There are bands that change the world — and then there’s Run-DMC, who changed it twice. Their 1984 debut, Run-DMC, claimed the album format as hip-hop turf, putting B-boy cool at the center of the pop universe; their 1986 masterpiece, Raising Hell, made everything else in rock & roll sound like a sucker’s bet, exploding with the musical innovations that inspired hip-hop’s late-Eighties glory years. (“Walk This Way” was the fluke hit video, but it was only the fifth- or sixth-best song on Raising Hell, and it can’t compare with the Britney-and-Justin Super Bowl version.) While the Reverend Run, DMC and Jam Master Jay may never scale those visionary heights again, Crown Royal finds them still sticking together through the hard times with a stubborn loyalty that just adds to their admirable mystique.
Crown Royal uses the same musical strategy as their minor 1993 comeback, Down With the King: guest artists, guest artists and more guest artists. Limp Bizkit’s Fred Durst brings the rock, Kid Rock brings the roll and Method Man puts another notch in his mike stand, obviously racing to top Biz Markie as the all-time gratuitous-cameo king. But as on Down With the King, Run-DMC prove their old-school mastery without adding anything new to it; the tracks sink or swim depending on what the guest artist felt like bringing to the studio that day. Fans will be grateful for the two real headbangers: “Take the Money and Run” funks up the old Steve Miller Band ditty until it begs for a quick death, complete with “Rock Box” samples and Everlast’s singing; “Rock Show” revamps “King of Rock” with production and vocals from — get this — Third Eye Blind’s Stephan Jenkins, whose heretofore well-hidden hip-hop affinities shine bright enough to make his life sound semicharmed indeed. Since it’s the rock guests who work hard to salvage Crown Royal, maybe next time Run-DMC should just go all the way and make a whole album with some rock band that’s looking for a new vocal approach. Pray for Rage Against the Machine; settle for Van Halen.