“I’m the king of rock, there is none higher,” insists D.M.C. at the beginning of the title cut, adding, “Sucker emcees should call me Sire!” It’s an outrageous boast, even given the usual braggadocio of rap artists, but for all its audacity, it’s a rhyme that’s damned hard to refute. There may be better rappers around than Run and D.M.C., but together with Jam Master Jay they make the freshest team you’re likely to hear, and in hip-hop circles, fresh is the compliment that counts.
What makes Run-D.M.C. so different? Its sound, for one thing. Where most rappers try to bring home the beat by working out verbal variations on the band’s groove, Run-D.M.C. attacks on all fronts. The drum tracks treat the beat like a basketball being slam-dunked; Jam Master Jay slips and slides through the rhythm with his scratching and cutting; even Run and D.M.C. get into the game, adding emphasis with lines or by dropping in and out of unison. And their delivery is so well integrated into a rap’s pulse that you almost hear them twice, first as part of the dance beat, and then as part of the story.
Catching every word is important, though, because Joe Simmons and Darryl McDaniels — Run and D.M.C. — definitely have something to say. Even though King of Rock offers nothing on the level of their first single, “It’s Like That,” the LP does deliver some worthwhile commentary. “You’re Blind” uses an ominous guitar riff to punch holes in some of the illusions about underclass life, while “Roots, Rap, Reggae,” cut with Yellowman, pays belated tribute to the musical connections between Kingston and the Bronx. Jam Master Jay gets into the act on “It’s Not Funny.” backing the hard-time rap with a scratch-mixed groove built from an angry “ha, ha — very funny.”
But the most resonant moments on King of Rock come from the way the trio employs electric guitar. This isn’t entirely new — on Run-D.M.C., their debut LP, “Rock Box” dressed up the pulse of an electric drum with the whine of heavy-metal guitar — but “King of Rock” takes the idea to the limit, letting Run-D.M.C. crunch and pop like a sort of hip-hop Black Sabbath. It’s a real breakthrough, because by demonstrating that both rap and heavy metal run on the same primal energy, Run-D.M.C. makes an important point: The difference between one fan’s music and another’s is not nearly as great as radio or MTV might suggest. Whether or not Run and D.M.C. will extend their reign outside of their current following remains to be seen, but King of Rock shows that these guys are no mere pretenders to the throne.