While most people would label Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, OutKast or even the Beastie Boys as the best hip-hop group of all time, there’s no doubt that Run-DMC were the most influential rap troupe in the genre’s history. Run, D and Jay were trailblazers-spreading the sound and message of hip-hop music to Middle America. They were the first rappers to score a Gold, Platinum or multi-Platinum album. The first rappers on MTV, the first rappers to appear on the cover of “Rolling Stone,” the first rappers to perform on the Grammy Awards. That’s a lot of firsts.
They were not the first rappers to star as the leads in a major motion picture. Even if you remove flicks like “Krush Groove” that heavily featured emcees (including Run-DMC themselves,) the Fat Boys’ 1987 “Disorderlies” beat Run-DMC’s starring vehicle “Tougher Than Leather” to the multiplexes by a year. I don’t know anyone who actually saw the movie, but I do know quite a few people who own the soundtrack-myself included. In fact, it made it onto the list of the top 100 rap albums of all time, curated by the staff at my site, Popblerd. Gotta love the shameless plug action there.
At any rate, by the time “Tougher Than Leather” came out, hip-hop had already begun to shift once again-typical of most musical genres in their infancy. While the album went platinum, Run-DMC was already considered passe in some circles. The album spawned minor hits with “Run’s House” and a cover of The Monkees’ “Mary Mary.” “Beats To The Rhyme” was “Run House”‘s B-side, and Leather’s most electrifying cut. Over snatches of Bob James’ much-sampled “Nautilus,” Run and DMC trade ferocious rhymes. A unique wrinkle to the song: the vocals were recorded a capella and then scratched into the song by Jam Master Jay. So the song is probably more of a testament to the genius of the turntable wizard than most of the songs (“Jay’s Game,” “Jam Master Jammin'”) that actually bore his name. Also, it’s probably the only rap record in history that features a sample of Sam Kinison.
“Beats,” along with a slew of other Run-DMC classics, appears on the aptly titled The Essential Run-DMC. Released to coincide with the 10th anniversary of Jay’s tragic murder, the set contains just about every single song from the trio that you’ll ever need. Actually, considering the presence of Kid Rock, it probably even contains a song or two you don’t ever need. Nonetheless, it’s a fitting tribute to three dudes who changed not only hip-hop music, but popular music, forever.