There are few people in music that can boast of a resume like Darryl McDaniels. His band Run-DMC led the second wave of New York Hip Hop, became massive by introducing the rap/rock hybrid with Aerosmith, and became the second hip hop act ever inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Aside from all that, he still releases new music, is a philanthropist and an author. Darryl recently sat down and talked about his history, new music, the Rock Hall, and more!
Please press the PLAY icon below for the MisplacedStraws Conversation with Darryl “DMC” McDaniels.
On his new songs “America” and “Ghetto Metal” – Well, “America” basically came together from what’s been going on in America for the last couple of years. There’s so much division now that’s being thrown in everybody’s faces now, to the point where I’m saying, “If you’re a Democrat and you’re Republican, we got a beef”. It used to be “He’s a Democrat, he’s a Republican, and then you go in find out what’s going on” Now, every time you look it’s fight, fight, fight, argue, argue, argue, you’re wrong, who’s right? Even across the board, through everything, through religion, if you’re a Muslim and a Christian, you gotta beef, if you’re black and white, everybody’s beefing. The America I know was an America that was the arts coming together, books, finger painting, food, fun, concerts, fashion style. When Steven Tyler took the mic stand and knocked down the wall that was separating in “Walk This Way”, people say that didn’t just happen in the video, it happened in the world, Rock and rap came together, genres and cultures came together. So “America” just came about where we’re seeing all of these images of division, let’s start showing some images of togetherness that do exist. Nobody talks about the good Republicans. Nobody talks about the good Democrats, everybody’s wrong. Let’s push the labels to the side and let’s do things together that could advance, evolve, and solve all the problems. So the whole essence of the record is surprising to the casual listener. When I was a kid growing up in Hollis, Queens, NY 70s rock radio was incredible. It was Sly & The Family Stone, but it was also Neil Young and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It was the Jackson Five, but it was also Led Zeppelin and The Stones and The Beatles. It was Janis Joplin and Diana Ross. So you had this whole world that talked about, outside of love and being a rock star and the rock and roll life, they talked about the issues that affected the people. So I just wanted to do “America” to show people that Janis Joplin and Neil Young and Grandmaster Flash and Sha-Rock, Hip Hop and Rock and Roll, let’s represent who we are as a people as pertaining to, “I’m this and you’re that”. Because as soon as you say “I’m this and you’re that”, or “I’m right”, we got division. So “America” was just a song to bring people together in America, we’re supposed to be Americans. On a global stage, we’re not supposed to look like knuckleheads, and we’re starting to look like knuckleheads. I’m thinking of the “America” song as that 70s feel of overcoming and coming together. “Ghetto Metal” is basically my influence being 70s rock and ’70s folk-rock. “Ghetto Metal” is basically saying, Run-DMC did “Rock Box”, which was the first hip-hop video on MTV, that was ’84. Then in 1985, we did a video for a song called “King of Rock” with Larry “Bud” Melman of the David Letterman show, at the front door of a rock & roll fame that didn’t exist. That’s ’85. In ’86, we infamously “Walked This Way” with Aerosmith, did not just change music, but they changed everything. So “Ghetto Metal” is just me paying homage to the rock and roll songs I sampled and stole, which inspired me to do rock-rap in the first place through “Rock Box”, “King of Rock”, and “Walk This Way”. 1:09
On how rock & rap naturally combined in the early ’80s – It was always something that was already going on. The producer of “Ghetto Metal”, was a black kid who lived in the Bronx. At the time, he would wear his Addidas jacket over his Black Sabbath jacket, because he was thinking, “The kids that listen to Grandmaster Flash ain’t gonna think I’m cool”. Because the perception was, they listen to that, we listen to that. Run-DMC came along and totally changed. Everybody that was listening to Def Leppard was excited to run with the cassette say, “Oh, you have to listen to this”. And what sums it up is this, it was the same thing anyway. The Beastie Boys was a punk rock group who started doing hip-hop records. Rick Rubin asked Jam Master Jay, rest in peace, “Do you think these white Jewish kids who were a punk rock band from Manhatten could make a hip-hop song?” Jay said, “Why the hell not?” We were all the same thing, we were different expressions of it, but it was all coming from the same place, that’s why we’re resonated with you. 5:32
On Hip-Hop in the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and if the artists care – They asked me that at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. A lot of these new generations, if they don’t emotionally care, they materially and institutionally care. You hear all of that, “We’re the new rock stars”. The thing that I think a lot of the new kids lack is integrity and class. What I mean by that, there’s a responsibility with this, it’s a responsibility. It’s a certain way. So to answer your question, The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is really the Music Hall of Fame. Rock and roll is just the attitude or just the label that we wanna put on it, just to show that it was something coming that wasn’t normal but that was universal. But the only thing that is wrong with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame ’cause they’re the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Gene Simmons when he said what he said, I agree with him and I got cursed out by other music fans because Gene Simmons said the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame was originally for rock bands. His thing was they don’t play no music or whatever, whatever like that. So when I got inducted in ’09, I asked the guy, “What do you think about what Gene Simmons said?”