Attention old skool hip-hop fans, there is a little seen, uh, cinematic relic from the mid-80s, the Run DMC-starring Tougher Than Leather that’s been recently posted on YouTube. You might want to clap eyes on this one pronto because I don’t think it will be there for long.
Directed by Rick Rubin, produced by Russell Simmons, with a screenplay written by Rick Menello and Rick Rubin, Tougher Than Leather is a mind-blowing mix of a blaxploitation flick and a spaghetti western. It co-stars the Beastie Boys, iconic 80s punky pornstar Lois Ayres and actor/musician Richard Edson (Stranger Than Paradise and a gazillion other films).
Spike Lee was originally offered the script, but did the right thing and wisely turned this turkey down. Here’s a portion of a Washington Post review by Richard Harrington
Run-DMC’s “Tougher Than Leather” is vile, vicious, despicable, stupid, sexist, racist and horrendously made. Call it rap-ploitation, but since it’s a pure product of Russell Simmons’ Rush/Def Jam rap empire, that’s just another word for business as usual. Sometimes there’s no difference between in-house and outhouse.
Blacks, Jews, women, gays—they’re all fodder for this gang. Are crass exploitation and ugly race- and gender-baiting excusable because the perpetrators are often themselves victims? No, particularly when it’s done as gracelessly as it’s done here.
Dangerous Minds pal, photographer Glen E. Friedman had this to say on his blog this morning:
If you’ve never seen this fictional 1988 “student film” of Rick Rubin’s then you must ASAP, especially If you are a fan of Run-DMC, The Beastie Boys, Rick Rubin, or Def Jam during the early years, (there’s also a classic Junk Yard band performance at a backyard party, and Slick Rick to name a few.)
I have no idea how long Tougher Than Leather will last on YouTube, and it’s not on DVD as far as I know, but it’s a classic, tasteless epic, that needs to be seen to be believed. It actually played in theaters to riots. Some great cameo’s too (Rick’s dad, Russell Simmons dad [RIP] who put in two of the greatest performances in the film, to name a few, besides the infamous Richard Edson, and Lois Ayres, George Drakoulias and I running down the street for a hot second at around the one hour mark too).
If you live in lower Manhattan you may also recognize some of the locations all within a walk from the original Def Jam offices at 298 Elizabeth street. I shot some stills on the film that I’ll add below (the poster up top was based on one of my photos as well.)
Enjoy, I know you will. I’m re-watching, after not seeing it for over 20 years, as i’m putting together this post, and it’s blowing my mind.
When this film was shot, in 1986, I actually lived two blocks away from the Def Jam office (I was on Elizabeth and Spring, Def Jam’s HQ was just north of Houston Street in a little house between tenement buildings). It’s difficult to imagine this now, but 25-years ago that neighborhood was so full of crack dealers that I carried a switchblade with me at all times (My rent was $250 for what would rent for $2500, or more, today).
A roommate of mine, who didn’t actually live in the apartment, he just used it as a photography studio, also shot some set stills for Tougher Than Leather . I came home from work one day, still wearing the ridiculous Von Trapp family-esque uniform of a restaurant where I was working at the time. Usually I changed right after my shift, but that day I was too lazy and just wore it home on the subway. With my key still in the door, the three members of Run DMC turned and looked at me like I was a strangely-dressed bug. I recall quickly changing into my normal clothes and slipping out to let them finish, mortified at what they saw me wearing. True story and one I can tell better in person, but it’s more embarrassing than this version!