PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Music

Run-DMC: Greatest Hits

Mark Anthony Neal

Run-DMC

Greatest Hits

Label: Arista
US Release Date: 2002-09-10
UK Release Date: 2002-11-18
Amazon
iTunes

The memory is still quite vivid -- I was the last one in the prom night limo, traveling across Queen Blvd. en route to the bridge (Throggs Neck) that was going to return me to my home in the Boogie-down. It was about 7am, my prom Shortie had been home in Brooklyn for at least a half-hour and we were dropping this Queens cat off (there were three couples in the limo) when I first heard the staccato opening and the words that would change the pop world: "two years ago a friend of mine / Asked me to say some MC rhymes / So I said this rhyme I'm about to say / The rhyme was deaf and it went this way." It was 1983, I was 17, the radio station was the black-owned WBLS and the voice belonged to Joseph Simmons a.k.a. Run. When Run and his partner "DMC in the place to be" who went to "St. John University" dropped their two-sided 12-inch "It's Like That/ Sucker M.C.'s" in March of 1983 they were the "new-school" of hip-hop. They jettisoned the stylistic excesses of Grand Master Flash and the Furious Five, Afrika Bambatta and the Soul Sonic Force and their artistic god-father Kurtis Blow and replaced them with the streamlined black fedora, colored Lee jeans, dukey gold-chains and unlaced shell-top Adidas that became their signature look for a decade. Run-DMC Greatest Hits chronicles the first decade of Hip-Hop's first cross-over successes.

For many folks, Run-DMC didn't become a relevant pop act until they made their move to MTV, first with the video for "King of Rock" (1985) and then their crossover, star-making collaboration with Aerosmith on a remake of "Walk This Way." It was in the brilliant video for "King of Rock" that the trio of Run, DMC, and hip-hop's most visible DJ ever, Jam Master Jay, mocked the conservative undertones of Rock and Roll tradition, taking shots at Elvis (yes, please a little less conversation), Michael Jackson (who later sought them out to help validate him in the 'hood) and The Beatles (though Chuck D would one up them on "Fight the Power" and Little Richard is still carrying the blood stained banner). Seventeen years after the release of "King of Rock" it is an accepted fact the group will become the first hip-hop act indicted in the Rock Hall, when they are eligible for induction in 2008. "King of Rock" helped Run-DMC transcend the 'hood (truth be told the group's hometown of Hollis, Queens was at worst lower middle-class) for the same reason Marley crossed over the decade before: the guitars, in this case courtesy of Eddie Martinez. At the behest of Rick Rubin, then the partner of Run's brotha and current "race man" Russell, the group began to incorporate guitar riffs the year before (also courtesy of Martinez) on "Rock Box" which was the lead single from their first full-length disc Run-DMC (1984). In a world where most of the dominant hip-hop artists, like Kurtis Blow ("these are the breaks") and even Melle Mel still flowed mellifluously to upbeat party grooves, Run-DMC was "hard-core," influencing contemporaries like Schoolly D and Just-Ice and first generation "new school" acts including Boogie Down Productions (KRS-One and Scott La Rock).

The collabo with Aerosmith on "Walk This Way" (which -- along with the drug counseling -- helped resurrect Aerosmith's career) was really a no-brainer. The song had long been part of the hip-hop DJ canon, back when hip-hop was still plugged into lampposts in the hood (on the street the song was referred to as "Toys in the Attic" in reference to the 1975 album that the original version appeared on), but it was also the culmination of a concerted effort by the group's management Rush Productions (or "Race Man, Inc.") to cross the group (and hip-hop) over to mainstream audiences with their featured roles in the fictional Russell Simmons biopic Krush Groove, their historic appearance at Live Aid (Run-DMC was among the few black acts at the concert which also featured Sade and the Teddy Pendergrass's first post-accident stage appearance alongside Ashford and Simpson) and "Christmas in Hollis" (which samples Clarence Carter's classic "Back Door Santa"), their contribution to the very first Very Special Christmas. With the success of Run-DMC's third full-length disc Raising Hell (1986) and singles like "Walk This Way," "It's Tricky" (which slurred the buzz riff from The Knack's "My Sharona"), and the damn-near insipid "You Be Illin'," the group became a white frat-boy favorite and laid the early foundations of hip-hop's mass appeal and Russell Simmons's burgeoning urban style empire.

