Run DMC fails to keep old school credibility

In the early to mid 1980s, Run DMC was rap royalty. Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell burst onto the burgeoning New York rap scene in 1981, and, along with other pioneers, brought rap to the masses starting with their home, Queens.

Run DMC’s 1986 collaboration with Aerosmith on “Walk This Way” helped usher in a new white audience and the successful group was widely imitated during its salad days. The trio slowed its pace considerably in the ’90s, only releasing one album, 1993’s Down with the King. Now comes Crown Royal (Arista), the group’s first effort in eight years and what some are calling Run DMC’s final record.

It would be nice to report that Run DMC has retained its hold on the rap world 15 years after its heyday, but unfortunately Crown Royal is merely a passable album with a few bright spots.

Two explanations for the mediocrity come to mind. First, Run DMC’s sound has changed along with hip-hop’s evolution. The shift from the stripped-down, old-school beats of yesterday to the generically smooth hooks of today does not fit the group’s style. If the listener did not recognize the distinctive voices, they might think this CD was recorded by an up-and-comer in the industry, not decade-plus veterans.

Run DMC is making an effort to sound current, but what fans want is a return to the days when a simple, infectious beat and some original spinning could propel songs like “Bounce,” “It’s Tricky,” and “Christmas in Hollis” to the top of the rap world. These days, Run DMC has to compete with lightning-fast rappers and a world of slick production values and samples – much of which they inspired.

The second explanation for Crown Royal‘s middle-of-the-road feel is the almost-complete absence of Darryl McDaniels. McDaniels has lost most of his voice in recent years and, even more importantly, he now prefers classic rock to hip-hop.

McDaniel’s absence is overcompensated for by a slew of guest artists, ranging from Jermaine Dupri to Method Man to the ubiquitous Fred Durst. In fact, every track features a celebrity artist. While some appearances result in solid tracks such as “It’s Over” with Dupri or the single “Rock Show” with Third Eye Blind’s Stephen Jenkins, the album lacks continuity. The intent, it seems, was to give the album an eclectic vibe, but instead it comes out discombobulated and uneven. It is as if Run DMC has something to prove by showing that contemporary stars such as Kid Rock and Everlast still look up to them. Run, or Reverend Run as he is now an ordained minister, boasts on the album that Run DMC can “still rock,” and will never go out of style. Without DMC and the exuberant originality of yesteryear, it’s just not the same.

Crown Royal is by no means a bad album, but it lacks a track that will stay with the listener after one sit-through. Previous Run DMC albums overflowed with stand-out cuts. Run DMC without McDaniels is like Pink Floyd without Roger Waters – only a shadow of its former self.

Crown Royal is in stores now.

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