A little over a year ago I got the opportunity to interview Darryl McDaniels, otherwise known as DMC from Run-DMC. I was ecstatic about the opportunity to talk to one of my childhood heroes. I mean, this is the King of Rock!
Songs like ‘Sucker MC’s’, ‘Together Forever’, ‘Peter Piper’, and ‘Beats to the Rhyme’ still give me chills the same way they did when I first heard them in the 1980s.
Run-DMC was special.
Trendsetters, trailblazers, rock stars — that was Run-DMC. They were the first rap group to earn a gold album with their self-titled debut. Their follow-up album King of Rock was the first rap album to go platinum. Their third release, Raising Hell sold three million copies and brought Hip-Hop into the mainstream.
From sold-out tours, to starring roles in major motion pictures, the first rap group to be played on MTV found themselves in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, and it was well deserved.
Few artists in Hip-Hop become bigger than the music. That’s reserved for a select group that transcend the culture and influence their peers and future generations. Run-DMC fits the bill.
My conversation with DMC was spirited but brief. I hoped to reconnect with the “devastating mic controller” to continue our conversation and give the readers more insight into the thoughts of one of rap music’s living legends — that has yet to happen. I have so many questions for D regarding his favorite Run-DMC songs, working with Larry Smith, reuniting with Run, and the murder of Jam Master Jay.
Maybe one day I’ll get those questions answered, but for now just enjoy…
TRHH: Going back to the beginning, when you were recording Sucker MC’s could you even fathom multi-platinum records, tours, movies, and eventually being in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame?
DMC: No! Listen, truth be told we just wanted a record on the radio like Grandmaster Flash. They had ‘The Message’ and Afrika Bambaataa had ‘Planet Rock’. That was the whole thing. ‘Rappers Delight’ was cool but that was novelty rap and they wasn’t even the writers of that. The writers of that was the Cold Crush 4. Before rap records was ever made that dopeness wasn’t on radio. That Sucker MC’s with just a beat and two dudes rhyming, and not only DMC rhyming about chicken and collard greens and St. Johns University – that was universal. When we came along we just wanted to be on the radio. We hoped they played our record on Mr. Magic and Red Alert like our idols before us. What’s crazy about me is I went to catholic school my whole life. My mother and father worked their butts off to pay for me to go to school. I didn’t find out that I was adopted ‘till age 35 and I had to look back at all of that. Forget Run-DMC, we had no idea that Hip-Hop would do all of this. We knew it was dope to us, but I had no idea. Other rappers are just celebrities and famous but I walk into a room and Diddy, Eminem, and Lil’ Wayne start bowing. It’s embarrassing! I had no idea that I would be this guy.
TRHH: I saw you guys perform in 1986 when I was like ten years old…
DMC: Wow, you was ten-years old?
TRHH: Yeah, it was the Raising Hell tour with Whodini and LL.
DMC: That’s killer! Oh my god!
TRHH: I remember thinking that you guys were rock stars. How did your life change after the success of Raising Hell?
DMC: Raising Hell was the pinnacle. Before that we was just the new rap dudes. When Raising Hell came out with Walk This Way, Peter Piper, and then we got the Adidas deal then we were rock stars. I always tell people that somebody should have told Michael Jackson, “Michael, there is no reason for beefing with the music industry, devils, this and that. You just sold forty million albums of Thriller! You’ll probably never do that again, that’s your legacy. You just do a show every day and kick everybody’s tail.” For us Raising Hell was up planting a flag on the moon. That wasn’t even our desire. People say, “Because of y’all,” and “Y’all are pioneers,” but on My Adidas I say “We took the beat from the streets/And put it on TV.” People say, “We know there was rap before y’all but y’all invented it,” no, we just put it on TV. Whether you was in a dirt-poor ghetto or in Beverly Hills you knew Run, Jay, or D, and you know all the concepts, images, and ideas that we were putting in our music. Raising Hell made us the Beatles of Hip-Hop. After Raising Hell we didn’t have to put out another album again. It’s done for eternity.
Like you said, Run-DMC, LL Cool J, and the Beastie Boys opened up for us. We brought the white people and black people together. I think that’s significant because when I found out that I was adopted and went to rehab for alcoholism I was talking to all these therapists and stuff. Think about something real deep, in 1986 on the Raising Hell album I was proclaiming something that I wouldn’t realize would be important later. We had My Adidas, Peter Piper, Walk This Way, and Hit it Run, but remember the song Son of Byford when I started rhyming and Run did the beat box?
