CD Review of Checks, Thugs and Rock 'n' Roll by DMC

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Checks, Thugs and Rock 'n' Roll
starstarhalf starno starno star Label: Rome N Empire
Released: 2006
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ALSO: Don't miss Will's interview with DMC, as well as his earlier chat with Reverend Run.

When Reverend Run put out his first solo album, Distortion, in late 2005, it was a short effort – less than a half-hour – but it packed all the best bits about Run-DMC into its ten tracks, and it was pretty much a one-man affair, with Run really only getting assistance from his producer, Whiteboy. DMC, however, has gone about as far in the other direction as humanly possible. Even if we only take into consideration the names cited on the back cover, you’re looking at guest spots from Elliot Easton (the Cars), Josh Todd (Buckcherry), Sarah McLachlan, Doug E. Fresh, Kid rock, Tal B, Gary Dourdan (yes, the guy who plays Warrick Brown on “C.S.I.”), Miss Jade, Sonny Black, Napolean, Lil Mizzo, and the aforementioned Rev. Run, and, beyond that, Tom Hamilton and Joey Kramer of Aerosmith show up on several tracks.

And even with all that help from his friends, the end result is...just okay.

The preponderance of guest stars isn’t entirely a surprise, given that the last proper Run-DMC album – on which, ironically, DMC was barely featured – included collaborations with Fred Durst, Stephan Jenkins from Third Eye Blind, Kid Rock, and Sugar Ray. And it isn’t like the Run-DMC reputation wasn’t built almost entirely on their ability to blend the best bits of rock and rap.

So what’s wrong here...?

DMC, you may well notice from the beginning of the proceedings, isn’t working with the same voice that boomed forth from the classic Run-DMC albums. Reports vary, but the general line seems to be that DMC always used to put on a different voice when he rapped, and, after about a dozen years or so, when he complained of throat problems, his doctor told him that if he didn’t stick with the voice God gave him, his issues were only going to get worse. The problem is that DMC’s real voice is decidedly weaker than what we’re used to hearing from him. In addition, the material here is, more often than not, pretty serious. Everybody’s gotta grow up sometime, but DMC is trying so hard to tackle social issues that it’s a bit of a bummer, frankly.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t have many solid moments. “Watchtower,” which, yes, finds DMC rapping over the verses of “All Along the Watchtower,” features excellent guitar work from Easton, although Todd’s vocals are iffy at best. “Just Like Me,” with its decidedly-unlikely guest appearance from McLachlan, is DMC’s tackling of adoption, is based on his own experiences of discovering – at the age of 35 – that he had been adopted, using Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle” as its structural basis; “Find My Way,” meanwhile, teams DMC with Kid Rock, paying tribute to both Jam Master Jay as well as Rock’s partner, Joe C. Both “Lovey Dovey” and “Machine Gun” are solid raps, too, as is “Come 2Gether,” which brings Run and DMC together again. But even beyond all of DMC’s lyrical complaining, musically speaking, “Cadillac Cars” is a bore, and listening to “What’s Wrong” just results in the shrugging of shoulders, so unmemorable is it.

DMC has gone on record as saying that there’ll never be another Run-DMC album because it wouldn’t be the same without Jam Master Jay. That may be, but, given the results of this solo debut, if he’s planning to keep coasting on his guest stars, it might not be such a bad idea for DMC to find an excuse to work with the Reverend on more than just one track next time around.

~Will Harris