Back From Heaven

Definitive collection honouring late rap pioneer

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In the wake of Jam Master Jay’s murder, there have been effusive tributes to Run-DMC, and rightly so. These combative, dressed-down homies did knock down walls the way they did in the video for “Walk This Way”, establishing a strangely logical and enduring coalition between hip hop and heavy metal. They were also responsible for stripping away the degrading sequins’n’starsigns bullshit that hampered early rap. Their street-tough approach on “It’s Like That” reconnected rap with the sidewalks, while their minimalist backbeats established the early template for hip hop. Grandmaster Flash had been the last of the ’70s funky show people. Run-DMC was where it really started.

Cuts like “Sucker MCs”, “King Of Rock” and “Can You Rock It Like This?” were formidable exercises in muscle flexing and turntable technique, ripping the cut like no one else. “Peter Piper” was a brilliant piece of rap virtuosity, while “My Adidas” set the new sartorial tone.

Run-DMC were rap revolutionaries on various fronts. In 1987, at the height of their powers and having conquered MTV, they blew the Beastie Boys away on their joint UK tour. Yet, by 1988, as this collection demonstrates, they went into steep decline. There were other acts on the block?Eric B & Rakim were slicker, Public Enemy were dropping polemical bombs, NWA upped the gangsta ante. Meanwhile, Run-DMC gave us “Mary, Mary”. Their work was done and the world was done with them. They’d built the chassis for hip hop but it would be for others to provide the interior and upholstery. Cruelly, they were dispensed with, and the ’90s would prove a grim decade for the band. Run became suicidal, DMC battled alcoholism. Sadly, it’s taken Jam Master Jay’s death to remind us of Run-DMC’s achievements.

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