I go ahead and rank Run-DMC’s albums in order from best to worst
Today marks the 25th Anniversary of the release of Run-DMC’s fourth studio album, Tougher than Leather. I was introduced to rap music in the early 80s by two groups. The Fat Boys and Run-DMC. I continued listening to both groups throughout my youth in the 80s and 90s. As a matter of fact, I still listen to them. For me both, but especially Run-DMC, ARE rap music. The prototypical rap group. Copied hundreds of times over.
So, on this anniversary, I’ve decided to make a very personal list of ranking Run-DMC’s studio albums in order of my personal preference. This was a really hard list to make because the first 3 albums are so historically important that I hate to put anything above them. But I have to forget the overall value to pop culture and just talk about the albums I listen to the most.
Here we go.
Tougher than Leather (1988) – Like I said, it’s really hard to rank these first three spots. Run-DMC’s first three albums are so important in the history of rap and hip hop that I struggle to not automatically put them first. As a matter of fact, these three spots have changed at least three times since I wrote this article a few months ago. And they may change again tomorrow. *shrugs* Anyway, for me, beginning to end, Tougher than Leather is my favorite. And not just because its birthday is today. Back in ’88 when this dropped, I LIVED the album. I wore out my copy. Pound for pound this has more good songs on it than any other album. BUT, it’s really close. The title track is similar to King of Rock but with a much harder rock backing track. I LOVE THAT SONG. My second favorite song on the album is Run’s House. It begins with Run’s famous monologue in which he opens many of their live shows, “We’ve had, a whole lot of super stars on this stage here tonight. But I want y’all to know one thing, this is…MY HOUSE!” And how awesome is Mary, Mary? They actually sample The Monkees and make a great song. Other kick ass songs include They Call Us Run-DMC, Beats to the Rhyme, How’d You Do It, Dee?, Papa Crazy, Miss Elaine and Ragtime, which is a fun derivation of the regular Run-DMC track. Reggae-influenced. It’s very reminiscent of a rapper called Slick Rick as, and it sounds weird on paper, the guys use very a very proper, clipped, but subtle, accent throughout the rhyme. It works because the song is sort of weird, too. Plus, you get to hear Jam Master Jay actually rap on the track.
Raising Hell (1986) – Commercially, this was Run-DMC’s most successful album. Part of that came from their cover of Walk this Way with a special appearance by Aerosmith. That cover is considered by many to be the first commercially successful fusions of rock and rap. Depends on how you look at it. Run-DMC’s earlier tracks Rock Box and King of Rock both successfully fused rock and rap before this. King of Rock being a fairly big commercial success. But nothing like Walk this Way. This IS a fantastic album, though. The title track on this album is pretty awesome and follows in King of Rock‘s footsteps. It’s Tricky is probably their second most popular song and is a sort-of sequel to Can You Rock It Like This? from King of Rock. Other great songs include My Adidas, Peter Piper, Hit It Run, Dumb Girl and You Be Illin’. Dumb Girl is one of their “conscientious” rap tracks similar to Hard Times or It’s Like That from their first album. You Be Illin’ is a fun track similar to You Talk to Much from King of Rock. And let’s not forget…”Son of Byford, brother of Al…..” Lots to really like on this album and it’s easy to see why it’s so important and popular.
King of Rock (1985) – It’s deceptive that this album is THIRD on my list. This is the album I discovered first probably in late ’85 or ’86. And it was INCREDIBLY hard not to rank it first. Incredibly hard. Any other day I MAY rank it first. Mostly because King of Rock is probably my favorite Run-DMC track of all time. King of Rock is awesome and showcases the group’s great, high energy backing tracks and awesome lyrical assault. Second best song on the album is probably Can You Rock it Like This? which, like I mentioned above, is a prototype in style and lyrical content to It’s Tricky. You Talk Too Much is a fun, goofy track that I mentioned above is a precursor to You Be Illin’. You can’t go wrong with this album. Other good songs are You’re Blind and It’s Not Funny which is similar in style and structure to Hard Times from the previous album. And Darryl & Joe (Krush Groove 3) is a great old-school rap track. As you can see, Run-DMC’s song stylings will have elements present throughout all of their albums. They are remarkably consistent while also always trying something new on each album.
