Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Great Riffs, Great Solos... Wrong Genre?

For a short while there, I thought these guys were the coolest motherfuckers around. In the mid-80s, critical consensus wasn't afraid to describe them as 'the future'. The marketing genius of Def Jam and/or Rush Artists Management knew the value of a grinding riff; to shove that previously-dissed 'fad' onto MTV and the front pages of the music press. I've left the obvious choice off this post (surely we got sick of hearing it at the 100th student disco?). Lest we forget 'Rock Box' posed a serious challenge to 'The Message' as the first and last word in hiphop (the aging hippies/thrusting yuppies at Rolling Stone certainly paid attention). The racial politics of riff-value are beyond my caffeine-addled comprehension right now, but the below tracks had a lot more riff/solo moxie than so much poodle metal of the time. Not only a producer with the golden touch, Rick Rubin was a damn fine axeman. Although pricking the ears of white America to open its wallet, the rock metal crossover was (thankfully) the road less travelled. But late 80s hiphop always supplied something bigger and deffer to make sucker MCs of last month's kings (its continuous discordinant shifts a suitable soundtrack for the growing pains of 80s adolescence). With the arrival of Schoolly-D, Public Enemy, NWA, etc. RUN-DMC's star faded fast: Now familiar to teens as reality TV fodder, if at all. But in terms of establishing hiphop as an album genre, as an international top ten staple - they were the Kings of Rock. They certainly made the summer of '86 more fun for yours truly.

5 comments:

Greyhoos said...

A few points from where I'm sitting...

Run DMC's role at the time was colossal, and can't be underestimated.

Some would argue (or have already done so) that these tracks represented the group's crossover appeal, their ability to reach a broader range of listeners-- the tracks that were grounded in heavy rock riffage, as well as the goofy/novelty cuts like "You Talk Too Much" and "You Be Illin'."

But novelty is the pivotal word, here. Up until Run DMC, most people (especially record label folk) were convinced that hip-hop was just some silly fad that'd soon pass, and even Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five hadn't succeeded in disabusing people that notion. But the thing about Run was their image and presentation -- their stark, strictly business minimalism that served notice that they took what they doing very seriously. Between that and Jam Master Jay's tracks, they got a lot of people to start thinking of the music as something more than just some frivolous party trick. Hip-hop was a lot harder to dismiss after Raising Hell came out.

As far as Jay's arrangements went -- "Run's House" and "Beats to the Rhyme" gained hella traction, pushed things up a notch. (With those tracks, it sounded like they'd shot those beats into orbit, which made a lot of people go, "Ohhh, shit!") So I dunno if they fell off or got crowded off the scene quite so quickly, because stuff from Tougher Than Leather was still getting heavy play in clubs and on certain radio stations, even after Eazy E and NWA et al had come along.

W. Kasper said...

Points taken - I know what you mean about them sounding/looking like they meant business (harsh minimalism, abandoning disco costumes, space lyrics etc). I was emphasising their 'rawk' appeal for the 'solos war'.

Maybe it was just in the UK, but I recall 'Tougher Than Leather' being (unfairly) dismissed; especially as it came out around the same time as 'It Takes A Nation of Millions' and Rakim's second album. And it was definitely the riff/solo ones that got them important TV exposure here (it's I first heard 'em anyway). Then there was the whole Beastie Boys craze we had in 87... itself head off by metallish hits.

W. Kasper said...

BTW it did seem a lot of hiphop had to have an obligatory rock-out track (nearly every big name 86 - 88 did at least one with metallic riffs, didn't they?). Maybe except Eric B & Rakim, or Schoolly-D's "I Hate Rock'n'Roll" which seemed to be the militant 'answer' to it all.

Greyhoos said...

I suspect that that may have been, in some cases, under label/managerial duress -- a way to cover diff bases and hopefully move a few extra units. Token rawk-riff track...or token club/hip-house/Miami-bass track...or obligatory D.C. Go-go track. Sometimes it may've been the artist's idea, but at other it was just flagrant marketplace pandering.

W. Kasper said...

Well Stetasonic followed the template you describe - brilliantly and surprisingly convincingly, IMHO.