TRHH: Yeah, brother of Al.
DMC: I said, “Son of Byford, brother of Al/Banna’s my mamma, and Run is my pal/It’s McDaniels, not McDonalds/These rhymes are Darryl’s, the burgers are Ronald’s/I ran down my family tree/My mother, my father, my brother, and me.” I didn’t proclaim, “Oh man, I’m selling records and I have Benz’s and Rolls’ and money’” and stuff like that. I rhymed about the most powerful and significant thing in my life which was my family. Years later when I found I was adopted I understood something. My mother and father, Byford and Banna, those were my parents! Those were the people I was destined to be with. Those were the people who were put here to get me where I’m supposed to go. But when I did the search for my birth mother she was the lady that was supposed to get me here so I can do what I’m supposed to do. When I met my birth mother she said, “I know you’re dying to ask me why I gave you up,” and I said, “You got that right!” She said, “I gave you up to give you a chance.” We both laughed and I said, “Shit, you gave me one hell of a chance, lady!” first to go gold, first to go platinum, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, all of that. Within my journey there were so many elements that were set up for me to get to this point where I can be that guy to go on TV and say, “Y’all know me as DMC the King of Rock but I’m really Darryl McDaniels. I’m a foster kid, and I’m adopted,” that’s really changing more lives than I did with my music. It was all set up for that. To me that’s the whole reason why we created Hip-Hop.
TRHH: To give people a chance?
DMC: Before Hip-Hop came along it was disco and Reaganomics, premarital sex, gang violence, people dying, drug selling, everything that exists today. People tell me they listened to Hip-Hop to learn about black history! That’s what’s different from now. The difference is the so-called old school isn’t a time period. The old school of Hip-Hop is a consciousness. It’s a way of presenting and displaying your so-called Hip-Hop-ness. The thing that made it unique and powerful… the thing that made Hip-Hop what it is today, because I hate talking in the past tense, it’s still here and it’s just not dominant on radio, and BET, and MTV, the thing that made Hip-Hop so powerful was before rap records were even made the typical emcee was 12-22 years old and we wasn’t just talking about materialistic things.
First of all, when we first started we was talking about things we wished we had. All those things we rapped about on Rapper’s Delight we was only fantasizing. The next generation that came along, the Run-DMC’s and LL’s, when we rhymed about something materialistic we rhymed about it one time and you never heard about it again. It was all an evolution of ideas. The same way grown ass men in Hip-Hop now, 25-years old brag about being a drug dealer, we understood these guys don’t wanna be drug dealers. Real talk, the real gangsters and killers don’t put their business on records. The real gangsters and killers in Hip-Hop were the dudes on records telling you what they did but their record always ended with them saying, “But you shorty, don’t do that!” So we created Hip-Hop to educate, inspire, and motivate the young people. We stood around and said, “Government don’t care about us, but I ain’t gonna sit around and complain.”
Hip-Hop says to the person, not what can somebody do for you but what can you do? Some of those boys and girls had record collections and loved audio. Hip-Hop said take that music to the park, bust that light pole open, plug it up and let the world hear your beautiful music. You see what happened then? The police would come, pull the plug and say, “You fools can’t have a concert in the park for free, go home!” We would go home and come back the next day. There were onlookers, creative individuals who loved the sound of the music but didn’t know nothing about jazz, rock & roll, blues or what to do when you put that needle on the record. Hip-Hop said, “My son and daughter, don’t you worry. What do you like to do?” The brothers and sisters said they liked poetry so Hip-Hop said, “Put that poetry with that music in the park,” and we created a whole new genre of music with that!
It went further and it was never about discrimination. The whole thing was based on originality. I hate the term “rap game”. This ain’t no game. It’s a culture; it’s a way of life. It ain’t about you being in this, it’s about what you bring to it. Those other brothers and sisters said they couldn’t even read or write and didn’t understand audio stuff so Hip-Hop said, “Don’t you fret, what can you do?” and they said, “Every time I hear that beat I start spinning on my head,” well come on and join the party. It didn’t stop there. Even though it was wrong, it took somebody to see the beauty in the unfortunate underprivileged areas of life. I don’t suggest going around painting on walls, but stop putting these young people in jail. Just look at what this youngster just did with those markers and spray paint. It was art. It was graffiti. I tell young people that some of those old school dudes that were writing on walls are now at Adidas and Nike designing your shell toes and Air Force One’s. It ain’t some old executive with a suit, tie, and gray hair. They are boys and girls who look just like y’all.
