In Audiophile Quality for the First Time: Hybrid SACD Plays with Visceral Immediacy
Run-D.M.C. leaves no doubt about its intent on King of Rock. The New York trio's hard-hitting sophomore album begins with a statement of purpose ("Rock the House") that serves as a stereophonic primer for the title track, a hybrid warning-anthem-theme song that swarms with justified boasts, heavy metal riffs, booming beats, cowbell accents, and dance-worthy grooves. The back-to-back tunes set the tone for a 1985 record that largely established the blueprint for the hip-hop that would follow for the next two decades — and which helped make rap a mainstream currency via the previously off-limits channels of radio, TV, and the national stage.
Sourced from the original master tapes, Mobile Fidelity's numbered-edition hybrid SACD is the definitive-sounding version of this monumental recording. This reissue represents the first time this platinum album has been presented in audiophile quality. King of Rock now plays with a clarity, immediacy, punchiness, and directness on a visceral level that matches the artistry, urgency, and intellect of the trio’s material.
Given generous breathing room due the stripped-down settings and judicious placement of instruments, the spare rhythmic core of every track bristles with an energy and intensity equaled only by DMC and Run’s commanding tag-team flow. This collectible reissue invites you to turn up the volume and experience the dynamic, raw, and invigorating sound that took hip-hop’s streetwise aesthetic to the charts without making any compromises. The everlasting genius of Larry Smith’s production comes into view as if the music is being broadcast on a giant system in a small club — only more focused, lively, and unlimited. On King of Rock, every detail matters.
Expressed in thick, fluid cadences by plaster-cracking voices that echo amid the sparse arrangements, lyrics balance straight commentary with clever wit. The bravado on cuts like the defiant title track, celebratory “Jam-Master Jammin’,” and provocative “Can You Rock It Like This” isn’t just spectacle or exaggeration; Run-D.M.C.’s words resonate with undeniable truths. "It's not Michael Jackson/And this is not Thriller," the group broadcasts early on in the record. Truer words — and music recorded with such honesty, pride, rawness, and integrity — have seldom been committed to tape.
Those aspects extend to the admonishing “You Talk Too Much” and social commentaries “You’re Blind” and “It’s Not Funny,” rooted in the soon-to-be-universal hip-hop precept of keeping it real. However difficult it might have been to recognize during a time in which rap was marginalized or dismissed, the aggressive dispatches on King of Rock unfold as bulletins from prophets who knew the future. Further evidence comes in the form of “Roots, Rap, Reggae,” a Yellowman collaboration that smartly ties rap to dancehall.
Of course, everything orbits around the declarative title track. The Top 15 Hot Black Singles (now Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart) hit helped lead Run-D.M.C. to become the only hip-hop artist to perform at Live Aid — and a song whose humorous albeit frank video illustrated the group’s conviction in a manner everyone could understand. As Run-D.M.C. proclaims on the eighth verse: “The rhymes we say shall set a trend/Because a devastating rap is what we send.”
King of Rock more than delivered (and still delivers) on that prediction-slash-brag. Run-D.M.C.’s 2009 enshrinement in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame — a museum it foresaw with uncanny vision nearly three decades earlier — serves as permanent evidence. All hail the king.