Rock ‘n’ roll as we knew it is mostly dead and gone, that’s the general consensus (among rock critics at least). Anymore, there’s only one place that raw invention, desperate energy, populist intuition, crass entrepreneurialism, and great fuckin’ beats can be heard with any regularity–on the college stations at the left of the dial, not on the ever-more-boring white bohemian “underground music” programs, but on the late night hip-hop shows. Two years ago, Run-D.M.C., two rappers and their DJ, dominated those shows in every way (airplay, musical power, freshness); the kings of rap, sure, but they reached for, claimed, and earned the title “King of Rock”–the album, Raising Hell, was probably the best American rock ‘n’ roll record of 1986. Now, two years later, most pop has just muddled along, but rap has undergone a number of little revolutions, topping itself, undermining itself, twisting and turning on the roller-coaster ride all great pop movements undergo, and Run-D.M.C. have had to put their all into reclaiming the crown. For various reasons, the result of their efforts, Tougher Than Leather, doesn’t do it–it’s not as earnest as Boogie Down Productions, as smart as Kool Moe Dee, as funky as Eric B. & Rakim, as furious as Public Enemy, as vivacious as Salt ‘n Pepa–but that doesn’t mean it’s wack, not by a long shot (it throws down, it tears up, it kicks, bites and scratches); it just shows how sharp the competition is. Onstage, Run-D.M.C. will work hard against their rivals, and thus play even harder for you–an increasingly rare example of free enterprise at its best. Tonight, 8 PM, pavilion, University of Illinois at Chicago, Harrison and Racine; 413-5700.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Janette Beckman.