RUN-DMC : “Back From Hell” <i> Profile</i> ***

Toward the end of the A side of Run-DMC’s fifth album, rapper Darryl McDaniels growls over the fading track, “The 1990s, and ain’t nothin’ changed. Punk.”

Nothing, that is, except the group’s delivery, beats, lyric content, rap style and temperament. In other words, nearly everything about Run-DMC has changed.

And mostly for the better.

With “Back,” the group makes an earnest effort to win back the hard-core hip-hop crowd it tantalized in the early 1980s--but had lost by the decade’s close with a bungled attempt at rock and rap fusion that diluted their sound. For the most part, the group clings to rap’s contemporary hard-core sound--dense scratches, some sampling and heavy, spare drum beats.


The album hits the ground smoking as McDaniels and deejay Jam Master Jay kick it off with “Sucker DJs,” a throwback to rap’s formative years over the beat to their “Sucker MCs,” a certified urban classic.

“Back” then moves into funky sermons about the dangers of drugs (“Pause”) and life in the ghetto (“The Ave.”). The album stumbles only once: on the title track, as Run-DMC again tries to lay staid guitar licks over a rigid drum track. Fortunately, the album never heads in that direction again.

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor) to five (a classic).