30 Years Later: Run-D.M.C.’s ‘King of Rock’ Album Delivers a Bold Statement
It’s hard to imagine that three enterprising young men from Queens, N.Y., who were barely out of their teens at the time, would change the musical direction of hip-hop in the '80s. But that’s what Run-D.M.C. did. From 1983 to 1988, the pioneering B-boys -- Joseph “Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels and the late DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell-- broke barriers in rap and became living legends by being themselves.
Their 1984 self-titled debut album, which was signified as the first gold rap album, captured the sounds of the streets with songs like ‘It’s Like That’ and ‘Sucker MCs.’ However, one song, ‘Rock Box,’ paved the way for Run-D.M.C. to cross over into the mainstream by merging rock and rap together -- the effort was powered by the Jimi Hendrix-styled guitars of Eddie Martinez. The music video, which featured the trio rocking leather suits, black fedoras and unlaced Adidas sneakers, was the first rap video to appear on MTV.
For Run-D.M.C.’s follow-up album, ‘King of Rock,’ which was released on Jan. 21, 1985, the late producer Larry Smith repeated the ‘Rock Box’ formula -- rock guitars over hard drum beats -- and ushered in a new sound in rap. The collection sold more than 2 million copies for Profile Records, which was a small boutique label at the time.
While the group’s third album, ‘Raising Hell,’ is, undoubtedly, their hip-hop masterpiece, ‘King of Rock,’ is the bellwether for rap. It introduced bravado, style and musicality to the genre.
The album's title alone was a bold statement. They didn’t want to be just the kings of rap, they wanted to be the kings of rock, too.
“When we first got on MTV, that was us letting our presence be known. Then we got a little egotistical,” DMC said in a 2013 interview. “We didn’t say that we was the king of rap, that was too small for us. We said we are the kings of rock and roll. We are about to smack Mick Jagger, Janis Joplin, Jimi [Hendrix] all of these guys upside the head.”
That sentiment is best expressed on the title track, which featured Run and DMC’s tough posturing over roaring guitars and a head-nodding beat.
“I'm the king of rock, there is none higher / Sucker MC's should call me sire / To burn my kingdom, you must use fire / I won't stop rockin' 'til I retire,” bellows DMC at the top of the track.
Run-D.M.C. use the rap-rock crossover attempt on several songs on the nine-track collection (13 songs if you own the 2007 Deluxe Edition). Some are solid and others are formulaic at best.
‘You’re Blind’ is evident of that as it uses the same drum machine beat and raging guitars. The song is saved by Run and DMC’s sardonic rhymes about people perpetrating a fraud.
‘Can You Rock It Like This’ fares better as the duo's sing-along chorus and conversational wordplay about the nagging price of fame are infectious.
‘You Talked Too Much’ may be comical, but in today’s digital age where everyone expresses their opinions on social media -- for better or for worse -- the song feels relatable.
One song that this writer appreciates on the album is 'Jam-Master Jammin,' in which the dynamic duo salutes their DJ, the late Jam Master Jay.
"While sucker DJs, are busting out Z's / My man Jam Master is scratchin' hard across seas," they rap.
The rap group continue to salute JMJ on ‘Darryl and Joe (Krush-Groove 3).’ A near replica of ‘Sucker MC’s,’ in terms of its production, Run and DMC spit braggadocio rhymes and allow Jam Master Jay to scratch and cut at the end.
“Well I'm the rapper with the mic, drive a Caddy not a bike / Drop a rhyme in your face, and you'll damn sure like / He's an MC with the rhyme know the day and the time / Never ever going low, cause he only climb,” raps Run.
DMC follows, rapping, “I'm a fresh MC, who's on his way / To be an MC with the most to say / And to all those out there, that don't know me / I go by the name of D-M-C.”
While the song ‘King of Rock’ helped merge rap with rock, ‘Roots, Rap, Reggae,’ introduced reggae into their repertoire. On the song, they enlist dancehall toaster Yellowman to chant positive affirmations. No one would really argue that the song is a bit contrived, but props to Run-D.M.C. for acknowledging reggae's influence on hip-hop.
Musically, ‘King of Rock’ sounds tough but the production gets a little stale near the end. The album is full of rap quotables, not the least of which fit into the category of “the rhymes we say, shall set a trend / Because a devastating rap is what we send.”
Run-D.M.C. are more than just rap superstars, they represent longevity and freshness. They made top 10 hits, they toured all over the world and secured platinum-selling albums. The legendary trio also opened plenty of doors for the next generation of rappers to walk through.
Thirty years later, Run-D.M.C.’s ‘King of Rock’ album is a musical testament for artists in any genre. This body of work proves you can earn respect and secure considerable rewards by staying true to yourself.
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