Song 241: Run-D.M.C., “It’s Tricky” (1986)

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You don’t often hear hip-hop songs about how hard it is to rap. Everything’s supposed to sound effortless, and you’re supposed to be the best, the richest, the greatest that ever lived. So it’s surprising—still!—to hear a track about how it’s not only hard to rap as Run-D.M.C., but how hard it is to be Run-D.M.C. Sure, Kanye raps about he can’t get a damn croissant, and Jay-Z raps about the jealous rookies nipping at his heels, but you don’t often hear lines like “I’m not braggin’, people naggin, ‘cuz they think I’m a star.” People think I’m a star. They must be mistaken.

Admittedly, this difference is largely due to a philosophical gap between early rap and modern hip-hop. But I really do think there was a humility to Run-D.M.C., a kind of disbelief that they completely lucked out. “It’s Tricky” is full of rabid fans and fancy cars, but behind it all are Run, D.M.C., and Jam Master Jay, just trying to keep up. It’s not swagger, it’s angst.

Of course, this humility is completely unwarranted. The first four tracks of the group’s (and genre’s) breakthrough, Raising Hell, are like a road map for the future of hip-hop: “Peter Piper,” “It’s Tricky,” “My Adidas,” “Walk This Way.” You don’t get a better Side 1 than that.

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