Run-DMC released their fourth album 35 years ago on May 17th 1988. Sony/Legacy is reissuing the album on May 12th on black vinyl as part of their celebration of 50 years of Hip-Hop.
Too many people sleep on Tougher Than Leather, Run-DMCs fourth album. But hear us out as we plead the case for this amazing LP. By 1988 there was a lot more competition in the rap game – Public Enemy, Boogie Down Productions, Eric B. & Rakim, Ice-T and many more had given Hollis, Queens prodigal sons lots of competition. But Joe, Darryl and Jay were still at the top of their game, and hip-hop fans should never let this classic – chiefly produced by their Queens neighbor, DJ and multi-instrumentalist Davy D[MX] – get lost in their crates.
For starters, the albums first single, Runs House b/w Beats To The Rhyme is arguably the most powerful one-two punch of the trios career, showing contenders to the rap throne that they could still destroy a beat, tag-teaming with power at any speed. Not to be lost in the shuffle, fans were also reminded on both sides that Jam-Master Jay remained one of the worlds best DJs, flexing the pinnacle of what would be called turntablism a decade later. Both songs show a musical telepathy between all three that has rarely been equaled.
The second single, Mary, Mary, driven by an infectious Monkees sample, took a different approach, shrewdly ensuring that pop fans who jumped on the Raising Hell bandwagon had something to chew on. But, like Walk This Way, the song wasnt just bubblegum – there was an edge to it, and the lyrical gymnastics were very real. It wasnt selling out, it was allowing fans to buy in. Papa Crazy, driven in concept and by a sample from the Temptations Papa Was A Rolling Stone, followed a similar pop-leaning path.
Overall, the lyrical content on the album was a step up from the groups first three LPs. Its easy to infer, looking back, that they were feeling the heat from their younger competitors in the rap game. The genre was changing fast, and they were up to the challenge. On cuts like Radio Station they bring substance to the grooves, by attacking Black Radio for its continual denigration of rap. Tougher Than Leather reminds the world that they were still the Kings of Rock, with hard guitars to drive the point home. And They Call Us Run-DMC and Soul To Rock And Roll both bring things back to their early days, with sure-fire park jam rhymes and killer cuts.
Tougher Than Leather, which went platinum up against a lot of competition, perfectly bookends the 80s output of one of the decades most important groups. It encompasses the full range of the trios capabilities, and reminds us that Run-DMC should never be forgotten as both pioneers and party-rockers. RIP Jam Master Jay
A1 Run's House
A2 Mary, Mary
A3 They Call Us Run-D.M.C.
A4 Beats To The Rhyme
A5 Radio Station
A6 Papa Crazy
B1 Tougher Than Leather
B2 I'm Not Going Out Like That
B3 How'd Ya Do It Dee
B4 Miss Elaine
B5 Soul To Rock And Roll