Most folks forget that "Walk This Way" wasn't the first single from Raising Hell but rather the two-sided classic "My Adidas/Peter Piper" which the group recorded, no doubt, in response to already circulating charges that the group had sold out. "Peter Piper" -- which samples the legendary "breaking bells" break (courtesy of Bob James "Take Me to the Mardis Gras) -- took the group back to their (and hip-hop's) humble beginnings at a time when hip-hop was all too concerned about being watered-down for mainstream consumption, a fact that was later realized with the success of (MC) Hammer and DJ Jazzy Jeff & the Fresh Prince (who's that?). "My Adidas" also responded to those "sell out" charges by celebrating quintessential mid-'80s B-boy style and cementing hip-hop's relationship with the fashion industry by offering up the menacing black male bodies that hip-hop had largely been associated with as living mannequins for everybody from Bally (see Slick Rick's "Ladi Dadi"), Gucci (Schoolly D: "looking at my Gucci it's about that time") and of course Tommy Hilnigger (I mean Hilfiger). Run-DMC was so cognizant of how they were perceived in the 'hood that they circulated the live "Here We Go" ("DMC and DJ Run, dum, diddy dum, diddy dum, dum, dum") to black radio in early 1985 to remind folks that they were hip-hop hard-core personified (I didn't realize at the time that they were referencing the children's classic Hands, Fingers, Thumbs until I read the book to my two-year-old daughter 15 years later).

By the time the group released the soundtrack-recording to the ill-fated film Tougher Than Leather in 1988, the group was all but dead to hard-core hip-hop fans (at this point still firmly located in the 'hood, which is not the case anymore), though they still brought the hard-core style with the underrated (and in my mind brilliant) "Beats to the Rhyme." By 1988 the first generation of the "new school" was firmly entrench as the genre was dominated by PE, KRS-One, Eric B and Rakim, NWA, LL Cool J (who had to answer to the ghetto hard-core himself after Walking Like a Panther) and upstarts like Big Daddy Kane, De La Soul and EPMD. 1988 also marked the beginning of hip-hop's tenuous dance with black radio and R&B with folks like Rakim recording cameos for the likes of Jody Watley ("Friends") and the emergence of Teddy Riley's signature New Jack Swing sound, which incorporated soft-core hip-hop rhythms with old-school Soul harmonies and created the first generation of hip-hop/R&B hybrids like Keith Sweat, Bobby Brown, Heavy D and the Boys, Guy and later Blackstreet (while killing the careers of Kane and Kool Moe Dee who inexplicably thought is was in their best interests to have Riley produce tracks for them). Though the Kings of Rock had moderate commercial success with the god-awful "Mary, Mary" (from Tougher Than Leather) their follow-up recording, Back From Hell (1990) (which included "The Ave." the group's first attempt at "social commentary" since Raising Hell's "Proud to be Black" and the early classics "It's Like That" and "Hard Times") met with indifference, though it was arguably their strongest material since King of Rock.

When Run-DMC dropped Down with the King in 1993, they had finally accepted that they were hip-hop's elder statesmen (along with Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash, the Cold Crush Crew, Bambatta, Grand Wizard Theodore, and of course Kool Herc) and willingly gave up the reins to the hip-hop status quo. The single "Down with the King" was the group's best single (in my humble opinion) since "King of Rock." Produced by Pete Rock, who was in classic form at the time, the song celebrates the group's legacy with cameos in the video from a virtually a who's who in hip-hop including KRS-One, Das EFX, Redman and on-wax cameos by Pete Rock's partner CL Smooth ("when they reminisce over you") who begins his own flow with a reference to "Sucker MCs" ("two years ago, a friend of mine") and reminds listeners that Run and DMC were "big time before Hammer got to touch it." It's all luv when CL concludes with the line "look ma, no shoe laces," speaking for a whole generation of young black boys who rocked untied shell-top Adidas.

Run-DMC has tried to get back in stride, most recently with Crown Royal which was released last year. DMC, who was always a lovable b-boy alternative to the overly gregarious and egomaniacal Run, is currently struggling with some form of mental illness, which has among other things damaged his often underrated flow. Run, now Rev. Run, is helping to hawk his brother's line of Phat Farm Classics (buy a pair and you too can be an expert on reparations!) and appearing in character as Rev. Run in music videos like the remixed version of Jagged Edge's "Let's Get Married" which samples "It's Like That." Firmly in line with the current nostalgia that pervades commercial hip-hop culture, Run-DMC Greatest Hits provides a window into the artistry of one of commercial hip-hop's flagship products.

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.