 'n' roll-type bands these days, two years is nothin'. Three years, four years, it practically takes that long for most bands to finally get their last single off the chart nowadays. Hell, the Rolling Stones can get away with not releasing an album of new material for almost a decade and no one bats an eye. They come back, toss a couple of half-assed videos on VH-1, mount a stupen-dormous world tour, charge $75 for t-shirts and everyone's happy. This, however, is just not true for rap music, especially in the fertile Catholic newlywed that was rap music in 1987 and 1988. Believe me, Tougher than Leather still sounds great - this is still Run DMC doing what they do best, and they're in full control of their talents, but it's pretty damn clear that the band is no longer on the cutting edge. In the meantime since Hell, their stylistic, if not philosophical, children like Boogie Down Productions, LL Cool J, and especially Public Enemy had graduated from the Run DMC school of layered, thick beats, loud samples, and masterful tradeoffs. Moreover, the new breed wasn't afraid of being far more lyrically confrontational than Run DMC had been - it's quite one thing when you're wearing leather jackets to look tough and rapping about your shoes, it's quite another to say 'Elvis never meant shit to me' like Chuck D did a year later. The other problem is that Run DMC, who had been on a groundbreaking arc for their first three albums (each one more musically accomplished than the last) finally seemed to reach a sort of dead endsville in terms of new ideas. Tougher is generally Raising Hell all over again, with slightly heavier beats, a few more layers of samples, and less of what I'd call 'musicality'. If Raising Hell was too much of a sellout 'guitar' album for your inner Fab Five Freddy to handle (and considering whose site you're reading, that's probably not the case), then this one is more of a 'DJ' album. One listen to 'They Call Us' or the psychedelic 'Beats to the Rhyme' should be enough to prove what I'm talking about here - the turntable work is simply amazing on this disc. The beats are still well-constructed enough to not always reveal their original sources, though the feeding frenzy on uncleared James Brown-isms was at its peak at this time.
If I were writing a pure 'review' based solely on my own impressions with no input from other sources, I would probably end this charade right here with the statement that this is another, less commercial but still extremely vital Raising Hell-style statement from the DMC. But I can't just gloss over the fact that this album was a fairly substantial hiccup in the band's career, especially among the black audience. They no doubt had seen the massive crossover success of 'Walk This Way' and Raising Hell (not to mention horribly misguided rap-themed TV ads for Wendy's and Fruity Pebbles) as posing a 'whitening' threat to their new artform, saw the subsequent success of the first Beastie Boys album among the same white kids, and decided they would brand Run DMC as a sort of Uncle Tom rap group. Granted, the shift from 1986 to 1988 was towards a much more confrontational, extreme (and in the case of Slick Rick, pornographic) form of rap music than the party-themed jams Run DMC were famous for. The buyers of Tougher than Leather were primarily those same white kids who picked up Raising Hell and dug the (increasingly generic and dull) Rick Rubin metal guitar layers. Tougher than Leather is still very much a rock and roll album in feel - the MC's pack as much punch in their deliveries as they can cram in that bitch, and it's really hard for me to see why somebody who would love It Takes a Nation of Millions would dismiss this album so readily (especially considering how much of an influence Chuck D always credits Run DMC with), but as I found out on a recent trip to a primarily black-patronized Memphis, Tennessee karaoke bar, black tastes can be pretty harsh when it's perceived that something has been 'sold out'. Also, and this probably can't be understated - when fashion changes, former adherents can be almost cruel to anyone who represents the old look, and what was Run 'My Adidas' DMC than the soundtrack to the jumpsuit 'n' Kangol no-shoelaces look of mid-80's hip hop culture? I suppose this sense of stylistic Stalinism also helps to explain the rotten stink-pit of decayed slime that is rap music today, not to mention the commercial beheading of one of the greatest rap artists of all time. I think only fools and forest-for-the-trees cultist assholes would let this album go without giving it at least a chance. Considering the only misstep is the completely laughable Slick Rick impression by some nobody guest MC on the last track, 'Ragtime', I'd say that the black folks were dead wrong on this one. Just like OJ. But not rioting in LA. Or the Panthers. Chewing on plastic drink straws? Stupid. Black Muslim street patrols? Excellent. $150 sneakers in six colors? $500 vintage ABA jerseys with matching pants? Fucking idiotic. Spike Lee? Eh...*makes wavy back and forth gesture with hand* Dave Chapelle? Geeeenius. Black eyed peas, turnip greens, great northern beans, and cornbread....beauuuuutiful.