Our generation was a young generation that listened to the elders. We appreciated that knowledge and put it with what we were living with at our time. If I’m 17-years old listening to everybody 18-to-150 years old giving me this knowledge and I’m looking around me for the wise things in my life, I’m taking all of that information and I put it on a record. So now everybody 16 and younger is getting what I’m getting from 18 and older. If I’m 17 and rapping on a record, “I’m DMC in the place to be/I go to St. Johns University,” and a twelve year old kid hears it, by the time he gets to my age he’s highly evolved. The evolution and the empowerment of the education of right concepts, illustration, demonstration, and presentation is being polluted. Don’t get me wrong, I used to always go at the record companies, but a business man who sells records is in the business of selling records. So he doesn’t care if he’s selling a kid filth and he’s getting rich off of that so the responsibility comes on the artist.
If you make a record about a gun, and our generation did this, on that very same album will be a record about not using a gun. We can make a record about being in a gang. I was in a gang, but the very next record should be about someone that’s not in a gang. That responsibility has been lost by corporate America who don’t care about kids in the hood. These record executives just want to sell records, cool, but we understand as young people that we ain’t gonna ask permission to be successful to do what we gotta do. I was on a radio station one time and a guy called up and said, “Yo DMC what’s up man? I just wanna say just because of you and Run, LL, Public Enemy, KRS-One, and Eric B & Rakim saying it, y’all didn’t preach it to me y’all just said it, I used to follow Run-DMC, wear Adidas, Cazals, my godfather hat, and gold chains and here comes DMC messing my life up.” I said, “What do you mean?” He said, “When DMC started rhyming about getting diplomas and St. Johns University was cool I didn’t have none of that, so I went and got my GED. With my GED I took some college courses at the community college and when I walked through them doors I saw the whole world of possibility I did not know existed. I just wanted to tell you I’m living here in Houston, Texas in a $3 million house, I got four whips outside, and that’s ‘cause of Hip-Hop.”
Our generation didn’t want you to say “rap guy” and think about where we came from, “drug dealing,” “gang banging,” and “shooting.” We wanted people to think about education, empowerment, and people trying to make their neighborhood better. Check the resume, people tell me, “Mr. DMC with all due respect y’all guys were materialistic and rapped about stuff like that,” but we only made one record about Adidas. Run only said, “Larry put me inside a big long Cadi.” You got dudes in this rap game now where OK, your first record you was on the corner selling drugs and seven years later I turn on MTV and you live in a big house in a gated community. Your kids go to the best schools. You’re not on the corner anymore, but you’re still making records saying that you are? First of all, it’s not like you’re making these records saying you don’t wanna do it no more and it’s not coming from an economic or political sense. These dudes want corporate America to praise them for being killers, drug dealers, and murderers, and 99% of them ain’t.
Think about what Chuck D did, what KRS-One did, Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, De La Soul, when we walk the red carpet nobody asks us who we’re dating or who is our stylist. They say, “Come here young man, why do you say what you say? Why are you making what you’re making?” ‘Cause we were young people taking responsibility for our lives and the only thing that we knew we had to do was do it with creativity. On top of that I was walking in Manhattan one day and an Italian dude looking like Tony Soprano was going to lunch with his boys and he said, “DMC, come over here!” My first thought was I ain’t going over there he’s going to extort me! He said, “I graduated on the top of my class but I’m where I’m at because of Run-DMC, Beastie Boys, and Kool G Rap & Polo.” This is a white guy. What was significant about that was whether you’re in a dirt poor ghetto or in Beverly Hills, young people all got the same problems. We hate our teachers, we hate our mothers because she said we can’t go out, peer pressure, bullying, having a crush on a girl who hates my guts, everything. The same way these kids are getting their Jordan’s taken I was getting my Adidas taken. It’s all about the presentation and showing that we all can get through this.
