We last heard from Run DMC on 1990’s Back From Hell. For those who don’t read my blog religiously, a quick recap: Back From Hell had the legendary group copying current trends and sounds in an attempt to fit in and stay relevant. A few have manages to pull this off in the past (see LL Cool J), but Run DMC was not one them. Although I liked some of the production on Back From Hell, overall the album was weak, it flopped, and had many believing the self-proclaimed Kings of Rock’s reign was officially over.
Some time between 1990 and 1993, Run and D found Jesus, which helped them overcome the demons they were facing during the recording of Back From Hell (Run was said to be battling depression, and D a drinking problem). With renewed spirits, the boys from Hollis came back in 1993 to release their sixth album, Down With The King, which was both a reference to their King of Rock title and their new-found relationship with God, the ultimate King. Along with Jam Master Jay, Run DMC would recruit a handful of respected hip-hop producers to produce Down With The King. Overall, the album received favorable reviews from critics, and was considered a step in the right direction after the disappointment that was Back From Hell.
I bought Down With The King a few years back, and have never listened to it in its entirety (man, I’ve been saying that a lot lately…wait until we get into the early 2000’s!); and I’m really only familiar with the singles released from the album. Based on the list of top-tier producers with productions credits in the liner notes, even if Run and D disappoint, at least the instrumentals will bang. Right?
Down With The King – The album opens with the title song and lead single. Pete Rock provides a monster backdrop, complete with his signature heavy drums and a celestial choir like vocal sample that haunts the track, beautifully. PR and his partner in rhyme, C.L. Smooth, both contribute verses along side Run and DMC. DMC drops a decent verse, but CL walks away as the king of this song, as he easily delivers the best verse. This is probably the last classic record Run DMC will ever make.
Come On Everybody – And just like that, the momentum on Down With The King takes a steep downward spiral. It’s no surprise that Run and DMC, who were both well passed their prime by ’93, drop unimpressive rhymes. But I’m very surprised by the garbage instrumental Q-Tip gives them to rhyme over. This was terrible.
Can I Get It, Yo – Erick and Parrish (aka EPMD) are credited for this song’s instrumental. And it sounds like the duo made have helped the Kings of rock write the final verse of the song as well. EPMD’s instrumental is not nearly as bad as the hot garbage Q-Tip dished up on the previous song, but it’s nothing to write home about, either.
Hit ‘Em Hard – I have all types of problems with this one. It’s clear from the jump that Treach from Naughty By Nature wrote both Run and DMC’s verses. I’m not crazy about the idea of ghostwriting, but at least DMC recites his rhymes in his own style and voice. Run decides to take things to another level and sounds like Treach’s hand is up his ass, as he takes on all of Treach’s cadences and mannerisms. And if Run’s antics weren’t bad enough, Kay Gee’s lazy backdrop sounds almost identical to the instrumental he used for Naughty’s “Uptown Anthem”. Really?
To The Maker – Over a decent JMJ instrumental, Run and D use this interlude to give a quick shout out to God.
3 In The Head – The Bomb Squad stops by to provide the first of two instrumentals they would contribute to Down With The King. It sounds nothing like a traditional Bomb Squad instrumental, as the pace is laid back with a jazzy feel, and it doesn’t have 6 million samples, but I like it. Unfortunately, D and Run continue with their identity crisis and adapt an Onyx persona for this one. Okay. If you’re going to have any member of Onyx pen your rhymes, at least get the best lyricist of the crew (which is clearly Sticky Fingaz) to write them, not Fredro (no, Fredro’s not credited as the writer, but listen to their rhymes and tell me they don’t sound just like him…matter of fact, Fredro even contributes some adlibs on Run’s final verse). And wtf is Run saying on his final verse?
Ooh, Whatcha Gonna Do – This was the second single released from Down With The King. I never really got in to it back in the day. Probably because of Run and D’s unbelievable gangster posturing, and the ridiculous hook (“Never let a punk get away with murder, gunshots, gunshots all ya hearda, whats up, whats up, whats the worda, press your luck and buck and make a sucka just duck”). But today, I’m digging the Bomb Squad’s smooth west coastish instrumental.
Big Willie – Run and D sound more at home rapping over this instrumental, as it’s reminiscent of the kind of hip-rock that made them famous in the first place. Daniel Shulman builds the rock tinged instrumental around a Blood, Sweat and Tears sample, and it sounds pretty cool. Not a great song, but a lot better than most of the previous songs on Down With The King.
Three Little Indians – JMJ’s instrumental is decent, but he, Run, and D sound like their doing Onyx at karaoke.
In The House – Pete Rock gets his second production credit of the evening for this one. The instrumental is decent, and Run and D sound more like their old selves rapping over the track.
Can I Get A Witness – Run DMC add yet another brand name producer to the list, as Jermaine Dupri provides the backdrop for this one. The duo have absolutely nothing to say on this song, and JD’s instrumental is butt. By the way, Run DMC’s hooks suck on this album.
Get Open – JMJ and Chyskills team up to create this dope jazzy concoction for the duo to spit over. Again, Run and D don’t say anything worth quoting, but I like the backdrop.
What’s Next – Run DMC dedicates this one to the ladies, and invite Mad Cobra to add a little chanting on the hook to go with the generic reggae tinged instrumental. Both Run and D’s verses and deliveries sound circa 1984. And am I the only one that finds it amusing that DMC make a reference to Shabba Ranks when he has another dancehall artist on the song? It’s even more amusing to hear Mad Cobra’s chuckle ad lib when DMC mentions Shabba’s name.
Wreck Shop – See the comments from “In The House” and substitute “second” with “third” in the first sentence.
For 10 Years – Down With The King ends with this interlude that has DMC speaking randomness over a short and simple JMJ instrumental. That’s all folks.
Run DMC may have found Jesus in between Back From Hell and Down With The King, but they didn’t find themselves. The identity crisis they struggled with on Back From Hell is only intensified on Down With The King. While Back From Hell had them playing with different musical stylings, but staying true to their rhyming scheme, this time around, Run DMC doesn’t only tweak the musical stylings, but bite, eat, chew and digest the style, cadence and delivery of no less than four other emcees/groups (Run, more so than D and Jay). Speaking of music stylings, considering the list of legendary producers with credits in the liner notes, one would expect Down With The King to sound stellar, sonically, but this is not the case. There are a few great backdrops, but this is the exception, not the rule. Sadly, Down With The King is a disappointing effort that has one of hip-hop’s pioneering groups resting on their laurels. Or should I say, resting on the laurels of others?
The only good thing that came from this debacle was the title track. As I stated before, they should have retired after Tougher Than Leather.
Ouch. And to think, people considered this album a return to form.
I haven’t listened to this album in its entirety, but I would take this over Back from Hell any day. From the songs I’ve heard here, the group sounds less awkward and more energized like they used to be. And musically, Down with the King is way better. The problem with Back from Hell is that none of it sounded like an honest effort. Even at the time, record stores weren’t interested in selling the album. It was just the group trying way too hard to stay relevant and going against everything their music was about. On this album, it feels like the group has been revived and actually has something to say again.
The end of one of hip hop’s pioneers. Down With The King and Ooh, Whatcha Gonna Do are solid on this.
They shouldn’t have retired after Tougher than Leather they should have doubled down and put some effort into Back from Hell and Down with the King. With some hard work they could have made those albums great. For some reason they got lazy and decided to phone it in. They threw their careers away for no good reason.
Speaking of Treach – sure does seem like he probably wrote the opening verse for the title track, too.
Parts of it sounds a little like Treach, but most of it sounds like Run trying update his flow and find his place in a new world. Thank for reading!