Capn's Final Word: Not the great advancement we've come to expect from Run DMC, but still good enough to make the sincerity police in the hood look like a bunch of boneheads.
My Run DMC never had to rap about 'nines' or smacking bitches, much less scramble like a greyhound on Rollerblades to catch up with the competition who had summarily taken over the rap world since their last album. The lack of acceptance of Tougher than Leather must've been a mighty tough lump to hump for the band, because they sound alternately freaked out, defensive, and angry on Back From Hell, probably their lowest point as a band. The saddest thing of all is that the Run DMC sound is gone in a haze of badly conceived Bomb Squad ripoffs. I realize now that as great as Public Enemy were, their sound, when emulated poorly, is jarring and ugly enough to liquefy brain tissue and make it roll out your sinus cavities. And believe me now and tattoo it above your girlfriend's ass later - the beats on this album are done poorly. Hell, as fas as I'm concerned, the annoying 'jump! jump! jump! jump!' flailing snare drum James Brown patterns are even more dated than the Roland TR-808 drum beats on the first and second Run DMC albums. Sure, it's hard to fault this album for sounding at least something like this, since it was the prevailing sound of the time, but the fact that the band decided to toss off such an obvious ripoff (Jesus! I mean, the drumbeat and hook on 'Faces' is stolen, blatantly, from Bel Biv Devoe's 'Poison', which also nicks Chuck D's line 'racist faces'.) Overall, though, the beats just aren't any fun. They're too busy to be danceable, too butt-ugly to be soulful. A lot of the music here is simply no fun at all.
Oh, if only the problem were simply musical. I could accept Run DMC making an album that positioned them firmly in the middle of the rap road circa 1990, with some derivative backing tracks and maybe a few too many filler songs, as long as the essential integrity of the band was kept under control. So they're not groundbreakers any longer, fine. I can live with it. But that's not what they decided to do at all - they've gone and reimagined themselves as hard motherfuckers (yes, indeed, they curse like PMS-ing soccer moms cut off in the Safeway parking lot on this album, another ill-advised and awkward new 'development'. Hearing these guys talk this way is like going to a bar and seeing your kids' 1st grade teacher dancing topless on the pool table...it's just disturbing), saying they'll 'break ya fucking neck' on 'Kick the Frama Lama Lama' (is that title the illegitimate love child of 'Rama Lama Fa Fa Fa' and 'Kick Out the Jams' or what?) and lazily waving around more nines than a Sesame Street marathon. They've somehow decided that the best way to continue is to emulate a sort of mouth-breather Ice Cube, except that Run DMC were the guys who were saying they 'went to St. John's University' and didn't touch weed or coke just a few years before. They don't even really sound like themselves, because Run is trying to sound like Chuck D and DMC is too wasted to sound like much of anything except a drunk asshole trying to sound like a gangsta. To call it cartoonish would be an insult to the artistry of Elmer Fudd. The stupidest (and, considering his alcoholism, saddest) track on here is DMC's 'P Upon a Tree', about having drunk so much that finding a bathroom to relieve oneself in is no longer an option. Now, I've been there (almost got arrested for doing it once behind the observatory at college), but this wouldn't even make a particularly good line, much less a whole track.
This album isn't without a couple of modest charms, though. 'Naughty', with its mariachi horn sample, is pretty decent, and the hit song 'Pause', though sounding nothing like Run DMC, still brings up pretty strong memories of the Day-Glo, 6-inch high fade haircut early 90's. Still, in almost an hour of music, a retarded orangutan with no hands could come up with a couple of listenable minutes. Sheeeitt....so much of this just draaagssss...buying this album is really only interesting to hear exactly what 'selling out' to the expectations of the fickle masses sounds like.
