Long before 8 Mile and Get Rich Or Die Tryin' and long before rappers took roles away from actors, there was a film that blurred the line between rapper and actor in such a way that it could have only spawned from the 80's (and the late 80's at that). It was a film where revenge was not just a dish best served cold but one of two reasons to live. The other reason being to hang out with the Beastie Boys and rock mics and stages while on tour. The masterminds behind these reasons were Rick Rubin and Run DMC. Their offering to western civilization was the long-forgotten masterpiece, Tougher Than Leather.
Released in the Fall of 1988, Tougher Than Leather, co-written and directed by Rubin, is the heartwarming tale about one rap group's quest to uncovering the mystery surrounding a friend's death. Was it murder or another death due to the crack cocaine epidemic of the late 80's urban setting. It's up to Run, DMC & Jam Master Jay to find out...and find out is what they do best (besides, the whole music thing). Through brawling in bars, breaking fingers, and shooting gangsters, the Kings Of Rock find out that it was none other record producer Vic Ferrante (exceptionally portrayed by Rubin) behind the murder. What happens from that moment forth makes Die Hard look like Labyrinth.
It's Rubin's direction, however, that makes the film. In its beginning, it's a borderline western. Tight shots of eyes as people meet and the sound of the wind blowing between them. Three cowboys riding from the prison talking about girls and Jam Master Jay's penis being bitten off in a dream. After a performance of Beats To The Rhyme, the movie is transformed into a gritty, low budget, action film about the streets and revenge (Dolemite would be proud). There is no dialogue that would express the fury and passion thrown by one of Jam Master Jay's punches. Just think a few years earlier, they were rapping in Sheila E's apartment and ordering Adidas in the timeless classic, Krush Groove. Now, they're back and raising hell in scenes such as these...
Tougher Than Leather comes from a time when rappers were given films to star in based on their popularity, no matter how skilled you were or the longevity of your fame (Fat Boys and Vanilla Ice, I'm looking in your direction). This film celebrates that but also celebrates awesomeness. Awesome things like Run DMC kicking asses while in their prime and Beastie Boys in their snotty, bratty, beer swilling, frat boy period (seriously, there was no way, whatsoever, in knowing that the landmark epic, Paul's Boutique, would be released the next year). It celebrates the genius of Rick Rubin and all of his work...ok, maybe not. There is a reason why this is his first and last movie. Still, it takes a genius to come up with a reason to have Run DMC punching people and blowing up cars.
This film is and should be a cult classic. A definite viewing for a Friday or Saturday night with a group of friends. View the trailer here