Run-D.M.C. stages its comeback in the same way it stormed the pop charts in the mid-Eighties: straight-faced and ultraconfident, funky and forthright. Backed by the stripped-down beats of DJ Jam Master Jay, rappers Run and D.M.C. get over in 1993 just by being themselves — aggressively. Ruled down for the count after the disastrous Back From Hell (1990), Run-D.M.C. comes out refreshed and swinging on its sixth full-length bout. Down With the King pairs this reborn (in more ways than one) pioneering hip-hop group with a series of top-line producers. Yet each of these sonically varied fifteen tracks instantly proclaims the musical identity of these rappers, loud and clear. Hell, they never let you forget.
Battle-scarred vets at twenty-eight (!), Run and D.M.C. land a blow for career longevity with this album. Unlike the group’s immediate predecessor L.L. Cool J, who’s currently indulging in a bit of twentysomething nostalgia for his own youth, Run-D.M.C. expands its musical boundaries a bit — just enough to stay viable. The hit title track sizzles and then kabooms like a stick of dynamite; guests Pete Rock and CL Smooth add a jazzy updating keyboard edge, while simultaneously paying feverish verbal tribute to the Hollis, Queens, trio.
Throughout Down With the King, we’re reminded of Run-D.M.C.’s lingering effect on hip-hop, as the various producers throw down in today’s styles. Adventurous new grooves like the ghettowise street slink of “Hit ‘Em Hard” (with DJ KayGee of Naughty by Nature), the gangsta observations of “3 in the Head” (with Public Enemy’s production posse, the Bomb Squad), the metalized rock-funk of “Big Willie” (with Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello), even the randy dance-hall attack of “What’s Next” (with Mad Cobra): These are all extensions of avenues Run-D.M.C. has been pursuing since the days of “It’s Like That/Sucker MCs” and “Rock Box.”
Run and D.M.C. still revel in themselves pretty much exclusively, but their heated exchanges have developed beyond simple boasting. And their chesty voices have never sounded better: Deafening, acrobatic volleys leap out of the mix, driven by an energy level that’s decidedly at odds with the laid-back, talky style of rap now prevalent. Slamming old-school workouts like “Can I Get It, Yo,” “Come On Everybody” and “Can I Get a Witness” juggle words and body rhythms in a mind-bending flow. Never the most confessional of rappers, Run and D.M.C. do reveal their status as born-again Christians on Down. Hell, they brag about it, as defiantly and passionately as they once touted “My Adidas.”
“I got a friend in the Lord and I’m living fat,” declares Run during “Big Willie.” “Other than that, ain’t nothing changed.” If the idea of holy hard-core sounds like a stretch, well, the actual sound of these sanctified rappers’ testimony is pretty hard to argue with. For all its new-found philosophical shifts and sonic range, Down With the King is ultimately propelled by the same utterly natural tone, the same infectious enthusiasm and the same in-your-face attitude as Run-D.M.C.’s raw earlier classics. And these rappers still don’t need no band.