"Fans in hip-hop are hard," says Daryll McDaniels, the D.M.C. of Run-D.M.C. "They could be with you one summer, then the next summer you come out, they're definitely against you. 'Oh, ++ boy, they're weak,' and this and that.
"We know that no career skyrockets straight up. You've got to have your ups and downs, your highs and your low points. You know what I'm saying?"
Absolutely. And if you need an example of how jarring that rap roller-coaster ride can be, look no further than Run-D.M.C. itself. This trio -- DJ Run (Joe Simmons), D.M.C. and turntable specialist Jam Master Jay (Jason Mizell) -- virtually invented hard-core rap, and such singles as "Sucker M.C.'s," "King of Rock" and "My Adidas" remain B-boy classics to this day. Moreover, Run-D.M.C. was the first to translate hard-core's stripped-down sound into mainstream pop success, thanks to its 1986 remake of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way."
But nobody stays at the top forever, and Run-D.M.C. went into a serious decline after the release of 1990's "Back From Hell." It wasn't a complete failure -- the singles "Pause" and "The Ave." did respectable business on the rap charts -- but it wasn't the work of leaders, and the rap audience wasted no time in making its displeasure known.
"When the low came around, fans and the critics and the people in the industry started dissing us," admits D.M.C. over the phone from New York. "Once we didn't hit as hard as we did in the past, that was their chance to eat us up. During that time, you had a lot of young groups coming out, and that's where their attention went."
But that was then. These days, Run-D.M.C. is back with a vengeance. "Down With the King," the trio's seventh album, is just out (it arrives in record stores today), and the title tune, which features tribute-style cameos by Pete Rock and C. L. Smooth, is already in the top 20 of the Billboard singles chart. Even better, Run-D.M.C. just finished a stint opening for Naughty By Nature, and managed to steal the show at virtually every stop on the tour.
"We just played Radio City," says D.M.C. "A lot of people didn't come there to see us -- they came to see Naughty By Nature and SWV and Wreckx-N-Effect. But Run-D.M.C. went and we stole the show. We're just proud that we've got our health, and the formula that worked from the beginning is still here."
"Well, we're blessed like that," adds Run. "This is our field. Some people do it pretty good, some people do it good, some people do it excellent. We happen to be in the excellent category. We're great on stage, better than we are in the studio. We're just good live.
"It's hard to explain why you're good at something," he adds. "It's my talent, my blessing from above."
He doesn't mean that figuratively, either. Both Run and D.M.C. are born-again Christians, and make no bones about the importance of their faith. "We're not preaching about it, we just want people to know," says Run. "This is our strength, this is what we're dealing with, this is what brought us back."
Evidence of Run-D.M.C.'s Christian beliefs is sprinkled throughout "Down With the King," but there's precious little proselytizing.
"It's not a conscious effort to get in there and be preachy," says D.M.C. "We're not Christian rappers -- we're rappers that are Christian. All through our careers, we've talked about what we do, how we live, you know what I'm saying? We always write true to the game. So that came out, but ain't nothing changed. We're still B-boys, we still rock the mic, we still hang out in the streets, we still roll with the homeboys."
And they still rap -- not that they ever planned on stopping. "We are rap longevity," says Run.
"We didn't come into rap [thinking], 'OK, we're going to sell 10 million albums and then we're going to retire,' " D.M.C. says. "I want to be rapping for as long as possible. When we first started, a lot of people would ask us, 'Is rap going to last?' "
He chuckles. "Asking me will I last in rap is like asking Aretha Franklin, 'How long do you think singing's going to go around?' "
So should we call "Down With the King" a comeback? Not a chance.
"We don't feel that it's a comeback," says D.M.C. "We feel that Run-D.M.C.'s coming again. We proved that regardless of the odds, if you're really strong -- meaning you're really sincere to your game and what you're doing -- you can come back and bust heads."