Hip-Hop Gems: The Kool G Rap Masterpiece ‘On the Run’

Ask the older generations about the “Golden Age of Hip-Hop” and you’ll see the eyes of many start to glaze over. Soon, they’ll start reciting the names of the era’s great rappers, DJs, and producers: Eric B & Rakim, Marley Marl, Big Daddy Kane, KRS-One, Public Enemy, and others.

And you’ll hear the name Kool G Rap spoken of with equal reverence. For fans of modern rap, he’s the one Jay-Z refers to in “Encore” (“like hearing G Rap in his prime”). He’s also a rapper Eminem named as one of his biggest influences when he accepted his Grammy Award in 2003.

Kool G Rap (aka KGR), the Corona, Queens legend, had his peak years with DJ Polo right in that golden-age era (roughly 1986-95). In 1992, the duo released Live and Let Die, the third and final album of their partnership. That LP yielded a true hip-hop masterpiece — a mob movie in song — titled “On the Run.”

Kool G Rap & DJ Polo brought their best on 1992’s ‘On the Run’

Kool G Rap wearing a gold rope with DJ Polo in 1988
American rap duo Kool G Rap & DJ Polo (Nathaniel Wilson, left, and Thomas Pough), circa 1988 | Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

The first time anyone hears Kool G Rap, they usually remark on his ability as a lyricist and MC. Whether he’s rapping about hustling (“Road to the Riches”) or delivering his nasty-sex material (“Talk Like Sex,” “Operation CB”), G Rap showcases a level of creativity and skill even golden-age rappers rarely matched.

DJ Polo worked in lockstep with him, starting with “It’s a Demo,” the mid-’80s cut that got the duo into Marley’s Juice Crew. On the G Rap-Polo debut LP Road to the Riches they pioneered the sort of mafioso style many rappers took on in later years. But nobody ever did it better than they did in “On the Run.”

RELATED: Why 2Pac Embraced the ‘Vaudevillian Variety Show’ of Digital Underground Early in His Career

While the album cut had a cool video and mostly the same lyrics, the “On the Run (Remix) (Al Capone Version)” featured on the Killer Kuts (1993) best-of compilation did it one better. The remix includes a sharper piano hook and leaves out the sax part while bringing the bass levels higher.

With that production behind him, Kool G Rap proceeds to spin a mob yarn worthy of Goodfellas. “I got a job with the mob, makin’ g’s,” he begins. “Doin’ some pickups, deliveries, transportin’ kees.” He’s a low-level bagman who decides to keep some suitcases full of cash. Then he goes on the run.

Kool G Rap painted the ultimate New York high-speed chase and shootout

Kool G Rap portrait with his arm raised, yellow T shirt
Kool G Rap (born Nathaniel Wilson) in the ’90s | Getty Images

What separates “On the Run” from other attempts at mafia-don raps is G Rap’s level of detail. As he ponders the risks of stealing a bag, he drops a classic New York couplet. “The thought alone makes me shiver, damn / ‘Cause if I get caught they’ll find me floatin’ in the Hudson River.”

After he hits the road, he’s got more where that came from. “I’m driving and I’m looking at passport / I’m outta here soon as I reach Kennedy Airport.” Once the bullets start flying, he’s gotta change plans. “You know I’m headin’ south, no doubt / Don’t care about my whereabouts as long as it’s a hideout.”

As songcraft goes, these lines are perfection. And the way G Rap lives inside this particular mix (the Al Capone version) make it a notch above others in the style. Then you have the angry Robert De Niro clip (as Capone) from The Untouchables.

Though Live and Let Die might have been the least of the three G Rap-Polo LPs, they left behind a gem that hasn’t aged a day in 28 years. It’s the perfect companion piece to Goodfellas and other classic mob movies of the period. G Rap and Polo made a hell of a movie with this one.

RELATED: Public Enemy’s ‘Fight the Power’ Hasn’t Aged a Bit After 31 Years