Run DMC: Crown Royal

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Album: Crown Royal
Label: Arista

In his excellent recent biography of Joe DiMaggio, Richard Ben Cramer documents how the ornery Yankee slugger ultimately turned the guardianship of his larger-than-life legacy into a full-time profession that dominated every aspect of his existence. Similarly, Run DMC's job for much of the '90s has been keeping its profitable brand in the public consciousness through constant touring and performances, even as its recorded output slowed to a halt. Crown Royal, its first album since 1993's Down With The King, reveals a group lazily going through the motions, hopping from bandwagon to bandwagon in a sad attempt to remain current. The musical equivalent of Willie Mays stumbling around in the outfield years after his skills were gone, Crown Royal fails in the most arbitrary, impersonal way possible, piling on so many ringers that Run DMC often seems like a guest at its own party. Although he's present front and center on the album cover, DMC is all but absent from Crown Royal, pitching in a forgettable verse or two on only a handful of tracks. Of course, the give-and-take and chemistry between Run and DMC has always been one of the group's strongest assets, and without it, Crown Royal feels soulless and incomplete. As the father of rap-rock, Run DMC has as much of a right to exploit its popularity as anyone, but the rap-metal found here is generic and disheartening, hampered further by limp turns from Kid Rock, Sugar Ray, and Third Eye Blind's out-of-his-element Stephan Jenkins. Run DMC fares slightly better with straightforward hip-hop like "Ahhh," with newcomer Chris Davis, and "Queens Day," featuring Nas and Prodigy. But even at its best, Royal is little more than competent, and at its worst, it's intolerable. The Hollis trio will always be the king of rock, but the awful Crown Royal suggests that it's time for the trio to step down before it does further harm to its legacy.