Thursday, September 1, 2005

BLOCK-ROCKIN' BEATS

Posted on Thu, Sep 1, 2005 at 4:00 AM

Run-DMC, King of Rock, Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather
Label: Profile/Arista/Legacy
Rated: NONE
WorkNameSort: Run-DMC, King of Rock, Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather

One thing that's inescapable in reading the excellent liner notes that accompany the reissues of Run-DMC's first four albums is the overwhelming insistence on the group's importance, epitomized by Chuck D calling the trio "the architect of hip-hop" while comparing them to Elvis and The Beatles. Though the group – and especially their first three albums – were perhaps the single biggest reason that hip-hop is as omnipresent as it is today, it's Sacha Jenkins who most accurately nails the reason: "Their music was heavy metal for black people (… and heavy metal people)."

There's no need to diminish the impact and excellence of these albums – except for Tougher Than Leather, they're all consistently great – but it must be said that Run-DMC's sound was something of a gimmick in the way that hip-hop beats and rhymes were augmented by rock guitars. True, Jam Master Jay was one of the best rap DJs of the time, exponentially expanding the boundaries of Kool Herc and Grandmaster Flash's pioneering cut-and-scratch work. And the rhymes by Run and DMC took the urban storytelling of Kurtis Blow to another level. But these were middle-class boys and their music appealed to other middle-class boys ... lots of 'em.

By being true to their B-boy surroundings and emphasizing a tough image, Run-DMC formally broke the bond between rap music and disco, making it less about the party and more about a distinct urban culture. Nowhere was that distinction made more clear than on the trio's 1986 masterpiece, Raising Hell. Though their self-titled debut (1984) and King of Rock (1985) were phenomenally popular, it was on Raising Hell that the artistic bar was raised and a perfect statement of the group's creative mindset was made. It's here that we find "Walk This Way," perhaps the ultimate crossover track. What's telling is that Run-DMC wasn't trying to cross over to R&B like many other hip-hop performers; they were trying to demolish a barrier that seemed much more insurmountable. Not only did they do it, but in doing so, they altered the landscape of urban and suburban outrage for decades to come.

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