Checks Thugs and Rock N Roll

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After releasing the rightfully ignored Crown Royal, his pioneering group Run-D.M.C. ended in tragedy with the murder of Jam Master Jay. Toward the end, mounting issues -- including a medical condition affecting his voice -- made him consider suicide. Then he's rescued by music only to be blind-sided by the news he's adopted. Reflecting on all he's been through, DMC is 100 percent genuine on Checks Thugs and Rock N Roll, but he's heartbreakingly lost his voice, his lyrical skills, and his awareness of the music scene around him. His solo debut sounds like the most contrived rock and rap blends that major-label execs declared the future of music back in the mid-'90s, with touches of P.M. Dawn at their most woeful and indulgent. The opening "Watchtower" finds Cars guitarist Elliot Easton and Buckcherry vocalist Josh Todd sterilely interpolating Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" while DMC clumsily offers the first of many "what's gone wrong with the world?" raps. "Just Like Me" with Sarah McLachlan -- whose song "Angel" saved DMC's life, according to the man himself -- follows the same blueprint, but this time it's worse, with an interpolation of Harry Chapin's "Cat in the Cradle," sitars, and thin, maudlin lyrics all drowning in excess. Checks is nothing if not ambitious, but it only works when it decides to just hang out and have some fun. "Lovey Dovey" with Doug E. Fresh is a light weekend track that nails it, while "Machine Gun" brings the album into the 21st century with Ms. Jade and Sonny Black effortlessly delivering one of the album's few street-worthy moments. Also of note is Rev Run's guest shot on "Come 2 Gether," a painfully uneven effort for longtime fans, with Run holding back but still outshining his partner. The best thing you can say about this letdown is that DMC's commitment to changing the world and opening eyes is admirable and attractive, but sadly, his skills are blunted and he's not up to the challenge. [Checks Thugs and Rock N Roll was also made available with a bonus DVD including the video for "Just Like Me" and an interview with DMC.]

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