Thursday, August 25, 2016

"2 in 1" --> Run-DMC

When we last left Run-DMC on the blog, I covered their fourth album, 1988's "Tougher Than Leather" during one of my "Hip Hop Nostalgia Sessions." While it was a very good album, even better than I remembered, response to the album was relatively lukewarm to say the least and with the highly noticeable changing of the guard in hip hop at the time, Run-DMC already seemed to be yesterday's news after so much previous success. It wasn't that the music was bad or anything, but again, new sounds across the board were being ushered in, leading people to ask if the 3 man team still had the goods or if they had peaked as the 80s came to a close. Speaking of new sounds, that was certainly the case as the 90s arrived, and with it came the crew's 5th album, "Back From Hell." How did they respond, musically, in an ever changing hip hop landscape? We shall find out in this latest "2 In 1" installment, which will also cover their 6th album, 93's "Down With The King."





Release date: October 16, 1990


All songs produced by Run-DMC, except where noted



1. "Sucker D.J.s"

Not really a song, but merely a way to start things. Also, this album will feature the one thing that wasn't very present on their previous albums: cursing.


2. "The Ave."
Co-Produced by Frankie Inglese

Two songs in and I realize this album should've came with the "Parental Advisory Explicit Lyrics" sticker on the front, lol. Continuing on, this sample driven song features the best attempts at a more aggressive, hardcore sound for Run and DMC, and quite frankly when you consider their previous material, it's not a good fit on them. DMC "packin a gun?" Didn't buy it, even within the contents of the song, which saw them more trying to flex their (somewhat) newly found storytelling muscles than anything else.
*3 out of 5*



3. "What's It All About"
Co-Produced by Glen E. Friedman and Russell Simmons



Another sample driven song right here. Now, they did have recent success when talking about the issues plaguing the Black community (think about "Hard Times" for example), however, the effect on this one is somewhat ruined because subject wise it's all over the place and they manage to go from a rather informative tone, if not a little too laid back, to inexplicably bringing a hardcore stance towards the end of the song, and again that wasn't a good fit for these men. This could've been much better than what it was.
*3 out of 5*



4. "Bob Your Head"
Co-Produced by Frankie Inglese

Well, the best thing about this song was the good use of James Brown's "Popcorn With Feeling" (Brand Nubian would also use this sample on their debut album "One For All", released two months after this, on the Grand Puba solo "Who Can Get Busy Like This Man...."), but outside of that, even if this was a joint intended for the ladies, it came off as a bit forced and uninspired. I couldn't imagine them trying to kick these type of rhymes to the ladies back then.
*2 out of 5*


5. "Faces"
Co-Produced by Stanley Brown



I applaud Run and DMC for trying to be a little creative with the word "faces" and how it applies to human and social life, but man that effect takes somewhat of a quick dive as the song progresses. First off, with all due respect, this should've been a solo spot for DMC, based on his very good first verse, in which he takes a political stance, but in the next verse, he brings in a completely ill timed verse talking about the kind of woman he likes. What?? Oh, and there's more. The production here is right out of the "New Jack Swing" movement, which was popular at this time, and it would've been a better fit for Bell Biv Devoe, not Run-DMC and it just shows how they were trying to switch things up by going with one of the more popular sounds at the moment.
*2 out of 5*


6. "Kick The Frama Lama Lama"

Oh man, I'm not sure what the hell they were going for with this one and a song like this shouldn't be all over the place, much less make the album's final cut. Even Run and DMC sounded like they'd rather be doing anything else other than recording this song. Let's move on.
*1.5 out of 5*


7. "Pause"
Co-Produced by Stanley Brown and Davy-D



The "New Jack Swing" styled song attempts to breath some kind of life into this album. It's merely decent, nothing more, even with a message against drugs present. And any effort to create a new dance called "pause", um, did not take off.
*2.5 out of 5*


8. "Word Is Born"

Did they really use a modified (sampled) version of Dennis Coffey's "Scorpio" when LL Cool J's "Jingling Baby" was already blowing up the spot with that same sample? The power of the words is noticed here, but something was missing and I couldn't quite put my finger on it. At the end of the song, DMC says, "1990s and ain't nothing changed punk!" Some may beg to differ homie.
*2.5 out of 5*


9. "Back From Hell"

The story/message is there, but something is missing from this one too (maybe a "moral to the story"). And usually when a hip hop song sampled James Brown's classic "Impeach The President" in any form, 9 times out of 10 there was some dopeness there. This title track did not use this sample effectively in my opinion.
*2 out of 5*


10. "Don't Stop"
Featuring Aaron Hall
Co-Produced by Stanley Brown

You see what I mean by trying to incorporate the "New Jack Swing" sound? Not only is that clear in the production, but they also brought in Guy's Aaron Hall, one of the prince's of this sound. The song is not tight, it's not bad, but you cannot try to come hard on something like this.
*2 out of 5*


11. "Groove To The Sound"
Co-Produced by David Reeves

You know, I wasn't surprised to hear the small samples of Guy's "Groove Me" throughout this one. Instead of what we got, the 3:34 allotted here should've been given to Jam Master Jay to showcase his skills on the turntables. Oh, and at the end, DMC yells, "and check this out, if you're a critic, you can get the DIDDICK!" That tough talk is SO passe at this point in the album.
*1.5 out of 5*


12. "P Upon A Tree"
Smh+facepalm, the last thing this album needed was a skit, especially one that wasn't funny or entertaining.


