Class Of ’88: Tougher Than Leather

 

When a conversation comes up about who is the greatest group of all time, don’t play yourself. You already know what it is. RUN-D.M.C. are the kings of this Rap ish and every crew that followed after could never touch the crown.

 

Consisting of Joe “RUN” Simmons, Darryl “D.M.C.” McDaniels and the late great Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, the Queens trio would go on to put Hip-Hop on a national level. With hit records like “It’s Like That,” “My Adidas,” and “Walk This Way,” the mainstream could no longer ignore us.

 

On their way to the top it seemed RUN-D.M.C. would go unmatched, but things would get more competitive for them in 1988. No longer were the shelltoes and Cazals the only things popping on the streets. Now burgeoning acts like Public Enemy, EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, Big Daddy Kane would take their first steps into stardom.

 

With that in mind RUN-D.M.C would head back to the lab to prove their reign would not be cut short. They would attempt to make that statement with their fourth album Tougher Than Leather.

 

While it would not match the critical acclaim of its predecessor Raising Hell, Tougher Than Leather would still be a staple of one the greatest years in Rap with massive joints like “Run’s House,” “Beats To The Rhyme,” and “Mary, Mary.”

 

In honor of the disc’s twenty year anniversary and also June being Black Music Month we speak to founding member D.M.C. We get a track by track breakdown on the album, talk about their run-ins with other rappers and crack the code on why Queens team is no longer.

 

“Run’s House”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: I guess you can say that was influenced by Public Enemy. We were like Chuck killed “Funky Drummer” (“Bring The Noise”). Every rapper wanted to rhyme over that. So we took it and made it hard like one of our routines. The title came from when we used to the Raising Hell tour.

 

Every night Run used to ask the crowd whose house is it. There was a lot of competition at the time. You had LL [Cool J], De La [Soul], EPMD, so we had to make a statement. It was like we got love for all ya’ll and there can never be one king of this, but we are the kings of this stage. Someone might go on and sell more records, but Rap is Run’s house.

 

“Mary, Mary”

Produced By Rick Rubin

 

D.M.C.: We wanted to be creative. We wanted to make a song that described certain stereotypes, certain situations, certain aspects of people but we didn’t want to be so blatant and corny with it. So when we did “Mary, Mary” it could mean the girl on the block that smokes crack, and why is this lady sweating me about my Rap lyrics and why is this girl running around sleeping with everybody. We used that break beat (“The Monkees”) because we lived out of the crates.

 

“They Call Us RUN-D.M.C.”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: That record we wanted to give a different sound because if you listen to the drums on that record they’re like those big Mantronix drums. We didn’t want to be too monotonous with our sound so with that record we wanted that big drum. I personally didn’t like that record, because it didn’t feel it was evolved enough because it was a simpler chorus.

 

If you listen to the record it’s not as complex as everything else. It was a point in time that people already knew our names (laughs), so I was like why do we got to keep saying our names. I remember Wyclef Jean saying that RUN-D.M.C. were the only rappers that could keep saying their names over and over again and make it dope.

 

“Beats To The Rhyme”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: That one is crazy. The reason the rhyme went like that is because we did the rhyme and then Jay did the beat later and worked the beat to our rhymes that’s why it’s called “Beats To The Rhyme.” But see a lot of people said that record was ahead of it’s time.

 

That record came out in ’88 and it was so futuristic, complex; it was very busy. If you really think about it and break it down, it was really a Cold Crush routine. We were fortunate to have “Run’s House” and “Beats To The Rhyme” kind of save that album; for real.

 

“Radio Station”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: I hated it. It was just a corny idea when Joe thought about it. I don’t want to put all the blame on him, I think we got lazy. Because we had “Run’s House,” we knew we had “Beats To The Rhyme.” Those are the records we would listen to over and over and over. Even when the album got leaked in Hollis, they used to only play those two songs. So we kind of knew this album is going to be a hit and this is going to be easy.

 

We said this; let’s make a record for this market, for these people and let’s go for the radio. They played Biz Mark’s but they didn’t play ours (laughs). It was a lame attempt because we thought we could do something easy. The negativity in my voice is because of the final product of the record. I thought the record was a little too cliché. The purpose of the record was to give props to radio. But RUN-D.M.C. were the last people to care about radio.

 

“Papa Crazy”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: I hated that one too (laughs). When you asked me to speak about 1988, I was getting high so much so for me for that album it was like what’s the subject, here’s the rhyme. “Papa Crazy” was our attempt of trying to do commercial pop music meaning we wanted to get away from just rapping over Rock records.

 

So we had to think up subjects to Rap about so Joe’s idea was like “Yo we’re like The Temptations now so let’s do a record like “Papa Was A Rolling Stone.” Don’t get me wrong, it was good to try but it didn’t do what it was intended to do.

 

“Tougher Than Leather”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: “Tougher Than Leather” was the fourth Rock joint we made. I remember I wasn’t happy with it. I remember driving with Jay because I hung out a lot with him at the time and I was like yo Jay I don’t know. I guess because “King Of Rock” got you right away, and “Tougher Than Leather” had to set you up.

 

We were driving around in Jay’s tricked out 98 and I told Jay I wanted to do my lyrics over and he pulled over and told me “are you f***ing crazy?” For some reason I was like it ain’t better than “King Of Rock” though! I wanted to do my lyrics over because I didn’t feel my lyrics were tough enough.

