What blows up must fall off. Think of it as Newton’s Law of Gravity applied to Hip Hop. It can be a harsh reality that even legends fall victim to, and in 1990 many thought Run DMC suffered the inevitable fall off with their Back From Hell album. Tracks like “The Ave” proved DMC, Run and Jam Master Jay were still more than capable. But the same longevity and consistency that made them pioneers was threatening to get them relegated to the “old school” rapper category when placed next to the likes of peers like Public Enemy. Ice Cube, NWA and Above The Law were defining the West Coast sound as we would later come to know it, and Brand Nubian, A Tribe Called Quest and X-Clan were leading an innovative new twist on traditional, sample-based East Coast Hip Hop.
So in 1993, after dropping an obligatory greatest hits disc, Run, JMJ and DMC asked for and received some damn good help.
“I’m always dazing through this whole career of mine, but you know, it was cool, going from person to person,” Run would tell Hip Hop Connection in regards to the collaborative nature of Down With The King. “I was nervous trying to gather this together. I didn’t want to be like Prince or something. Like ’cuz he feel he gotta do it all his self. I felt like yeah, maybe this is what God wants me to do: just cool out Joe, put your input in, but let these guys do what they do.”
Much like Dobbs brimmed hats and Adidas with no laces, Run DMC would pioneer the Hip Hop concept album with all A-list cameos. It’s a concept that had previously been employed in every other genre, complete with ghostwriters and guest producers. Only Down With The King also came with an image makeover that saw the trio ditch the aforementioned fashion.
Many were shocked to see the group swap out their trademark fashion staples for all black hoodies, boots and Carhart suits. If it weren’t for the wooden crosses, they might have been mistaken for Onyx (who were signed to Jam Master Jay’s label at the time).
Once you got past the shock of Run DMC’s new look, it was easy to see how “Down With The King” was innovative in its own right as both a single and an album. It was the rare Hip Hop song that involved religion without being overtly preachy or corny. Pete Rock and CL Smooth incorporated parts of “Sucker MC’s” in their rhymes to pay homage. And seeing the late Hip Hop icons Eazy-E and Jam Master Jay still alive gives this an added nostalgia factor. Run DMC still wanted in on the action, and everyone they asked was more than willing to accommodate them.