On Run-D.M.C.’s new album, rap’s first crossover act tries to cross back. You’ll find nothing on Back From Hell as rock-oriented as ”Walk This Way” (the 1986 duet with Aerosmith that broke Run-D.M.C. into the mainstream), or as pop as the group’s 1988 take on the Monkees’ ”Mary Mary.” Rather, this time Run-D.M.C. seems hellbent on solidifying its core black audience, perhaps in reaction to the disappointing sales of its Tougher Than Leather album two years ago. Unfortunately, the route Run has taken back to the streets puts them in someone else’s shadow — namely, Public Enemy’s. From the harsher, funkier beats to the denser riot of electronic sampling, the album evokes P.E.’s patented ”brawl of sound.” That’s especially true on a track like ”Groove to the Sound,” with its swirling vortex of noise, or ”Sucker D.J.’s,” where one voice directly recalls P.E.’s rapper-comedian Flavor Flav. Still, Run-D.M.C. hasn’t entirely lost its own flavor. The trio continues to hurl raps with a distinctive inflection. The updated approach has also given their sound greater dimension. Voices lunge out of the darkness, bass lines plunge into the abyss. The crew has also retained its wit, as in the electronically altered sample of Johnny Mathis’ ”Alfie” that turns up in ”What’s It All About.” There’s no getting around the fact that Run-D.M.C. no longer leads the rap pack. But luckily, even as followers, they’ve got something to say. B-
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