One thing that makes me sad nowadays about the music industry is the experiences that streaming services have made redundant – most notably the purchasing of one's first single. Whereas my generation will embrace the nostalgia of purchasing a cassette at Our Price, modern generations will only have the recollection of the first time they pushed a finger down on a thin piece of glass. At my single initiation, I was treated to two delicacies. The first was the timeless Road Rage by Catatonia – a staple diet for any teenager growing up in North Wales. The second was It's Like That by Run-D.M.C. vs Jason Nevins which was accompanied by a video of people dancing inanely in what I can only remember as some kind of car park. Jason Nevins, unfortunately, just missed out on the Rolling Stone Top 500 Albums. Run-D.M.C., however, made it in twice and it is their debut, self-titled album that we are going to look at which resides comfortably at a mid-table 242.
The album features two very distinct types of songs – the egocentric and the political. The former have a level of interminability for me only previously experienced when reading David Mitchell's autobiography. Containing constant name checks and obscure references, tracks such as Jam Master Jay and Sucker M.C.s feel more like an overly-elaborate rhythmic CV. Rather than try to give me any insight into their viewpoint as artists, the band seem content to continually reassure me (or perhaps, more likely, themselves) how talented they are and how any other artists pale in comparison to their mighty musical manhoods. The only real point of interest was the first experimentation of combining hip-hop lyrics with a rock underlay on Rock Box – something which would go on to become a regular feature of Run-D.M.C.'s future work.
In their more political work though, I did find nuggets of gold. Hard Times, a cover of a Kurtis Blow original, talks of poverty as a virus that is sweeping across the nation. Capitalism is spreading and driving up prices, forcing people into a sink or swim situation. This sentiment is echoed in It's Like That - put simply 'money is the key to end all your woes'. Run-D.M.C. seem to have a habit of positioning themselves as the antithesis. They advocate the combined forces of hard work ('when you work for that ace you know you pulled the right card'), education ('the next time someone's teaching why don't you get taught?'), religion (stop playing, start praying, you won't be sad) and general togetherness ('we're all written down on the same list') as the actual solutions.
Run-D.M.C. were preaching their own brand of socialism and social justice. They were willing the poor and marginalised to become self-aware and drag themselves from the hardship in which they find themselves. Though they might often have had the militant appearance of Malcolm X, their standpoint actually leant more towards Martin Luther King Jr. Wake Up could even be interpreted as a modern update on the 'I Have A Dream' speech. The lyrics have the power and resonance of John Lennon's Imagine punctuated by calls to 'wake up' and 'get up' and make their dream a reality. The tracks that carry this thread of social commentary are head and shoulders above the rest and it is a shame that there could not be more of them.
I think much like The Beatles last month, this album is revered for its historical significance rather than its unerring quality. It is the start, not only of a band but of a genre. The style of intricate lyrics placed over simple beats is one that has stood the test of time and, as a result, the album sounds just as fresh as it must have 30 years ago. The harmony that exists between Run and D.M.C. is so natural that they often complete each other's... Unfortunately, for me, the content is just not substantial enough. For a medium that relies so heavily on what is being said, to have only a third of your tracks have a message other than 'look at us, we are great, our music is the best' presents quite a fundamental problem. It is no surprise that It's Like That, the track that feels the most in touch with the world at the time, is the song that has resonated through time as far as this selection is concerned.
Run-D.M.C. would go on to be certified gold, the first album from a hip-hop artist to do so. Not content with one first, they were also the first hip-hop group to get a platinum record, a multi-platinum record, MTV airplay and a Rolling Stone cover. They were also the only hip-hop act to perform at Live Aid. It's Like That reached number 15 on the US Billboard R&B chart while the aforementioned Jason Nevins remix would go on to reach number 1 in both the UK and the US. It is not facts and figures though that will define the legacy of Run-D.M.C. - it is the footprints that they left in the sand. The virginal indents that so many have followed over the years, all of whom owe part of their success to three teenage pioneers from Queens.
Then again, I might be wrong. I am a Musical Moron, after all...
Lyric Of The Month
“(And why you wear those glasses?) So I can see”
Hollis Crew (Krush-Groove 2)
Hip hop pioneers
Fit in politics around
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If you wish to learn more about Run-D.M.C. and, more specifically, It's Like That then our friends over at The US100 have a plethora of further reading which you can access at www.theus100.com/track-8. They also produce a monthly podcast, slated for release later this month, which goes into great detail about the track's social context, major players and legacy. Make sure to subscribe wherever you normally get your podcasts.