Eric B & Rakim: Follow The leader; Run DMC: Tougher Than Leather
Dec 3, 1988
TOUGHER THAN LEATHER, Run DMC (London)
FOLLOW THE LEADER, Eric B & Rakim (MCA)
It is ironic that in an era in which most “new” music is little more than old rock recycled, the freshest and most original ideas are coming from those who plunder the past in the most blatant way of all. Hip hop doesn’t revamp old styles and attitudes like the current crop of new rockers led by Guns ‘N Roses - it brazenly steals sounds, beats, lyrics and entire sections of music, reconstructing these elements to make the only really new popular music to come out of these late 80s.
Recent releases by leaders of the genre, Run DMC and Eric B & Rakim, coincided with a visit by the former of these New York-based rap acts.
Run DMC are rap’s superstars, thanks to the 1986 hip hop/hard rock crossover hit ‘Walk This Way’. Tougher Than Leather sees them taking this fusion further; the title track and ‘Miss Elaine’ are metal as much as they are rap (in both sound and sentiment.)
But apart from the irresistible ‘Run’s House’ and powerful ‘Papa Crazy’ (cleverly underscored with a riffy R&B arrangement), success seems to have stopped Run DMC dead in their trackshoes. Too much of this album is bombastic, overstated and short on ideas. And traces of self-parody are starting to show in tracks like the campy ‘Ragtime’.
Eric B & Rakim, on the other hand, go from strength to strength. Their first album, Paid In Full, strung several excellent singles together with rather a lot of filler. On Follow The Leader, DJ Eric B cuts a consistent series of sparse, smouldering grooves, incorporating sections of thriller themes, Bob Marley tunes and unidentifiable eastern sounds. Rakim (William Griffin) is the most sophisticated rapper around. In his ice-cool voice he raps rapid-fire; the syncopations are cunning, the internal rhyming and continual stretching and shortening of lines is breathtaking. It’s the vocal equivalent of James Brown’s dancing on the TAMI Show.
The subject matter is usually the MC’s own rapping prowess, but this pair’s interest in Islam makes me suspect that a deeper pride is being expressed here as well.
Though hip hop has been evolving for more than a decade, this music can still sound discordant and disconcerting to the casual or uninitiated listener. That’s because it’s meant to. Like bebop in its infancy, hip hop makes a deliberate statement of separateness by inventing its own musical language. Get behind that and you’ll find some of the most inventive modern musical minds at work.