I know nothing about the history of hip hop but I particularly know nothing about the early history of hip hop, from when it emerged (early 1970s???) to when it began to be a commercial force. But everything I read paints this as a seminal moment in hip hop, the beginning of the “new school” and a clear dividing line between early hip hop and everything that has come after. I have no idea if that’s true but I think I can assume it is in part because I have heard of Run and DMC and heard of very few rappers before them.
The lyrics are rather hard to evaluate. Apparently they are considerably more sophisticated than most hip hop lyrics up to this point but, of course, they pale in sophistication to the rap lyrics I’ve heard, nearly all of which were written under the influence of this record. There’s definitely too much of the usual braggadocio that I dislike in this genre but I will say that it has a point, which it often doesn’t when you get to the rappers who just rap about how rich and sexy they are. The social comment doesn’t feel that amazing but, like I said before, it was apparently relatively unheard of at the time, so credit to them for doing so.
The music is so sparse it’s almost hard to talk about it. This feels like “pure” rap in the sense that there is so little music, mostly just a drum machine and some scratching, with the occasional keyboard or guitar riff – most of the melody actually comes from the rap, rather than the instrumentation. I’ve never heard hip hop like this before – though I’ve definitely heard sparse hip hop – and it’s startling. It’s easy to understand how this could have been life-changing for people.
I can’t say I love how they swap lines a lot of the time. To my knowledge, just about all rappers have stopped doing this now, which makes it sound dated. They don’t do it all the time but when they do it makes the record sound very ’80s.
All in all, I don’t have enough information not to declare it a masterpiece. As far as I know, it’s one of the most important records of the 1980s, possibly even of the latter quarter of the 20th century, especially given hip hop’s prominence in our music today. But then I am hardly the person to evaluate something like this.
10/10 I think