This is one of those rare albums that not only started a true music revolution, but has stood the test of time as one of the greatest albums ever recorded. That is a bold statement, and I don't make it lightly given all the great music (both rap and otherwise) that has been recorded over the last 100 years.
What makes this album so great? Let me see if I can help you understand that.
First, of course, there is the pure genius of innovation. Sure, there was the Sugarhill Gang, and even that Blondie song before "Run-DMC," but they were just preparing the way for the true "Kings of Rock." From the first cut ("Hard Times,") with it's spare, unadorned beats and lyrical flow, in such contrast to the full disco/band rapping of the Sugarhill Gang and others of that time, through the live, powerful guitar of "Rock Box," through the scratching wizardry of "Jam-Master Jay" and "Jay's Game" (an underappreciated mix,) and the urban story songs "It's Like That" and "Wake Up," to the suble comedy of "30 Days," we see innovation in every cut. Before "scratching" and "DJ-ing" became "MTV Beach Party" staples, these guys were doing it/inventing it on the streets of Hollis, Queens. If you listen to any current MTV fare, you can hear straight flow from this album appropriated by such artists as Kid Rock and Everclear; if you ever see kids wearing shell-toe Adidas, you can thank Run-DMC. They started a music revolution and a cultural revolution with this album.
Besides the technical innovations, though, the MESSAGES on the album are as innovative as the flow, and, for me, make this one of the truly great albums. They rap about the grit of the streets, but always in a way that provides hope to the listener. From "Hard Times": "Hard Times are coming to your town, stay alert, don't let them get you down... B-B-B Beatin' Hard Times, that is my theme. Hard Times in life, hard times in death, I'm gonna keep on fighting til my very last breath." From "It's Like That": "When you really think about it, times aren't that bad... stop playing, start praying, you won't be sad."
One of the greatest disappointments that I've had is that, unfortunately, Run-DMC are no longer innovators, nor even very good. Everything went downhill after "Raising Hell," and for the very reasons that make "Run-DMC" a seminal album. They fell under the influence of sampling, gangster rap, and the negative vibe. Run-DMC, on some of the later albums, even had the gall to sample themselves! Sampling is not innovation. I loved "Darryl and Joe" the first time, but not the second, third, and fourth times, chopped up into bits on their later albums! The positive vibe dropped in most of the albums after "Raising Hell," with the N-word coming in again and again (among others) in an attempt, I guess, to show they were "hard." Finally, the low point in the history of Run-DMC: The latest video with Run and the WWF Wrestling Crew destroying cars with baseball bats.
Hey Darryl and Joe: Whatever happened to "Live Positive Forever and Ever"???
Despite all the mistakes they've made since, losing their original vision and being influenced by the negative vibe, Run-DMC still made one of the greatest albums of all time in "Run-DMC".
Buy it today to hear what great was.
Sigh in disgust at what might have been.