RUN-D.M.C. Step Up Their Sample Game On Tougher Than Leather | Album Review

run dmc ttl 88.jpg

How Classic? 5 out of 6

Released: May 17, 1988

Run-DMC's sample-heavy fourth album, Tougher Than Leather was released on May 17th, 1988. The album sees the group continue to distance themselves from the hard rock sound they applied to much of their previous two albums, especially 1985's «King Of Rock», and go for a big booming drum sound utilizing nifty drum machine techniques and plenty of sample wizardy. The production really stands out on this album as it's of a very high caliber but the studio effects are sometimes a bit too much and have blurring effect on overall sound of the songs. But this is nit-picking as TTL lacks any filler tracks and is rock solid all the way through, with plenty of classic Run-DMC songs for the lucky listeners of this stellar album.

RUN-DMC My Adidas World Tour 1988

RUN-DMC My Adidas World Tour 1988

'Run's House' kicks off the album with its heavy vibrating kick drums and snares full of reverb coupled a deep bass and chugging samples courtesy of Jam Master Jay. Run and DMC's vocals are fresh and happening and are treated to studio echo for extra effect. Next is the catchy 'Mary Mary' which is based the Monkees song of the same name, with its bluesy rock n roll vibe, a fast breakbeat and plenty of deft cutting. The ensuing track 'They Call Us Run-D.M.C.' is full of pumping beats, boomy bass, and amplke amounts of scratching, together with frantic rapping that confirms that Run-DMC mean business.



The fourth track is the stone cold classic 'Beats To The Rhyme' which features a slinky sounding sample which runs throughout the track mixed with a swift and rolling hi-hat and a beat that includes some dope turntable juggling, beatboxing and plenty of sharp cuts. Another amazing aspect of this song is how the vocals integrate seamlessly with the samples and turntable tricks making 'BTTR' one of hip-hop's all-time best tracks and a hip-hop extravaganza to behold.

Radio Station features a muscular beat and sharp cuts while the lyrics follow a more standard structure, as Run and DMC take turns rapping instead of finishing each other's lines. Next ‘Papa Crazy’ is a horn-driven track with a tight and banging beat and even a sweet piano solo, the track builds towards the end. After that track ends it’s time for the rock-driven title track that begins with the dual vocals from the boys stating that they are:

Unconceivable, unbelievable
Grammar like a hammer information receivable
Sent by the Lord, here and abroad
With words well adored now they can't be ignored!

The track features excellent multiple rhyming structures that a quite entertaining and deliciously braggadocious. The lyrics are uplifting, positive and are delivered with solid stances that are punctuated with echo effects. The guitar and drums are tight and funky and provide a solid foundation that is suitable for breakdancing and headbanging alike. Some of the nice guitar techniques applied are the quick breakdown after every verse as well as the funky wah-wah effect during the midsection which is reminiscent of Jimi Hedrix’s Voodoo Child although it builds on the tail part adding a more modern sounding lick.


I’m Not Going Out Like That is an uptempo number with percussive bass and almost bongo style drumming. Coupled with high energy vocals and cutting it makes for an exciting rhythmic affair. How'd Ya Do It Dee begins with a bad ass intro delivered by DMC which is reminiscent of the opening intro to Dr. Dre’s The Chronic. The rapping on this track stands out with its unusual flows which are laid over a beat that is driven by a shaker. Next, they return to another rock laden track with ‘Miss Elaine’ which is uptempo and reminiscent of ‘Walk This Way’ both musically and lyrically. Up next is another rockin’ track named ‘Soul To Rock & Roll’ with a swinging beat that is tapered with a little twisting guitar riff.

The album ends with a storytelling number called ‘Rag Time’ which is reminiscent of Slick Rick even down to the English accent. Musically it's self-explanatory as it applies a ragtime rhythm and even features a saxophone solo at the end. A unexpected but pleasant way to end a bass heavy and sample driven record. TTL really is an underrated album which contains multiple classics and a heap of solid material making this an album you can play back-to-back, and back again.

tougher than leather back cover.jpg

How Classic Is Tougher Than Leather?

CLASSIC: Beats to the Rhyme - DOPE: Run's House, Mary Mary, They Call Us Run-D.M.C., Tougher Than Leather, Miss Elaine SOLID: Papa Crazy, I'm Not Going Out Like That, How'd Ya Do It, Soul To Rock And Roll, Ragtime OKAY: Radio Station
Alexander Ramalho