Record Label: Get On Down
Too many people sleep on Tougher Than Leather, Run-DMC’s 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 album’s first single, “Run’s House” b/w “Beats To The Rhyme” is arguably the most powerful one-two punch of the trio’s 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 world’s 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 wasn’t just bubblegum – there was an edge to it, and the lyrical gymnastics were very real. It wasn’t 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 group’s first three LPs. It’s 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 decade’s most important groups. It encompasses the full range of the trio’s capabilities, and reminds us that Run-DMC should never be forgotten as both pioneers and party-rockers. And so, we say, long live Joe, Darryl and Jay!
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Joseph Abajian (DJ Jab) founded Fat Beats in 1994 with nothing more than a shoestring budget and an earnest obsession with the music, the culture, and the brotherhood of New York’s burgeoning rap scene. What began as a simple vinyl shop in Manhattan’s Lower East Side quickly became an integral hub for artists, both aspiring and established, to convene and collaborate on new projects. Joseph’s timing couldn’t have been more impeccable. When the 90’s cultural zeitgeist – and, in turn, the music industry establishment – chose hip-hop as its new arbiter of cool.
International tourists and touring artists alike flocked to Fat Beats for rare vinyl, kindred spirits, and exclusive in-store performances from Jay Z, Eminem, Gang Starr, Outkast, Slum Village, Mos Def, and more. One thing was clear: the Fat Beats phenomenon could no longer be contained in a single basement shop.
In the late nineties, Abajian proceeded to open new stores in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Los Angeles, and Atlanta. He further expanded the company’s profile to include global distribution and record label branches. Distribution has since proven to be the company’s strongest and most enduring enterprise. Today Fat Beats Distribution stands poised as one of the country’s pre-eminent distributors of vinyl & specialty item records: a proud survivor in an industry now famous for its mortality rate. Despite market fluctuations, technology innovations, and stylistic revolutions, Fat Beats has remained steadfast in its commitment to the timeless vinyl format and to the loyal community who keeps it spinning.
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