Run DMC ~ King of Rock (1985)

Posted on January 27, 2013

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This release is an anomaly: a timeless follow-up to a classic. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay, the Hollis, Queens legends that practically carried rap music on their shoulders in the mid 1980’s, flirted with perfection on their debut album (1984’s Run-D.M.C.), and built a virtual bridge between rap’s old school and Golden Era. Fortunately for the rap world, their first album offered only a glimpse of magnificent things to come, as they’d conquer the music world within five years of its release. In 1985, Run, D and Jay continued their path to immortality with yet another spectacular album; their sophomore set King of Rock.

Like its predecessor Run-D.M.C., King of Rock is compact (nine tracks; less than 45 minutes in length), and near perfect. The album opens with a welcome punch to the chest, in the form of the eternally banging title track. It’s been more than 25 years since “King Of Rock” first burst from the speakers; but even with this passage of time, it’s still one of the most immaculate rap songs ever made. For five full minutes, DJ Run and DMC swagger across a thundering drum line supported by blistering guitars – played by Eddie Martinez – and in the process, they make an ageless wonder that stuns as it plays. The next cut “You Talk Too Much” does a 180 from “King Of Rock”, employing a bouncy, new wave groove to castigate motor mouths that can’t shut up to save their lives. Your walls and floor will vibrate when the Jam Master Jay showcaser “Jam-Master Jammin” plays, due to the gurgling tremor producer Larry Smith concocts, which Run and D use to give dap to their DJ, who responds by spraying sparse scratches across the track. The lilting Caribbean thump found on “Roots, Rap, Reggae” is unlike anything else on the album, and unites the Kings from Queens with dancehall icon Yellowman, for an ambitious number that blends West Indian riddims with New York B-Boy swag. And on “Can You Rock It Like This”, producer Larry Smith works the body electric, with his herky-jerky drum track and pop-tinged rock melody, while Run and D trade off-center non sequitirs back and forth; words that were penned by James Todd Smith, a.k.a. fellow Queens immortal LL Cool J.

As King of Rock continues to play, the album’s mood darkens just a bit, but the tracks still bump. “You’re Blind” has 808 dips, burning guitars, and thick drum rumbles that make your speakers hum, along with thought-provoking verses from Run and D, that center on the day to day struggles of workaday people, and the stressors and poor decisions that keep them from moving up in the world. “It’s Not Funny” is a things-fall-apart type jam; with a tempo and tone similar to the Run DMC classics “Hard Times” and “It’s Like That”, and lyrics that explore life’s calamities: getting swindled out of your money, blowing a week’s pay at the track, etc., over a booming drum pattern and a repeating soundbite from the Eddie Murphy concert film Delirious. But the album’s final cut brings it all full-circle, as the crew adds an installment to their ‘Hollis Crew’ saga. “Darryl and Joe (Krush-Groove 3)”, a sequel to “Sucker M.C.’s (Krush Groove 1)” and “Hollis Crew (Krush Groove 2)”, dips, dives, and goes in different directions beat-wise; and Run and D flow back-and-forth and finish each other’s lines with precision, while Jam Master Jay closes it out with skilled mixing on the turntables.

King of Rock added exponentially to the legend of Run DMC when it first dropped; selling more than a million copies, which was a fairly rare feat for a rap album in its day, and it officially cemented their status as rap’s standard bearers. The sessions for this album also aided in the creation of Licensed to Ill, the phenomenally successful 1986 debut by the Beastie Boys, due to one of this album’s jettisoned songs (“Slow And Low”) being redone by the Beasties for their album. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay soared into the stratosphere with this album’s follow-up (1986’s Raising Hell), but King of Rock helped lay the groundwork for their rise to superstardom. King of Rock was the first rap album to go platinum; it was an excellent addition to Run DMC’s catalog; and it contributed to the buzz and anticipation that propelled Raising Hell. For a thorough lesson on why Run DMC is so important, King of Rock is essential listening. There are many reasons they are so revered within the rap world, and this album is but one of them.

To listen to King of Rock, click here.

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