 

He made me sit down and listen to it and then the thing that got me to like it is that Jay told me “I just played this for Eric B. & Rakim last night and they flipped out over it.” So I was like okay okay, it must be good (laughs). It was like I was a little kid; oh Eric B. & Rakim, okay (laughs).

 

Run used to hate the fact that I used to like everything except my sh*t. Yeah the fame was all good, but I loved Hip-Hop so much. When I heard EPMD, Rakim, PE I used to cry at night like why can’t we make “Seven Minutes Of Funk.”

 

“I’m Not Going Out Like That”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: Everyone was saying that back in the day. So who better than us to do a record about one of the hit sayings?

 

“How’d Ya Do It Dee”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: That was the B-Boy sh*t, see that was my revenge. Russell [Simmons] wasn’t a big weed smoker but if he came on the road with us he would smoke. He wouldn’t believe how silly we were. When he wasn’t doing Rush management or running labels, he would always come roll with us.

 

We used to love Russell coming with us because he would be like (in high pitched voice) “It’s going to be so much fun, where we going?” He would ask why the hell we had all these 40’s. We would get off the plane pull out our weed and our 40’s and he would be like “let me get some” like a little kid. He would take two pulls of the joint and would make me rhyme. We named it “How’d Ya Do It Dee” because that was Russell’s reflection on how fun everything was at the time.

 

“Miss Elaine”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: Joe had an idea out of nowhere to make that record because that was his daughter’s teacher in elementary school. It was another attempt at us doing Pop Rock records, so we needed subject matter. We were tired of making records of how good and dope we are. It was a record named after Vanessa’s elementary school teacher.

 

“Soul To Rock And Roll”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: If you listen to that record completely, you know that record was influenced by Public Enemy. We loved Public Enemy. They were our favorite group because of me! That was our tribute to PE because there was nothing better out that time; my favorite group.

 

“Rag Time”

Produced By Davy D

 

D.M.C.: That was the flavor of the time. From our perspective that us trying to reach “Perfection;” and to us that was “Ladi Da Di.” That was the humor Rap. It was Slick Rick and Jazzy Jeff & Fresh Prince. When we heard “Ladi Da Di,” it was scary dope; to every MC.

 

[In regards to the initial reception of Tougher Than Leather]

 

D.M.C.: When the album dropped the expectations were so high because Raising Hell was so big and people thought Tougher Than Leather was a flop. Run went crazy over it because we were kings of the world. This is when he started getting depressed about it and bugged out. It was a wake up call to everyone in our camp like yo, things are really changing now.

 

I remember being at a meeting at Russell’s house in the city and Russell saying “What the f*** is wrong with you Joey?” “You just sold a million and a half records.” “Don’t you know that there are artists not even in Hip-Hop that wish that they could sell half that much!” That was the last time I heard about that album. It wasn’t received as well as Raising Hell because the expectations were super high.

 

[In regards to RUN-D.M.C.’s unknown beefs]

 

D.M.C.: LL was killing it at the time on the road. Here comes LL who is younger than Run, has muscles, is up under Russell, is from Queens, and he got hit records. One night Run ran into LL’s dressing room screaming “Motherf***er, don’t say you’re from Hollis!” He was from Farmers [Boulevard] and he would say Hollis at his shows.

 

We also had beef with EPMD over some stupid sh*t. We were like who’s this in the dressing room and the guy is like “I’m EPMD’s man.” And we were like well you can’t be in here and this and that and one of EPMD’s boys pulls out a gun and busts two shots in the air in the dressing room. So for a day or two we weren’t talking to Parrish and Erick.

 

We had arguments with Whodini. We also had some words with Kurtis Blow. Kurtis Blow came up to me one day while “Kings Of Rock” was burning it up. He came up to me and said “Ya’ll got to stop saying ya’ll the kings.” I’m looking at him and I’m kind of scared because I’m alone and this is Kurtis Blow.

 

“Yo motherf***er don’t you ever go to my man D and say that sh*t!” Yo it was crazy. – Run to Curtis Blow

 

So I say ok; I’m thinking this is MC protocol and I got mad respect for Kurtis Blow. So Run comes back in the room and asks me what’s the matter. So I tell him I just been told we can’t do “Kings Of Rock” any more and I can’t say I’m king. So Run says “He told you that?” So he walks over to him and is like “Yo motherf***er don’t you ever go to my man D and say that sh*t!” Yo it was crazy.

 

[In regards to D.M.C.’s infamous Chevy Blazer K5]

 

D.M.C.: The Chevy Blazer K5; it had a fifty thousand dollar sound system that never worked. I had a speaker system the size of a sofa in the back of it; you couldn’t fit no luggage or nothing in it. All I did was ride around and play Public Enemy music. I would ride around and you can hear me coming from blocks away. It had like eight amps in there, it was crazy but it would play well for three days and stay in the shop for four days. But when it did work, ask people about D.M.C.’s black truck.

 

[In regards to the why RUN and D.M.C. are no longer close]

 

D.M.C.: Well my perception of the separation is they don’t have a use for me is all I can say. We never talk, we talk on two way and it’s like I got a contract for you to sign. He is doing his thing, I’m doing my thing. It’s no beef there but it will take a hell of a lot of money for me to walk back into that situation. It’s a reality of life. It’s something that happens with everybody I guess.

 

RUN-D.M.C.

“Run’s House”

 

 

RUN-D.M.C.

“Beats To The Rhyme”

 

 

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