Never been released on DVD, Tougher Than Leather (1988) directed by Rick Rubin and starring Rubin, Run DMC and The Beastie Boys is a weird blend of blaxploitation, tongue-in-cheek farce and home movie. I like its don’t-give-a-fuck sloppiness - kind of like Scorsese on a glue-sniffing bender. Plus, it manages to insult virtually every race, creed and gender on the planet.
With Slick Rick, Russell Simmons and Richard Edson.
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).
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!
While my co-conspirators here at Dangerous Minds are asleep or away for the weekend, I like to slip in a little something that might be met with disapproval if they were around… in this case, a mash-up. While there are those among us who find mash-ups played out, I still find joy in a well-constructed and imaginative melding of often incongruous elements into something that coheres in novel or humorous ways, expanding upon the original sources, resulting in a fusion that can be lesser or better than the sum of its parts or their equal. A really good mash-up can become a beautiful thing of its own, transcending its sources and finding a sonic identity of and beyond its sources.
In “Whole Lotta Sex Machine,” I think the combination of Led Zeppelin and James Brown creates some genuine heat and it is sure as shit entertaining. This has been around for a couple of years as an audio track (in fact its appeared on DM in the past), but last year DJ Eric ILL added a video mash-up to the audio mix by Fissunix.
Vocals: James Brown - “Sex Machine”
Guitar riff : Led Zeppelin - “Whole Lotta Love”
Drum loop: Run DMC & Aerosmith - “Walk This Way”
Before Yo! MTV Raps and Rap City hit the markets in the late ‘80s, New York culture maven Michael Holman first made the move to put hip-hop culture on TV with the show Graffiti Rock.
In 1984, Holman—who played music with Jean-Michel Basquiat and Vincent Gallo in the legendarily obscure band Grey—got a bunch of banker friends to put together $150,000 to shoot the pilot for the series at Madison Ave. and 106th St. It screened on WPIX channel 11 in June 1984.
Holman turned the show into a seminar on the culture. Alongside future superstars Run D.M.C., Kool Moe Dee and Shannon—and cameos by “Prince Vince” Gallo and Debi Mazar—he featured his own crew the New York City Breakers, pieces by graf artist Brim, and hilarious slang translations. For the time, the show is pretty slick and ready for prime-time. Holman picks up the tragic story from there…
So the show airs and actually does much better than people thought! We got great ratings and aired in 88 syndicated markets, nationwide. But when we went to Las Vegas to sell the show at NAPTE (National Association of Producers of Television Entertainment) we hit a wall. First, the station managers (the people responsible for purchasing new shows in their markets) didn’t understand why “Graffiti Rock,” and hip hop was different to what Soul Train was offering. Secondly, certain stations wouldn’t take the chance to buy “Graffiti Rock,” unless other, larger markets did first. Chicago was waiting on L.A. to bite, and L.A. was waiting on New York. But the major New York syndicated stations at the time, were controlled by unsavory characters, and they wanted money under the table to put the show on the air! My main investors refused to deal with these forces (I of course would have done whatever I had to to get it on the air, and am still pissed they didn’t play along!)...
Graffiti Rock proved a legendary snapshot into what hip-hop TV was about to be. What a shot in the arm it would have been for the culture. Gnarls Barkley would later lovingly spoof Holman and the show for the video for their 2008 hit “Run” and before that, the Beastie Boys sampled Holman’s excellent little seminar on scratching in pt. 2 on their tune “Alright Hear This.”
I’ll leave part 3 of the YouTube of Graffiti Rock off this post in an appeal for you to reward a culture hero like Holman by buying the DVD.
Here’s a really wonderful interview with one of my favorite photographers and artists, Glen E. Friedman. Do yourself a favor and watch the video. From State Magazine:
It was then that I found that the most beautiful, gripping color photographs were taken by just a single photographer, a very young teenager, by the name of Glen E. Friedman. Glen would go on to take these skills he learnt as a kid and apply them to his other great love in life, music. What you’re about to hear is an interview I did with Glen, who describes for you, some of his favourite shots from the last four decades. It’s a journey which has taken Glen from the mosh-pits of American punk-rock with bands like Black Flag and Fugazi to the suburban streets with hip-hop where Public Enemy, Beastie Boys, Run DMC, LL Cool J, A Tribe Called Quest and Ice-T all became subjects in front of Glen’s lens. So, less talk, more action; press play. After all, they say a picture is worth a thousand…well, you know…