Capn's Final Word: These guys are posing so hard it makes Venus De Milo look like Robin Williams on a coke binge.
david andino Your
Any Short Comments?: this is run and dmc? no! this is stupid gangsta rap! why oh why they had to go gangsta?????????!????!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!!?
This is their infamous 'Born Again' Christian album, made after Run beat his rape charge, DMC quit the sauce, and Jam Master Jay realized he was too good to box himself in as a Terminator X simulator. I coulda swore I owned this before I started this review page, and now I can't find it. I'll put this one in when I can.
Okay, call it a Jam Master Jay solo album with a bunch of contributions from Run and a veritable Chinese brigade of early 00's era guest stars and you've got it just about correct. As a Run DMC album, this isn't much - DMC hardly contributes, Run is either relegated to chorus hollering duty or rapping about what a great rapper he was 15 years before. Still, despite selling about three dozen copies, this isn't really a bad record. It's tons more sonically inventive than anything we've heard from these guys since 1986, thanks to the ever brilliant Jay. His still amazing DJ work and deep down drum tracks are really the only reason to listen to this album, but that reason is pretty compelling. This is probably, and don't laugh when I say this, the best sounding of all the Run DMC albums. Jay's work here is the perfect capper to his career, but the fact that he still could put forth such a fantastic performance makes his murder the next year that much sadder.
Otherwise, though, it's a wash-out. The guest rappers hijack the mic (it's hard to say steal when you're talking about timeless luminaries like Everlast and Third Eye Blind) and proceed to make the vocal tracks sound like their sad attempts to rap as well as Run DMC was able to do back in the day. Some of this stuff is criminally terrible. I appreciate what Jay is able to do on the decks, but 'Here We Go 2001' proves to me that the world would be a better place if Sugar Ray would be strapped to a leaky surplus Soviet space rocket and shot straight at the heart of the sun. That fate would be too good for that fat Rent-a-Center-assistant-manager-made-good Fred Durst, who 'raps' in his pubescent mewl about all the bitches who fucked him only because he's a rock star on 'Them Girls'. Now, until now I've done pretty well not to mention Fred Durst in seriousness on this site, and let this statement be the last before I lock it in a safe and toss it over the side into the deep - his presence makes this album much worse.
That's about as bad as it gets, unless you count Steve Miller among your personal enemies (they evoke the Great White Mediocrity 'Non-Playing Motherfucker' on 'Take the Money and Run' with that 'Jump Around' poseur Everlast). Kid Rock keeps his shot safely nostalgic, surely because he damn well knows his whole hip hop Ted Nugent metal shtick was ripped off from Run DMC in the first place. I don't like him, but I do appreciate what he's done for this band in the last several years. There's no surprise whatsoever that the best guest shots come from the legitimate black rappers, not the Caucasian refugees that pollute the first half of the album. Jermaine Dupri does fantastic work with the haunting Hollywood massed choir on the opening 'It's Over', and Nas and Prodigy define smooth on 'Queens Day'. Even a song as untouchable as Al Green's classic 'Let's Stay Together' gets a decent treatment by Jagged Edge. There's still no excuse for Fat Joe, but that might just be an anti-suckass not-tone MC bias on my part.
Lyrically, this album is inert. Everyone either raps about how great Run DMC were and how they deserve respect (especially Run, who makes the title track into one long, sustained bitter snivel), or about how great the perks of the rap game are (this is usually the assholes like Durst who'd get ground into a fine powder if put up against any real rapper). 'Queens Day' is a nice exception, but unless you can buy into the idea that Run DMC are really still deserving of 'audiences of no less than a hundred thousand', you might not dig what this album has to say. Saddest of all, DMC didn't even believe in this project enough to put an equal effort forward. I guess it doesn't really matter in the end...all the really great messages on this album don't come from vocal cords, anyway.
Capn's Final Word: So Run is stuck in a hole, DMC is absent, and the guests run roughshod. Jay's got it all under control, baby.