. We love Gene Simmons, he has a right to his opinion. Then they just told me this, they explained to me that, here’s what they mean by Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as it pertains to the music, they said, “If you play the flute”, and I was like, “Oh, if you play the flute in a band?” They said, “No, no, no, if you just play the flute and you sell out the Garden three nights in a row, that’s rock & roll, baby”. I’m on the committee now. Me and Tom Morello are part of the (nominating) committee. They have to get this new generation. I’ve been in for the last two years now. So the only thing that I see wrong, with it is, putting me in before, say, Iron Maiden. There’s a lot of new musicians, I’m not gonna say rock stars, there’s a lot of musicians that should have been in before me. But overall, they’re trying to make it more diverse, more inclusive, so it’s not about the genre, it’s about, “Did your music in 25 years have an impact?” Let me just say this, I commend them for getting it right. “The Message”, even Rolling Stone said, “The Message” is the greatest hip-hop record ever made. Above Run-DMC, Eminem, Jay-Z. It sums up the whole power of our music, to educate, inspire, and think and commentate on people’s lives. The same struggle that “The Message” was talking about, they’re going through right now in Ukraine. It was a universal message, so to answer the question and stuff, I understand what the rare Hall of Fame is trying to do, and now that I’m on the committee, I gotta tell everybody, “Be quiet because you have no idea how difficult it is”. Even if they got it wrong, it doesn’t mean that people that ain’t in yet won’t be in. So it’s very difficult. I would just personally say it would be better if the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and all institutions of awards in acknowledgment do it in chronological order. Because you’re gonna piss somebody off from the ’50s, who says, “I love Run-DMC, but how the hell are they in there when such and such from the ’50s isn’t?” That’s the only thing. 7:47
On the origins of Run-DMC – One of the greatest things that those boys and girls who invented the culture did for us, it was about keeping it real. They were kind of mad because they were the ones that invented it but we were the ones getting the TV love and the radio love, but I think we kept it real. When we came along, when people saw Run-DMC, they didn’t see celebrity, they saw themselves. We talked about stuff that everybody can relate to, You gotta understand the early rap songs, the early hip-hop songs were very socially conscious. Talking about the political and social conditions that existed, it was all a lot to talk about. Our difference was number one, we didn’t live in the Bronx where the Bronx was burning, so we couldn’t talk about what they were talking about. In my neighborhood, I had 205th Street, but I didn’t have 125th Street, we had one block, they had a whole (city). We didn’t have 42nd Street before Disney moved in and cleaned it up, we didn’t have burning buildings, you know the Bronx was burning, we didn’t have the social-economic reality that they lived in every night. We had those elements, but not on a grand scale. I come from a place of a lower-middle-class Queens place. So those boys and girls, before they started talking of making records, when you heard them rap, they would rap about school, they rapped about the ice cream that they eat, they would rap about the sneakers that they wore. They would rap about, “My mother told me, Go to school”, like stuff like that. Run-DMC realized that now that we making records, we can talk about our daily lives. We don’t have to keep talking about drug dealers and welfare checks. Let’s talk about the milkman driving down the block, let’s talk about going to school, let’s talk about parents don’t understand. When we did that, the change was, we started making content that the kid in the ghetto was familiar with, and the kid in Beverly Hills was familiar with, peer pressure, friends, parents, sneakers, basketball, TV shows, articles of clothing. We started talking about everyday life things. The only thing that separated what Run-DMC and the early hip-hops talked about, (was that) I could talk about the Bronx burning. So all I could talk about is, “It’s Christmas time in Hollis Queens, mom’s cooking chicken, and collard greens”. The kid that lived in the Bronx that was burning knew about Christmas, also knew about mother and father. We started focusing on elements that was universally resonating and relatable to the whole community, as opposed to talking about certain social issues. That was the difference. I came in rhyming about, “DMC and the place to be, I go to St. John’s University”, but who does that? But hip-hop and rock & roll gave me permission to tell my stories, like Bob Dylan, like Jim Croce. 12:49
