...their effective swansong...
The sad and horrific slaying of Jason Mitzel AKA Jam Master Jay has put a premature full stop to RUN DMC‘s long and varied career… Keeping to the memory and spirit of the group, Joseph Simmons AKA Run, and Daryl McDaniels AKA DMC, have promised that this ‘Greatest Hits’ package will be their effective swansong. Yet, what really made RUN-DMC special? (And be in no doubt that they were special).
It’s near impossible to overestimate the impact this Hollis, Queens trio had on the music world when they surfaced in the early ’80s. By the end of the nineties they would have effectively paved the way for both the fierce politicised rap of Public Enemy and the hardcore gangsta sound of NWA.
They were the epitome of the Def Jam idea and sound despite not being signed to the label of the same name that Run’s brother Russell Simmons created in partnership with Rick Rubin. The ‘Def’ being slang for something that was definitely good and funky, and the ‘Jam’ alluding to the rock’n’roll creative process. It was a sonic crush collision that was also played out in the meeting between the downtown party milieu of Manhattan and the new uptown sound.
A lot of people didn’t get hip-hop at first, and when RUN-DMC surfaced years after The Sugar Hill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’ introduced rap to the masses, some cats still complained that it just wasn’t music. Check this, though… Witness how futuristic ‘Sucker MCs’ sounds even now, with its minimalist combination of beats, turntable scratches and rhymes. RUN and DMC were braggadocio experts and DJ Jam Master Jay could cook up a mean aural stew, both live and in the studio.
By and large, ‘Greatest Hits’ concentrates on the hardcore hip-hop side of the group, whilst also showing an evolution in sound. If hardcore hip-hop meant hip-hop with guitars RUN-DMC had it in spades. Proof? Bang your head to the monstrous riff of 1985’s ‘King Of Rock’, itself a development a year on from ‘Rock Box’, another metallic monster – this is the process that would lead to the 1986 ‘Walk This Way’ collaboration with Aerosmith and RUN-DMC becoming the first hip-hop stadium act.
And yet again, there were other sides to RUN-DMC. ‘You Be Illin’, for one, is three minutes of sheer gross-out ghetto comedy, highlighted by the fact that the trio were always relatively middle class, unique fashion sense or not. ‘My Adidas’ could also be the first pinnacle of hip-hop product endorsements, from the same time as LL Cool J‘s Kangol hats, and decades before Puff Daddy‘s clothing liners and Jay-Z‘s Reebok link-ups.
Furthermore, ‘Peter Piper’ remains one of the most sampled breaks in hip-hop, itself a sample from Bob James ‘Take Me To The Mardi Gras’. And with ‘Hard Times’, the political side of the generally fun-loving group comes to the fore, something that deepens further with the lyrics to 1990’s ‘What’s It All About’, and its infamous Stone Roses ‘Fool’s Gold’ loop. By the ’90s they were being eclipsed by the very artists they inspired – even the collaboration packed album ‘Crown Royale’ of 1999 failed to elevate them back to the dizzying heights of before, but there’s still gems from this decade.
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Factor in ‘Down With The King’, complete with verses from producer Pete Rock, and subtract Jason Nevins’s world-conquering remix of ‘It’s Like That’, and you’ve got a way cool guide to RUN-DMC‘s sadly truncated career.