There are dudes in Hip-Hop who don’t want to rap and don’t want to be on the front-line. They’re managers, accountants, and lawyers. All of that happened because we were shown possibilities. I was a straight-A catholic school kid. When Hip-Hop came over the bridge from the Bronx [Kool] Moe Dee and Melle Mel were gods to me. So I understand when people say, “You, Run, and Jay were gods to us.” If you go back and listen to ‘Super Rapping’ and ‘Heart Beat’ and ‘At the Party’, and all the records that Treacherous Three, Funky Four Plus One, and Mel and them made the world hasn’t even heard what was on cassette tapes live from these people before Hip-Hop was allowed to go in a recording studio. The thing that enabled me to not get on a record and rhyme about things that I don’t do is a record by Kool Moe Dee and the Treacherous Three. I think it was 1983 they did a remake of the Pointer Sisters ‘Yes We Can, Can’. A lot of the Hip-Hop samples were inspirational and made you want to do something and figure a way out. Moe Dee and Melle Mel were the god emcees at the time. I knew Moe from battling Busy Bee and Melle Mel walked around with a staff and had a belt. These dudes had voices and legendary rhymes on their records.
When Obama first got elected I was happy he got elected. A black man being elected, I never thought it would happen in my lifetime. I was somewhere and somebody asked me a question and I said, “Obama don’t impress me.” They looked at me shocked because they didn’t know where I was coming from. I had to tell them that before Obama even existed, 25 years ago Moe Dee was my Obama. He just didn’t get to be elected in the White House. Obama’s campaign was called “Yes We Can” right? In ‘Yes We Can, Can’ the record started out saying what we’re going through right now. Like Chuck D said, it was prophetic. This guy Moe Dee said, “Eve of destruction, tax deduction/Price inflation, rocks the nation/And unemployment is on the rise/It’s hard to find a compromise/But if it lasts a long enough time/It won’t lead to nothing but a higher level of crime.” So every time I turn on the TV and see Chicago, hear about the price of gas going up, and hear about unemployment, I think the young leaders of my generation already schooled me on those things. The thing that inspired us is what I try to carry when I go to foster homes and high schools. Now I know I have to go to middle schools and catch these kids before they get to high school. Here is Moe Dee from the Bronx, he don’t have what I have. I lived in a lower-middle class area of Hollis, Queens. But what’s different between me and Moe Dee, Melle Mel, Cold Crush, and Funky 4? They live in the Bronx and Harlem. Harlem is good. If you go there now it’s like a renaissance. Black businesses and hotels, it looks crazy. But back in the day Harlem was Harlem. It was the Bronx and Harlem. I had a back yard, I had grass, my parents paid for me to go to school every day, but Moe and them had nothing.
Moe Dee said that and they rhymed about the armed forces, politics, stick up kids, but then Moe Dee said this, “Once a nobody from the neighborhood/Took a hop to the top ‘cause I knew that I would/Excel over the rest, ‘cause I make progress/ I don’t consider it luck because I’m not blessed/Got my life all together, love the way that I live/Go to school, really cool, and I think positive/It’s alright to have fun, lots of pleasures and joys/But it’s the brain that separates the men from the boys.” I had to pull that needle back. I was like, “Oh my god.” I’m 15 years old so Moe was like 17 or 18. I said Moe Dee is rhyming about school with that much ego and enthusiasm? So when Run put me in my group the first thing, I’m proud as hell I go to St. Johns University. “I’m DMC, in the place to be/I go to St. Johns University/And since kindergarten I acquired the knowledge/And after twelfth grade I went straight to college.” That was my first record. All the young dudes in my neighborhood was like, “Darryl, how the hell you go to St. Johns and you rapping and have Adidas and Cadillacs?” I said, “You damn right! I’m a straight-A student, I go to St. Johns, and I wear it proud.” Some of the dudes got rid of the guns, weed, got off the corner, and got out the gangs. Some of the brothers and sisters stayed, but we was always given ideas and directions to an opportunity. I just realized I can still turn on a record and do it, but I can also walk in a room with some young people and say, “I ain’t better than you, I ain’t smarter than you, and I ain’t even greater than you – I am you.” They say, “How you gonna say that Mr. old school DMC,” I say, “You wanna check my resume? Go and listen to my records. What I said 25 years ago is still relevant today.”