In Perspective: Run DMC: Still the Kings?

Run DMC

Crown Royal

Arista

Attempting a Supernatural-style comeback, Run DMC’s Crown Royal is loaded down with guest stars. If it isn’t obvious that this album was coldly calculated to attempt duplicating Santana’s comeback success when the band starts throwing out props to Clive Davis, who orchestrated the guest-heavy Supernatural, on “Simmons Incorporated,” then it should be when you note that Davis gets a songwriting credit on nearly every track here. It’s also a testament to how long Crown Royal‘s been sitting on the shelf, since in the same breath, they praise Arista Records, which very publicly ousted Davis about a year ago. The legalities of all those guest appearances kept the record sitting for so long that the track appears extremely dated at this point.

And therein lies part of the problem with Crown Royal: rather than sounding like a fresh update on the classic Run DMC sound, it sounds like a bunch of tracks by the various guest stars, and like what those bands (many of whom I believe, frankly, will prove to be flashes in the pan) sounded like a year or two ago. Where Run DMC were able to resurrect Aerosmith from the musical graveyard (let’s face it, if it weren’t for their remake of “Walk This Way,” Steve Tyler and co. would be recording for CMC and touring with Styx today), they’re now counting on young acts to bring them back. That they should have ever fallen into relative obscurity is unforgivable, but that they should lose so much of their identity in trying to come back is just depressing. Compounding the problem is that DMC chose to bow out of several tracks (“creative differences” were cited, but he’s also apparently had some vocal troubles that led him to re-examine his role in the band). I guess its to his credit that he’s chosen to stay out of overproduced schlock like “It’s Over” and “Queens Day,” both of which sound a lot more like guests Jermaine Dupri and Nas & Prodigy (of Mobb Deep), respectively, than Run DMC.

Another issue is the boasting. While it’s always been an element of rap music in general and Run DMC’s music in particular, it was more acceptable and palatable, somehow, in the days of “King Of Rock.” Perhaps it was because in the old days, they didn’t go on about it on seemingly every track, nor were they bragging about how important they are to the history of hip-hop and music in general. In short, back in the day, they weren’t bragging about their past, they were boasting about what they were doing at the time. Moreover, they backed up their boasts with the music — when Run bragged “I’m the King of Rock, there is none higher/Sucker MC’s must call me sire”, he made you believe it was true. The anemic nature of most of these tracks make any boasts seem idle and unwarranted.

That’s not to say that the album is horrible, or that there are no highlights. The Fred Durst collaboration, “Them Girls,” is surprisingly springy and catchy, if a bit pop for both acts, and Everlast joins in on an inspired cover of Steve Miller’s “Take the Money and Run.” Perhaps appropriately, Kid Rock’s collaboration, “The School of Old,” most sounds like old school Run DMC — after all, his rap/rock hybrid probably owes the more to the legacy of Run DMC than any other guest on the record (and the samples of “King Of Rock” and “Dumb Girl” are a big help). “Simmons Incorporated” works, since guest Method Man has always shown appreciation for the old school, and the tribute to the legacy of the Simmons family seems more sincere than most of the album. And “Rock Show,” featuring Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins, is one of the catchier tracks on the record (though this is in part due to appropriating some of Rob Base & DJ E-Z Rock’s “It Takes Two”). Though on the flip side, when your best songs feature Kid Rock, Third Eye Blind, and Fred Durst, some might find that to be an indication of problems at the outset•

Where the album goes most drastically wrong, though, is in burying Run DMC in the sound of other, inferior acts. Where Supernatural succeeded in meshing Carlos Santana’s signature style and strengths with those of the more commercially-viable modern artists guest starring, Run DMC too often get lost in the application of other styles and artists. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the tracks that guest star other rappers. With Nas and Prodigy’s raps taking up most of “Queens Day,” it sounds more like Run is guesting with them than vice-versa. Likewise, “Ay Papi” picks up so much of so much of Fat Joe’s Latino vibe that it loses any Run DMC flavor, and “Let’s Stay Together (Together Forever)” almost gets lost in Jagged Edge’s reinterpretation of the Al Green classic. While some of these tracks are good songs for the guests, they aren’t good Run DMC songs, which should have been the priority.

Anyone reading this review might assume that I don’t like Run DMC, but that’s totally untrue. I bow to no one in my respect for this group, which is why I hold them to such a high standard. I’ve been anxiously awaiting this album for over a year, despite apprehension at some of the guest appearances, because I know what Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay are truly capable of. They do merit all the boasting on this album, though the tracks don’t always bear that out. That’s why seeing them lose their way so thoroughly is such a major disappointment. What they really need to do is get back to their roots and make a record on their own terms. When they do, I’ll be first in line, because I know that this band still has greatness in it, still has the capacity to blow minds and eardrums. You can even hear it here, glimmering at the edges of Crown Royal. But it’s buried under so much excess as to be almost indistinguishable. Guess that Supernatural magic only works once•

Arista Records, 6 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, http://www.arista.com, http://www.rundmc.net, http://www.revrun.com, http://www.me-dmc.com, http://www.nationwidedj.com

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