13. "Naughty"

 I can't even say that this one is appropriately or apply titled. I mean, the effort is there, but focusing on Run's first verse, the heist storyline does not fit Run-DMC and everything else after this first verse is simply all over the place with no logic or cohesion whatsoever. The song felt more like 6:09 as opposed to 4:09.
*1.5 out of 5*


14. "Livin' In The City"
A 1:04 version of "The Ave." I guess.


15. "Not Just Another Groove"
Co-Produced by Stanley Brown

Well, this was the total opposite of an appropriately titled song I think. Again, the "New Jack Swing" sound did not fit these guys and even the apparent first ever verse from Jam Master Jay was rather uninspired.
*1.5 out of 5*


16. "Party Time"
Co-Produced by David Reeves

After the previous 15 songs, at least the album didn't end on an anti-climatic note. While I couldn't see this particular song having anyone rush the dancefloor, it did an ok job at creating an uplifting vibe, complete with kids vocals in the background.
*3 out of 5*



Man, how the mighty had fallen. After revisiting this, it's HARD to imagine that the same men who gave us such classics as "Peter Piper", "Sucker MCs", "It's Like That", "King Of Rock", "Rock Box", "Jam Master Jay", I mean this list could go on and on, gave us THIS. To this day I've never heard their last album, 2001's "Crown Royal", but I can't imagine that album is worse than "Back From Hell." It's very clear that the times had indeed passed Run-DMC by and it's felt all through this album. Efforts to sound more hard and aggressive, again, did NOT fit Run-DMC, as well as the attempt at a more "New Jack Swing" type sound either. In addition to the lack of cohesion, Run and DMC (and even Jay) sounded so uninspired, like they even knew they had ran out of ideas at this point, with the impression that "Back From Hell" was more of a contractual obligation than anything else, and what they were doing was outdated compared to their colleagues. The majority of the stuff here either had already been done before (and better) or being done better by other artists even as this album hit the shelves. Musically speaking, it was a smart move to take a hiatus after this, because I don't think the public would've accepted another disappointing album from Run-DMC in 1991 or 1992 (a "Greatest Hits" compilation titled "Together Forever" was released on November 6, 1991, and much to my surprise, only two songs from "Back From Hell" graced that compilation). History has shown that they weren't counted out and they would return to the scene in 1993 with a complete makeover across the board.


Oh yeah, 2 stars for "Back From Hell", likely never to be revisited again outside of this blog.





Release date: May 4, 1993


1. "Down With The King"
Featuring Pete Rock and CL Smooth
Produced by Pete Rock




Wow, this joint right here, you know I gotta talk about it for a bit. After the huge letdown that was "Back From Hell", it was clear that a change was needed, and when the crew returned in '93, they really updated their sound and look (notice the all black outfits with the boots to match, along with the bald heads, which was becoming a popular thing at this point). There was no way they could come in '93 still with the outdated sound from 1990, and had they done so, it would've been a wrap for them. As for the song itself, it's still great and a true blueprint, if you will, for a successful comeback (think of LL Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out"). It showed a new found sense of slight aggression, not forced like it was on the aforementioned "Back From Hell", while at the same time re-asserting themselves in an ever changing genre. It was also a GOOD move to start the album with this song, almost as if they're saying "this will be no Back From Hell, we're on something new and different." Also making noise at the time, Pete Rock and CL Smooth (with production from the former) come through with a memorable guest appearance as well, definitely paying homage to the kings. And one last thing, lol, my mom, who was a big Run-DMC fan back in the day, REALLY liked this song and that says a lot (of good) right there (and of course I remember having this song on BLAST with her one morning while cleaning the house, memories for sure). Classic song and a GREAT way to start this album.
*5 out of 5*




2. "Come On Everybody"
Featuring and produced by Q-Tip

A Tribe Called Quest's Q-Tip, about 6 months away from dropping "Midnight Marauders", comes through with such a dope beat for Run and DMC to bring flows straight out of '93. They seemed to be enjoying themselves on this track, nothing wrong with that.
*4 out of 5*




3. "Can I Get It, Yo"
Produced by EPMD, Co-Produced by Mr. Bozack

This joint, complete with its "call & response" hook, simply bangs, courtesy of EPMD and Mr. Bozack. Run was ok throughout, but man DMC was feeling it with his verse and even Jam Master Jay came through with a tight verse of his own. Dope stuff here.
*4 out of 5*




4. "Hit 'Em Hard"
Produced by Kay Gee

Run and DMC bring some more of the aggression on this apply titled song. Again, even though we were not accustomed to that much aggression from the crew, here it complemented the changes they made as opposed to it being forced as a way of fitting in back in 1990. Naughty By Nature's Kay Gee comes through with a nice beat and I was just waiting for an appearance by Treach and Vinnie, lol.
*4 out of 5*




5. "To The Maker"
Produced by Jam Master Jay
25 second skit.