Run-DMC (1984) – Their debut album. Historically, this is definitely Run-DMC’s most important album. Their style in 1984 which fused rock and roll with hip hop beats and featured a more aggressive style of lyric delivery was groundbreaking. My favorite track off this album is Rock Box. It’s amazing with the electric guitar in the background and the smooth lyrical delivery by Run and D. The most high profile song on this album is probably It’s Like That. Check out an awesome performance of It’s Like That from the movie Krush Groove. Run begins the show with his famous monologue. In 1998 It’s Like That was remixed by Jason Nevins. Other great songs include Sucka MCs, Hollis Crew and Jam Master Jay. Check out Run-DMC proteges The Beastie Boys awesomely performing Sucka MCs at the 2004 VH1 Hip Hop Honors.
Down with the King (1993) – The followup to the very disappointing Back from Hell. It’s not a bad album. But it’s not great, either. There are two songs on this album I enjoy. The title track with Pete Rock and CL Smooth is really good. Also, the track Big Willie is great. It’s similar in structure to Raising Hell or Tougher Than Leather. Plus, it has Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine on guitar. Run and D have several other famous guest stars on this album along with Pete Rock and CL Smooth. Check out other songs with Q-Tip and EPMD.
Crown Royal (2001) – It had been 8 years since their last album, this was supposed to be Run-DMC’s comeback. It was also supposed to be sort of a “Run-DMC Duets” album in which the group performed songs with current popular artists. Some good, underrated stuff is on this album, unfortunately it’s bitter sweet because the group began having creative differences during the recording. DMC wanted to back away from the harder edged rock tracks and go for a more mellow sound. At this point he was getting sober and he discovered that he was having larynx problems due to years of drinking and rapping in a very aggressive style. Run wanted to keep going the rock/rap route. This caused DMC to sit out the majority of the album’s recording and by consequence only appears on three tracks. Good tracks on this album includes the kick-ass School of Old with Kid Rock, Them Girls with Fred Durst and It’s Over with Jermaine Dupri.
Back from Hell (1990) – Commercially this is the most disappointing album the group released. And, I have to agree. Especially considering it followed my #1 album. Disappointing is probably the best adjective because it wasn’t just terrible, but it wasn’t that good either. One of my issues with it is that Run-DMC started bowing to trends of the time that didn’t really fit their image or style. One of them: cursing. Run and D had proved that they can have banging songs with awesomely fresh lyrics without cursing. Well, don’t get me wrong, they cursed before this. Check out songs on Raising Hell, but it was peppered in. Not overt. With this album, they started infusing more obvious cursing into their lyrics. I’m no prude. I listen to NWA, Public Enemy, 2 Live Crew, all of that. But using the N word and other curses just felt wrong on a Run-DMC album. Run-DMC also tried to branch out in their sampling. Instead of the rock/rap fusion they’d lived off of for the last four albums they decided to try a little New Jack Swing. To mixed success. However, there are still a couple of okay songs. The title track, Back from Hell, is good. Especially if you listen to the REMIX which includes appearances by Ice Cube and Chuck D. Nothing else really stands out. Faces is pretty good as is Not Just Another Groove. Pause is only okay. The Ave and What’s it All About aren’t great. Don’t even bother listening to P Upon A Tree or Party Time.
Whew! Well, that’s it. I’m going ahead and posting this before I change my mind. And I guarantee you, tomorrow, I’ll want to unpost this and change the order. AGAIN.
Happy Run-DMC day. Stay tuned. This week I’ll be releasing a special Nerd Lunch Extra Helping all about Run-DMC with two very special guests.
I’ve done this ranking once before. Check out my ranking of Run-DMC proteges, The Beastie Boys, studio albums. it may not be the last time I do it, either.