Rock Boxed

If the music industry had a sense of humor, next year's Grammy for Most Ironic Cover Version would go to Run DMC's "Let's Stay Together." With r&b crooners Jagged Edge doing their best to ape Al Green, Run dedicates the opening rap to D: "You, Jay, and me/since '83/been livin and stickin together like a family." It might have been touching (or, who knows, sappy) had D responded in kind. Or even responded at all. D's absent, just as on virtually the rest of the album.

Of course, what the industry lacks in yuks it makes up for with marketing schemes, and the one that drove D from the Crown Royal recording process in frustration is as transparent as a plastic coin case. The album was A&R'd by Pete Gansbarg, the same suit that brought together Carlos Santana and the buffet of pop stars that fattened Supernatural. This time around, the idea was to capitalize on the rap-rock that Run DMC helped pioneer.

While Arista was able to line up a testosteroned who's who including Fred Durst, Kid Rock, Everlast remaking Steve Miller, and Sugar Ray pretty boy Mark McGrath, their contributions (except for Durst's typically sophomoric and catchy surf-rock-rap ode to—what else?—women) are some of the album's worst tracks. Santana was able to flavor his collaborations with his trademark guitar; when D left the studio, he took the classic Run and D exchanges with him.

The pairings weren't just creatively damning. Greed is another staple of the music industry, and Crown Royal's release date was pushed back more than a year as the respective record labels for all those, uh, talents refused to grant release rights. Finally, Arista was able to clear "Rock Show," with Third Eye Blind's Stephen Jenkins, as a single. The song is as disjointed as you might expect from that partnership, a maelstrom of electronic fuzz, turntable scratches, and filtered guitar riffs with Jenkins's nasal pop chorus providing comic relief for Run's uninspired rhymes.

If the label and group were smart, they'd have stuck to taking credit for the breakthrough of hip-hop, a genre with far more credibility and creativity and a much longer shelf life than all the Kids Rock combined. Indeed, had Run delivered an album full of rap tracks as good as two or three here, Run DMC'd be the story of the year. The ode to Latinas, "Ay Papi," has got endearing "señoritas in Adidas." And "Queens Day," with a backing track of a few piano plinks and a minimal snare, showcases Nas's and Prodigy's (from Mobb Deep) poetic depiction of Run DMC and the borough they all called home.

Ultimately, most Run DMC fans would have been much happier with old-school Run, D, and Jay than with a smorgasbord of Billboardchart-toppers for hire. D's been talking to the press about making tracks that sound like Neil Young, and no doubt an older, increasingly nasal Darryl McDaniels strumming and singing about his pickup truck might have been even worse than Crown Royal's contrivance. But if you're going to go out like a sucker, there's nobility in staying true to thine own self. It's just sad that with all the history Run boasts about on this album, when the good reverend reached for the promised gold ring of commercial redemption, he was so willing to let go of D's hand.

 
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