Produced by Larry Smith and Russell Simmons
Label – Profile/Arista
Whilst no one would suggest that the foundations of hip hop were ever created by the Hollis, Queens trio, Run-DMC established the biggest shift both musically and visually. Rap music up until that point had been heavily guided by the sounds and fashions of disco and funk. Tried and tested instrumental samples, four to the floor snare heavy percussion, and seemingly macho, open shirted leather clad fashion freaks guided the birth of the genre. Run-DMC’s mantra was to keep the arrangements simple, with stripped down bass driven beats, and the influence for their records would owe much to rock and heavy metal. The unremarkable black threads, track suits and un-laced Adidas sneakers deliberately presented the trio with a gritty “back to the street” image that they felt would give them greater dignity in sharing the tales of the tough lives of the community they grew up in. Financially backed by Def Jam founder Russell Simmons, his brother Joseph (Run), along with sidekick Daryl McDaniel (DMC), traded uncompromising rants and taunts, with third member Jason Mizell (Jam Master Jay) providing the beats, instrumentation, scratches and samples. The lines are simple and as with many hip hop recordings from the early 80s, the clichéd rhymes haven’t aged well, but as a reflection of the time, there’s an honesty and integrity that’s hard to resist.
The outstanding debut single “It’s Like That” would prove to be the highlight of the collection. The confrontational commentary of their violent urban life, with a severe lack of education and money does come with a positive conclusion, but the combination of passionate delivery and sparse rhythms makes for an arresting experience. The opener, “Hard Times” carries the same production values and themes and works almost as well. In terms of self influence and future progression “Rock Box” is their first exploration of heavy metal, with the original guitar riff and solo provided by Eddie Martinez. If there is a reservation, the continuous and often repetitive sparse musicality makes for a hollow experience, but the positives that include rudimentary battle rapping, the hardened attitude and the laying of foundations for the new school of hip hop.
Run-DMC adopt a stance that is specifically independent from their peers. Their best shot is a fluidity and hardened gravity that was at odds with contemporary rap music of the time. Although not fully realised, its importance can never be underestimated.
1 – Hard Times (8)
2 – Rock Box (9)
3 – Jam-Master Jay (7)
4 – Hollis Crew-Krush Groove 2 (6)
5 – Sucker M.C’s – Krush Groove 1 (6)
6 – It’s Like That (10)
7 – Wake Up (6)
8 – 30 Days (7)
9 – Jay’s Game (8)