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May 14

RUN DMC vs JASON NEVINS – “It’s Like That”

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#787, 21st March 1998

nevins “Won’t you tell me the last time that love bought you clothes?” Talk gets little realer than “It’s Like That”, Run DMC’s debut single mix of fatalism, pragmatism and ultimately optimism, set to a beat like a medicine ball bounced off the walls of some vast concrete bunker. Over that crushing sound, Run and DMC shout to be heard, trading and declaiming lines like duelling street preachers. It’s deservedly known as a landmark single, a record that takes the sharp, rhyme-swapping camaraderie of the early hip-hop groups somewhere bigger and harder.

Jason Nevins, encountering this bomb-blast of a record, decides it would be improved by a crunching, unflinching house beat. He is wrong. This remix is, admittedly, loud and effective, almost as brutal in its unrelenting way as the original. But it’s far less accomplished and interesting. Its inane additions – the sped-up “Run DMC and Jam Master Jay!” squeaks, for instance – just disrupt the relentless, overlapping forward motion of the original MCs. It drowns DMC’s voice in particular, and muffles a lot of the group’s inflections in the process. They may be talking about poverty and economic disaster, but they’re also young men grabbing onto their chance of success, and there’s a grim, cocksure relish in their storytelling. Nevins’ beat can’t completely smother that, but it doesn’t help either, putting all the weight on the title refrain, making “It’s like that – and that’s the way it is!” a slogan where it once was a payoff. Nevins’ beat is the sort of route-one 4/4 thump that has always infuriated and fuelled people who hate house music – there’s a place in my heart for that completely straight-ahead approach (and, if I’m honest, for the way it riles people), but here it sacrifices too much.

The video further lets on what’s happening. It’s a girls vs boys breakdance battle in a warehouse, and its omnipresence on video channels contributed a lot to the remix’s six-week stay at Number One. But taken in tandem with that unbroken beat, it’s revealing. This record isn’t updating the sound or content of early hip-hop, or even engaging with it at all in any productive sense: it’s simply using it as texture. Nevins may not be a Europop producer, but it’s a very Europop sensibility. And indeed the “It’s Like That” remix was number one across Europe, largely in countries which had never paid much attention to old school rap.

There’s nothing especially wrong about that situation (and I suspect it made Run-DMC richer than anything since Aerosmith had), but it makes this feel like rather a tawdry number one – something made with no especial sympathy for its source. It’s a particular shame that Nevins simply lops the end off the “It’s Like That”, omitting the last two verses. Those turn their back on the rest of the song’s harsh emphasis on self-reliance, informing listeners that really their best bet is to lean on some larger institution (church or education, the group don’t judge either way). It’s a sentiment that “It’s Like That” has fought its way towards, and the song is not improved by dropping it. Elsewhere, enough of the thunderbolt original is preserved for this remix to just about work, though it’s all despite Jason Nevins, not because of him. Rarely was a “versus” more earned.

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Comments

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  1. 26
    mapman132 on 6 May 2014 #

    #20, 23: Funny thing about the whole ‘disco sucks’ mentality, not to mention the expression ‘deader than disco’, is that 70′s era dance music proved fairly popular in the US once the usual 20-year retro cycle came around, which come to think of it, was around 1998. But it’s true that this didn’t seem to influence the US pop charts much until about 2009.

  2. 27
    Rory on 6 May 2014 #

    Looking back and looking ahead, this is the end of a rich few years of Popular number ones for yours truly, and the beginning of a far less familiar time: for some years that lie ahead I know maybe a dozen of the number ones, for others four or five, and for a few of them only one. And that’s just whether I’ve heard them, not whether I like them. I’ll have to find some creative ways to preface every comment with “I’ve never heard this before”, or I’m going to sound as monotonous as a House Washing Machine.

    Not that I mind said washing machine in this case. I’d never heard this before (ahem), but I’d also never heard the original, so am not wedded to the spare ’80s sound of the Run-DMC version. This sounds fine to me – danceable beats, good vocal hooks, and a fun video. I wouldn’t have expected a six-week run at number one – more like the single week it had at the top in Australia in March ’98, before “Never Ever” racked up seven – but it’s entertained me for the past day or two. I’d go a 6.

    Swanstep, I turned up an extended mix. Not sure the extra minutes deliver what you’re after, though.

    Tom, the “Run DMC and Jam Master Jay!” interjections towards the end – are they actually sped-up, or is it a female vocalist recorded for this track, or a sample from somewhere else?

  3. 28
    Kinitawowi on 6 May 2014 #

    #27: I get that feeling eventually, but fortunately I still have some recollection of the number ones all the way up to Christmas 2009; after that it all gets a bit “was *that* a number one?”.

  4. 29
    hectorthebat on 6 May 2014 #

    #27 It’s a sped up version of 1:50 here? http://youtu.be/TP8zFBryUqU?t=1m50s

  5. 30
    Rory on 6 May 2014 #

    #29: Ah right, thanks. Showing my hip-hop ignorance there. The speeding up fits with the video well, because it sounds like the girls’ team chiming in. That’s what made me wonder if it was recorded for this track, with “Jam Master Jay” meaning Jam Master Jason Nevins. I can see now how that could annoy those who know who the real Jam Master Jay was, hearing Nevins appropriate a shout-out to him. Presumably it didn’t annoy Run or DMC, though, who did the initial shouting out. Or Jam Master Jay (Mizell), who was still alive in 1998. Maybe it didn’t register as appropriation? Maybe the fact that he was still alive meant that hip-hop fans heard the sped-up sample as a shout-out to Mizell, while listeners ignorant of rap history (like me!) heard it as a reference to “Run-DMC vs Jason Nevins”.

  6. 31
    Alex on 9 May 2014 #

    My hip-hop obsessed skater mates appreciated it, and I think whatever it loses on credibility it makes up for with fun. (I mean, if you’re going to moan about authenticity, the whole premise of this project goes down the toilet and you can join me in shameless elitism.)

  7. 32
    S. Braun on 26 May 2014 #

    You all are fucked. The song is a hit. Plain and simple. All of you that dig deep into the record have no clue. It’s just pure fun, nothing more. All you Run Dmc fans bash on it but it sold millions of copies and was #1 on the pop chart in about 30 countries. The song is still played today. Most people don’t even know the original from 1998. Give Nevins his props for digging the original and group out of graveyard. They made millions on what Nevins brought to the table. You people are really clueless and are looking too deeply into the meaning of why it was done. I was there and I know first hand.

  8. 33
    punctum on 26 May 2014 #

    Didn’t bother listening to the lyrics, though, did you? “Pure fun”? Sorry, but “I was there” isn’t good enough in this post-LCD Soundsystem age.

  9. 34
    James BC on 27 May 2014 #

    For me the rhyme scheme and delivery are so old-school hip hop that in the remix, as heard in 1998, the meaning and social commentary get lost – the only thing that comes across is “here is some old-school hip hop rapping”. So I can see how the track can have those lyrics and still be “pure fun”.

  10. 35
    Mark G on 27 May 2014 #

    I disagree.

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