Saturday, May 31, 2008

1984: Sucker MCs (Krush Groove 1)

Run-D.M.C: Sucker M.C.s (Krush-Groove 1) [purchase]

Other than Purple Rain, I can definitively say there wasn't another new album I listened to more in 1984 than Run-D.M.C's self-titled debut. It's weird, too, because listening to it now is almost like unearthing a time capsule I'd long since forgotten about. Let me explain.

Stephen Thomas Erlewine of All Music Guide compares Run-D.M.C. to The Beatles, but I think that's terribly misguided. If anything, Run-D.M.C. was akin to Elvis on Sun Records, long before RCA got involved, when each side of the 45 was a rhythmic apocalypse like nothing you've ever heard before. Sure, there were antecedents ... there's always antecedents ... but you knew there was something entirely new being brought to the table. You can make this claim about The Beatles, to be sure, but the Fabs were also deceptively sophisticated masters of melody, even in the beginning. Other than maybe Elvis' voice or Scotty Moore desperately aping Chet Atkins on guitar, there wasn't a whole lot of melody or sophistication in Elvis' Sun arrangements. In fact, there wasn't a whole lot of anything. For the most part, those Sun songs were minimalist efforts, carried along by balls-to-the-wall attitude.

That is precisely what hearing Run-D.M.C. was like in 1984. You had a skeletal beat, Jam Master Jay scratching, and Run and D.M.C's voices cutting like electric guitars over the top. That was it. No melody, just a full-on collision of rhythmic elements, and it was totally unique at the time. Erlewine is correct when saying that, "Prior to this, rap felt like a block party -- the beats were funky and elastic, all about the groove." The reason it felt like that is because that's exactly what rap was until Run-D.M.C. blew up the joint. Hip-hop started out as dance music, born at the block party and raised up at the disco ... the Disco Fever, to be precise. But, it entered its adolescence with the arrival of this trio from Hollis, Queens.

And that was that. By their following album, King Of Rock, the stark, minimalist philosophy had changed, or rather, self-consciously evolved. Because of Run-D.M.C.'s massive success, the group, Rick Rubin, and Russell Simmons began to openly embrace the crossover potential of the pop market. Time has proven their savvy in this regard and it was probably inevitable that rap go large at some point. Not that I'm giving in wholly to the forces of historical determinism, but c'mon, there's a reason hip-hop is a global phenomenon. Nevertheless, there is something charmingly naive about Run-D.M.C.'s debut album. Before rap proved it had national appeal, before the genre's pop crossover, long before the gangsta front, The Chronic, complete and utter mainstream co-optation and an entire generation of watered-down, video-centric, bitch/ho-wielding sucker MCs, Run-D.M.C. was one of a kind and for your people's delight. RIP Jam Master Jay.