You'd think Run-D.M.C. would be feeling the pressure.
It's been two years since the rap trio's album "Raising Hell"--which included a galvanizing remake of Aerosmith's "Walk This Way"--helped establish a commercial beachhead for street-oriented rap music among previously resistant white rock fans.
Since then, several colorful and highly marketable new heroes have surfaced in the rap world of sassy rhymes and hip-hop rhythms.
Two of 1987's biggest-selling albums were by rap artists: the Beastie Boys' "Licensed to Ill" and L.L. Cool J's "Bigger and Deffer," which sold more than 4 million and 2 million, respectively, last year.
Another rap LP--the controversial "Yo! Bum Rush the Show," by the politically conscious Public Enemy group--was voted the best album of 1987 in England's prestigious New Musical Express critics' poll. Two other rap entries--Scott La Rock's "Criminal Minded" and Eric B & Rakim's "Paid in Full"--also finished in the NME critics' Top 10.
With all this success by rival groups, it's easy to imagine Run-D.M.C. wondering if there's still a place at the top for them in the fast-changing world of rap.
To compound matters, the rap trio is involved in a pair of lawsuits with its record company, Profile, that could hold up the release of Run-D.M.C.'s much-awaited next album.
But the three members of the group--Joseph Simmons, Darryl McDaniels and Jason Mizell--were pictures of confidence as they sat in a Manhattan studio last week, going through the final edit of "Papa Crazy," a song from the still-untitled new album with the dynamics and musical spunk to suggest an '80s rap equivalent of the Temptations' 1972 gem "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone."
Simmons, known for an infectious strut on stage, was twisting his arms and upper body so vigorously to the music that he seemed have mastered the sitting strut.
After a half-hour, Simmons, 23, asked the engineer to play another track, "Run's House," a good-natured celebration of the trio's lofty status in rap that exudes an equally energetic and assured musical tone.
During a break in the editing session, Simmons reflected on the group's mood as it prepares to re-enter the rap sweepstakes, "We've been (away) a long time, but it doesn't matter. We're delighted that rap is being received this way.
"We kept telling everybody that rap music was more than just a fad, that there was variety. I always expected other rappers to come along and be accepted. To me, the better they do, the more of a challenge we feel. It inspires us to make better records."
While there are considerable rock sensibilities on the album, Simmons suggested, the group isn't doing another remake a la "Walk This Way."
Explained Simmons, "We've already done it. It'd be dumb for us to do it again or to do a record with the Beach Boys or someone. . . . It was a one-time thing and it was great, but we want to surprise people with something new."
Said McDaniels, "Besides, we never did set out to 'capture' the rock market with our music. We just did what we wanted to do--and that's where it led us."
The main question on the trio's mind was when the album will hit the stores. They expect to have it finished within two weeks, which would normally mean an April or May release. But there's the legal dispute with Profile.
Rush Productions, which manages Run-D.M.C., filed a $6.8-million suit in New York State Supreme Court in July, charging Profile and its publishing company, Protoons, with nonpayment of royalties and publishing incomes.
Profile then initiated a $2-million counterclaim in August, accusing Rush owner Russell Simmons--the brother of Joseph--with trying, in effect, to move the group to another label, and with failing to deliver a new Run-D.M.C. album by an Oct. 1, 1986, due date.
Still, Russell Simmons said in a separate interview Friday that he expects a single from the new album to be in the stores by April 1 on Profile--or another label. There was no immediate comment available from Profile on Simmons' prediction.
Also in the air is "Tougher Than Leather," the so-called "Dirty Harry"-style action movie that the group made last year.
"The plan is to put the album out and have it become steaming hot and then drop the movie on your head," Simmons said. Before returning to the studio for more work on the album, he added, "We know this is an important record for us. That's why we didn't wait until a month ago or something. We started work on the album as soon as we finished the last album. It may have been two years, but it wasn't two years of doing nothing."
MORE BEATLES ON CD: Now that the first 12 Beatles albums have been released on compact disc, Capitol Records has announced plans to release two albums on CD that will feature a collection of Beatles tracks that weren't contained on the earlier packages. The selections include some of the tunes released only as singles, special EP tracks and such oddities as two German language recordings ("I Want to Hold Your Hand" and "She Loves You"), according to a Capitol spokeswoman. The packages are scheduled to be in stores on March 8.
Among the recordings on "Past Masters--Vol. 1": "Love Me Do," "She Loves You," "I Want to Hold Your Hand," "I Call Your Name," "Matchbox," "I Feel Fine" and "I'm Down." Scheduled for Vol. 2: "Day Tripper," "We Can Work It Out," "Paperback Writer," "Lady Madonna," "Hey Jude," "Revolution," "Get Back," "The Ballad of John and Yoko," "Across the Universe" and "Let It Be."
LIVE ACTION: The Russian rock group, Avtograf, will be at the Roxy on Feb. 8. . . . John Cougar Mellencamp has added a third show--March 1--to his Los Angeles Sports Arena engagement. Tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m. . . . Yes will be at the Forum on March 2 and at Pacific Amphitheatre on March 5. Tickets for the Forum date go on sale today, while tickets for the Pacific show will be available Monday. . . . Gene Loves Jezebel and Flesh for Lulu will be at the Bren Events Center in Irvine on March 4 and at the Universal Amphitheatre on March 5. Echo & the Bunnymen will be at Universal on April 2. . . . Don Williams will be at the Celebrity Theatre in Anaheim on March 24, while John Anderson will be at the Crazy Horse in Santa Ana on Feb. 8.