6. "3 In The Head"
Produced by The Bomb Squad

Without trying to analyze this one too much, I'll say that Run and DMC's quips about "3 in the head" are equated to rhymes instead of bullets. The aggression is felt, especially in Run's case, but these were three of the most non-violent men you would find in hip hop and in no way is that calling them soft, because they were far from that.
*3.5 out of 5*


7. "Ohh, Whatcha Gonna Do"
Produced by The Bomb Squad




"Now I'm off and runnin on some new type flow!" -DMC


This one sort of picks up where the previous song leaves off, not much more to say about it other than it comes with another '93 styled production courtesy of the Bomb Squad and DMC catching wreck with another tight verse.
*3.5 out of 5*





8. "Big Willie"
Produced by Run-DMC and Ddaniel Shulman


Run and DMC do one of the many things here they were good at: infusing hip hop with rock. This may not have been on the level of "Rock Box" and "King Of Rock", but it's quite good with it's thumping bass and hard guitar sounds. (I'll have more to say about DMC at the end because he's killing it with his verses.)
*4 out of 5*




9. "Three Little Indians"
Produced by Jam Master Jay and Chyskills

Can I say this is another apply titled joint, lol? Also, if you think this sounded like something you would've heard on Onyx's debut album "Bacdafucup", also released in '93, you weren't wrong because Jay and Chyskills were largely responsible for the behind the board workings on that album. Speaking of Jay, he comes with another decent verse, ditto for DMC. Run, on the other hand, was a little different for sure, but certainly energetic.
*4 out of 5*




10. "In The House"
Produced by Pete Rock

Pete Rock's production was on point here, not surprising, however, I can't say the same about Run and DMC's flows. An ok song, nothing more.
*3 out of 5*


11. "Can I Get A Witness"
Produced by Jermaine Dupri

This sample driven, Jermaine Dupri produced song was decent, another "call & response" hook in full effect. Run still was energetic, DMC, on the other hand, sounded a little tired along the way.
*3 out of 5*


12. "Get Open"
Produced by Jam Master Jay and Chyskills

This is one of the most hyped Run-DMC songs you'll ever hear, no doubt, and the only thing it was missing was an appearance by Onyx. Run doesn't appear on this one, and with all due respect, he wasn't missed this time around because DMC and Jay handled this one well.
*4 out of 5*




13. "What's Next"
Featuring Mad Cobra
Produced by Clifton "Specialist" Dillion

With its reggae vibes and all, I get what this one was going for (probably a little too rough for the ladies), but it's one of the unfortunate low points on this album, plus it was one minute and 1/2 too long.
*2.5 out of 5*


14. "Wreck Shop"
Produced by Pete Rock

Considering the title itself, this should've been more hype than it was. Decent, but could've been much better.
*3 out of 5*


15. "For 10 Years"
Produced by Jam Master Jay
"Down With The King" did mark their 10th year in hip hop.



Man, saying that this album was far and away better than "Back From Hell" is SUCH an understatement. All the changes Run, DMC and Jay made worked in spades in '93 and it made them relevant on the scene again, really for the first time since 88-89. Granted, things were more hard this time around, but, as I've said often during this part of the post, it wasn't forced and it's noticeable throughout. Lyrically, the album doesn't break any new ground and it has that '93 style all the way through. Jay came with some decent verses, Run was certainly energetic for most of the album, to a point where at times you couldn't understand what he was saying, lol, however, as far as I'm concerned, DMC was the star of this show, and after such lackluster performances on "Back From Hell", he stepped up in a major way on album #6. Production wise, this was another step up from the previous album. Instead of producing the album on their own, they got some of the best producers making noise in '93 to deliver sounds that fit them as a crew at this point in their careers (10 years in), and when you have the likes of Pete Rock (new on the scene), The Bomb Squad, Kay Gee, EPMD and Q-Tip (just to name a few) giving you quality production, that's a win in my book. The album was a success, hitting #1 on the Billboard "Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums" chart and the classic title track becoming Certified Gold on May 11, 1993, one week after it was released and it was selected as one of The Source magazine's best albums of that year. "Down With The King" put Run-DMC back on the hip hop map, but unfortunately this was short lived. The genre itself was still going through so many changes at this point, and by the time 1994 arrived, the crew seemed like they were yesterday's news all over again. Coming out of this album, their legacy remained intact. Overall, I'll go 4 stars for "Down With The King" and it's probably their most underrated album either after or next to "Tougher Than Leather."

No comments:

Post a Comment