Run-DMC’s ‘Down With the King’ Remembered 20 Years Later
‘Down With the King’ was the end of a decade-long reign by the legendary hip-hop trio Run-DMC.
The Hollis, Queens, N.Y., natives dropped their gold-selling sixth studio album on May 4, 1993 — 20 years ago. It would be their last project until they reunited for a final LP, ‘Crown Royal,’ released in 2001.
By 1993, rap had crossed over with big record labels taking advantage of its popularity and corporate entities seeking its marketing power. Run-DMC was one of the earliest hip-hop acts at the forefront of this new era of “mainstream” hip-hop.
Much had changed since Rev. Run, D.M.C. and Jam Master Jay first broke through the door with their signature bucket hats, Adidas track suits and gold rope chains in 1984. The group had gone through conflicts as D.M.C. was recovering from battles with alcoholism and Run experienced depression. He had also just been ordained a minister. At this point, critics were writing off Run-DMC’s relevancy in rap.
The genre was being run by a new wave of younger, fresher emcees equipped with more weight in their mood, lyrical complexity, rumble in their beats and baggier trousers. Competition was steep in 1993, as rap fans were checking for Tupac Shakur‘s multi-platinum selling LP, ‘Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z,’ A Tribe Called Quest‘s ‘Midnight Marauders’ and Wu-Tang Clan‘s ‘Enter The Wu-Tang (36 Chambers)’ – all considered classics in the present day.
But with ‘Down With the King,’ Run-DMC got to feel some shine before the end of hip-hop’s golden age. Upon its release, it entered the Billboard R&B charts at No. 1 and was a top ten pop album.
The LP’s cover art shows Run-DMC ditching their idiosyncrasies and adopting the looks of their newer counterpoints — they ditched the bucket hats, threw on all-black everything and put on some mean mugs for the camera. The attempt to fit the mold of the younger rap heavyweights was also felt in their music. ‘Down With the King’ possessed ferocious boom bap provided by some of the most successful producers at the time including Pete Rock, Q-Tip and the Bomb Squad, producers for Public Enemy.
Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels spoke with journalist Odeisel in March 2012, about the making of the LP. He said they owed Pete Rock, who produced the title track, for bringing the group back to the forefront.
“‘Down With the King’ is really the record that put us there permanently. Cause before that, it was like if you would say Run DMC, f— them, they over whatever, whatever. But once ‘Down With the King’ came in, even now that it’s gone when you say Run-DMC we get the utmost love,” said D.M.C.
He continued, “That’s because this motherf—er Pete Rock took us to his basement in Mt. Vernon, said, ‘I got an idea. I’ma play this music.’ He put that beat on, told us, ‘When DMC goes ‘Reporters clock, producers jock…’ Jay was like, ‘That’s the single!’ And Russell didn’t even want it to be on the album!”
Much of the album is D.M.C. reminding the newbies that as rap O.G.s, they weren’t going out as old news so easily. On ‘Come On Everybody,’ produced by Q-Tip, D.M.C. raps, “Do what I do, I do since ’82 / I got the rhyme, get mine, I got to climb / I won’t retire, get higher, I won’t resign.”
On the Boom Squad-produced ‘Ooh, Whatcha Gonna Do,’ Run also quiets his critics by pointing out that many of his rap peers are not cut from the same cloth of longevity like himself and his crew.
“I see them go, and come, cause what they pumpin’ weak / And now I’m flippin’ the script and they can hardly speak,” he spits.
The biggest mountain to climb for any artist is staying current no matter the change in music. For groups, the fight is more intense, as staying together can be a difficult feat. But the trio was able to stick it out. Although ‘Down With the King’ wasn’t Run-DMC’s most notable release, it fulfilled its purpose — sealing their fate as iconic figures of the genre before they put down their mics again for almost 10 years.
Watch Run-DMC’s ‘Down With The King’ Video