Music Review: Run D.M.C. – Three Decades On


Today, perhaps you are reading this short piece on a laptop, a tablet, maybe even on your smartphone. Whatever the case may be, as the internet celebrates its 25th birthday, many agree that the pace set by global innovators has been absolutely relentless. So much has changed, many things that were once deemed trendy and cool are now considered crimes against humanity: yes, I am looking at you, mullet lovers. On the other hand, like a fine wine, some things just get better with age, and the following album still possesses all its brilliance. After numerous listens to the following LP, the old adage shines like a beautiful beacon; trends are temporary, class is permanent.

Thirty years on from Run-D.M.C.’s self-titled debut LP, this cultural and musical milestone still manages to maintain its unapologetic edginess. Arguably Queens’ finest ever musical exports, rappers Joseph “Run” Simmons and Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, along with DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, produced a record that still sounds truly unique and relevant. Before adopting the Run-D.M.C. nametag in 1983, the trio was known as Orange Crush, a name more suited to a teen girls’ magazine.

In 1984, the year the group’s epic debut dropped, hip-hop was very much in its infancy, largely propelled by the sales of singles as opposed to records. At the time, as strange as it may sound, selling a full-length LP proved to be a difficult affair. However, revelling in the commercial success of “It’s Like That” and “Hard Times,” the imperfect but antagonistic sound offered by the Hollis boys was like nothing else on the scene, especially when so many rap songs were smooth R&B-infused affairs.

“Hard Times,” the album’s opener, was initially penned and recorded by Kurtis Blow, however it was far more funk-oriented than the trio’s effort. Run-D.M.C. stripped Blow’s track of all melody, instead favouring the more subdued sound of a drum machine. On the album’s finest track, DMC and Run trade line-for-line over an infectious beat. With lyrics that truly captured the economic crisis of the 80’s; “P-p-prices go up, don’t let your pocket go down / When you got short money you’re stuck on the ground,” perhaps this track seems even more relevant when you consider today’s precarious monetary situation. A forceful opening declaration, especially when you consider the reserved landscape of hip-hop music in the early 80’s. From the musical arrangement to the deliberate wordplay, this was exactly the injection of adrenaline hip-hop was crying out for.

“Hard Times” is one of the most significant tracks ever to grace a hip-hop album. In 1984, a time when homelessness and drug abuse was as common as it was disturbing, the poignant lyrics shook up the entire East Coast. Although the opening track is not just an advertisement campaign questioning the government’s aptitude, but a rousing declaration given from a witness of the social disparities plaguing NYC. Blow’s version certainly failed to evoke the true despair of 80’s inner city life, but Run-D.M.C., armed with synth propelled stabs and candid delivery, encapsulated the chaos in an effortless manner.

Even in 2014, undoubtedly, it’s difficult not to be excited by DMC’s thunderous voice, Run’s bellowing rap and Jay’s adeptness, so just try and imagine the amazement 30 years ago. Making more than just a musical impression, Run-D.M.C. made quite the fashion statement. While other acts opted for a Village People, disco-inspired look, Run-D.M.C. wore Adidas tracksuits and footwear. Some say this was clever marketing, others say that the trio were staying true to their roots, dressing like the people they made music for. Personally, I agree with the latter belief, as the trio were genuine long before genuineness in hip-hop was even considered commendable.

Along with the aforementioned tracks, another song on their debut LP, “Rock Box,” helped MTV pop its hip-hop video cherry. That insane coverage coupled with the trio’s unrelenting tour schedule ensured the album stormed the charts. As young men the group grew up worshipping the legacy created by the founding fathers of hip-hop culture, pioneers like DJ Kool Herc and Afrika Bambaataa, but Run-D.M.C. ended up creating a legacy of their own. Their debut record reinvigorated the area of Hollis, Queens, and displayed the group’s message on a global scale. With a logo that is still imitated 30 years on, the group created an image and identity that will forever be etched in hip-hop folklore.

It is no exaggeration to say that Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell instigated the hip-hop craze on the East Coast. They crafted their self-titled debut album at a time when hip-hop was on the verge of making a serious impact – it just needed a push. And who better to give the push than the Kings of Queens?

With the middle finger raised and an in-your-face attitude displayed on remonstrative tracks like “Wake Up” and “30 Days,” the album was different than anything else in rap music at the time. D.M.C. made music that conveyed one simple but meaningful message: absolutely no life is worth wasting and absolutely no dream is impossible.

John Glynn, a hell of a guy who once played a game of hide and seek with Neil deGrasse Tysonn and Rosie O'Donnell. A philanthropist, Master Chef contestant, member of Save The Children Foundation, and the only man who can do a handstand with his feet. Follow him (not literally): @Irishdawg1916