Why Run-DMC’s Final Album Never Had a Chance
Hip-hop has always been a young man’s game. So when a 36-year-old Run, a 37-year-old DMC, and a 36-year-old Jam Master Jay teamed up to release Run-DMC's Crown Royal in 2001, interest was tepid at best.
With the notable exception of Jay-Z years later, cultural relevancy has largely eluded rappers over the age of 30. Still, there was a glimmer of hope.
Prior to the release of their seventh studio album, interest in Run-DMC was reinvigorated by a chart-topping remix of Jagged Edge's "Let's Get Married." The track featured new vocals from Run, and sampled the group's 1983 debut single “It’s Like That," reintroducing them to a new generation of music lovers. The "Kings of Rock" were officially back in business. Or were they?
For the second straight time, a Run-DMC album's track list was dominated by guest appearances. And while the likes of Q-Tip and EPMD buoyed 1993’s victorious Down with The King, the reputable names who turned up on Crown Royal (Method Man, Nas) were largely drowned out by curious contributions from Kid Rock, Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins, and nu-metal nuisance Fred Durst.
But that was far from the biggest problem. Half of the group's rapping duo was noticeably absent. Of Crown Royal’s 12 tracks, Darryl "DMC" McDaniels' signature growl was only present on two. "Maybe I should have titled it Crown Royal: An Album of Collaborations," Joseph "Run" Simmons would later concede to ABC News. "It probably would have been much easier for critics to swallow.”
It seems unlikely that a simple title change would have helped on the critical response front. Pitchfork dismissed Crown Royal as “schizophrenic”, while New York Magazine pulled no punches in deeming it “the Ishtar of comeback albums -- overdone, underinspired, and marketed to within an inch of its life.” Pop Matters echoed a similar sentiment, slamming the group's final attempt at chart redemption as “downright pathetic”.
So where was DMC? Both members agree that internal strife was a contributing factor. Run, perhaps looking to protect his longtime partner, attributes the absence to vocal strain. “His voice changed on me out of nowhere, and it was a hard time for me trying to accept it," he says. "How am I going to do what I'm trying to do at that time — being competitive with the Jay-Z's and DMX's — and pull D into this picture? And therefore, we clashed on how we can make a Run-DMC album in 2001.”
Indeed, spasmodic dysphonia, an inoperable condition in which the larynx spasms during speech, had inexplicably stripped McDaniels of the booming bark that delivered bar after shell-toed bar on “My Adidas” or the genre-breaking “Walk This Way."
But he was also at the mercy of a nasty cocaine habit and diminishing mental health, and says the only thing keeping his suicidal urges at bay was alcohol. “I was at a point where I was losing it all,” he told HipHopDX in 2011. “Jack Daniels became my best friend. My other best friend was Jim Beam.” As such, Crown Royal was a Run-DMC album in name only.
“I did not partake in any of the making of that album. I never went to one session,” DMC recently admitted to Rolling Stone. “Run and Jay worked on that whole album themselves.”
While DMC went to war with his inner demons, Run and Jay tried in vain to adapt the magic the group had found decades earlier into a vastly changed musical landscape. After almost two years of delays, Crown Royal finally materialized without any public acknowledgment of DMC's limited involvement.
The lead single, “Let’s Stay Together (Together Forever)”, reunited Run-DMC with the artists and producer responsible for their unlikely recent resurgence: balladeers Jagged Edge and necromancer Jermaine Dupri, who had performed similar resurrections on the careers of MC Lyte and Whodini.
The pieces didn't fit together this time.
While DMC appeared in the video, he was nowhere to be found on the song. Pleasing neither fans of the band's original sound nor attracting new listeners, Crown Royal would stumble out the gate and peak at a pedestrian No. 37 on the Billboard 200. It joined the 1990 clunker Back from Hell as the only albums in the group's illustrious 17-year career not to achieve at least Gold credentials.
The shocking murder of Jam Master Jay in 2002 would rob the group of any chance for collective redemption. “Run-DMC is officially retired,” Run announced soon after. “We can’t perform anymore. Nobody wants to see Run and DMC without Jay.”