On recording “Walk This Way” – We hated it. Well, me and Run hated it because originally, we was gonna sample “Walk This Way” and me and Run was gonna rhyme on it. We were gonna talk about how great we were. So Rick, who was our producer at the time, he was like, “It’ll be great if you make the record over”. So we was thinking from a limited, hip-hop perspective. We gonna make it over, we’re gonna sample it and I’m gonna talk about me. I still remember my rhyme over that beat over the drums with the guitar, like we did “Rock Box” and “King of Rock”. It’s gonna be, (raps) “DMC in the place to be”, it’s ’86 now, “I’ve been rhyming on to mic since ’83, the best MC in history, there will never be an MC better than me”, (sings riff) then Run would say, (raps) “I’m DJ Run, I’m number one, here to get it done and have some fun, I’m number one under the sun, when the MC’s see me, they all run”. Typical Run-DMC, so Rick was like, “Yeah, Yeah, that’s cool, but make the record over the way the band originally did it”. Jam Master Jay (said), “Yo! That’s gonna be phenomenal” Me and Run hated the idea, because our thing was, “We got rhymes. I wanna say my rhymes over this phenomenal music. We’re gonna steal it and we’re gonna talk about us”. But we’re a little reluctance, Rick convinced us to do it. The brilliant thing is this, we could have made the record over, just Run-DMC, you remember it, but the brilliant thing was Rick brought them in to in to do it with us. That was the game-changer. That was the thing that changed everything by doing it with them. At the time, Aerosmith could have made a song with God, Jesus, and Moses, and nobody would have cared. That’s how far they were, “It’s God”, “So what? We don’t care”. The fact that they was humble enough to do it with Run-DMC, these rap guys, they could’ve did it with God, Jesus, and Moses, and it never would’ve worked, it was just something that the universe wanted from Run-DMC and Aerosmith to do it. 17:05
On the evolution of rap after Raising Hell – Well, for me, I really didn’t care. Because it was difficult for us as an entity, because now we’re not having to chart or sales success. During that time, we were still untouchable live. I’m talking about all the new groups, Pete Rock, CL Smooth, Tupac, Biggie, Cypress Hill, NWA, Ice Cube solo, Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, everybody in that 90s era hip-hop knew they couldn’t touch Run-DMC live, but commercially in the business, our sales slumped, ticket sales went down. The reason why that happened is we got away from being Run-DMC. We started to try to be Run-DMC. What happened was, we said, “We have to beat Raising Hell“, which is impossible. I was reserved with the fact that I’m not gonna do that again. I can live with that. So what happened was, we started looking at everybody else success, “Oh, maybe we gotta get a little gangsta with our music”, New Jack Swing got hot. Jay as a DJ and producer, he evolved with the times, but I don’t think Run-DMC should be making New Jack Swing records. I don’t think Run-DMC should try to be rhyming as hard as Ice Cube. Run-DMC is supposed to talk about puppy dogs, lollipops, and, ducklings, and poodles, and still be harder than anybody in the game. We got away from that. So those years were the typical story, people think everybody’s career goes (up), you have your up and down the period, you have your quiet time period. So for us, it was the realization of what can happen in the music business, unless you’re The Beatles and to get the point, “Well, we can’t do this anymore, there’s nothing else to do, let’s quit now. Let’s stop while we’re ahead”. I think of the Beatles where it could have gone. They had a great run, but at that point, I think if they would have kept making records, because music was changing and they quit at a time where nobody can go above them. But if they would have kept going, all it takes is one bad album to ruin a reputation. So for Run-DMC, it was the typical realization of what happens in the music industry. So for me, I didn’t care because I’m excited about every band, I’m a fan of hip-hop. When Run DMC wasn’t touring, I was following Public Enemy around. When Run-DMC wasn’t touring, I was going over Big Daddy Kane’s house, hanging out with Biz Markie, I was going out to see a young Fat Joe. Fat Joe always remembered me in the audience waving at him in the Apollo when he was first started. So it was exciting to me. It just got to a point where you need a hit record, you need to be on a chart, you need to be on tour, you need to be having money. I got to the point where I started to believe in it that. Not realizing the only thing that I need to do is be happy. So for me, I started drinking a lot. Not because of the fact that I wasn’t popular, it was, “What can I do to make everyone happy again?” 19:58
On the band after the loss of Jam Master Jay – That’s the reason why. Me and Run, we don’t have a beef, we love each other. But I tell people the reason why Run and D ain’t together is because the band, Jay was the whole band. The band broke up. Me and Run do stuff here and there. We’ve done a couple of festivals overseas, we’ve done Jay-Z’s Made in America, we’ve done the Fun Fun Fest here in Austin, Texas. Run-DMC is Run, DMC, and Jam Master Jay, and I tell people Run-DMC will get back together when the Beatles get back together, and people go, “OK, I understand”. 23:51
On sharing his story to help others and reach kids – Because I realized my popularity is not important. All of the “King of Rock”, “Walk This Way”, “My Addidas” stuff was to set up the preparation for what I was put here to do. I see I’m more powerful telling people my struggles and the bad things that happen to me has a bigger impact on people’s lives in the world than the impact, which was huge to me, of telling you how good everything was. (raps) “Son of Byford, brother of Al, Bad as my momma, Run’s my pal”. Inspire, motivate, educate, make people see the potential in themselves. “DMC St. JOhn’s University”, but when I go, I was suicidal. I was going to kill myself, I was an alcoholic. I was drinking myself to death, I was in rehab, I was in therapy. What do you mean? All the celebrity stuff goes out the door, now I’ve created a healing lane for the people, the generations that I’ve spoken to, that when I reveal that, they have a different perception about me. “We thought you was perfect, you’re the King of Rock, there is none higher”. But even the King of Rock, there is none higher goes through struggles and has low periods. Or, “We thought you was great, Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous”. Fortune and fame and money and material stuff on me, nothing unless you’re healthy in mind, body, and soul. So the reason why I talk about it, hip-hop and rock & roll taught me to keep it real, tell the stories that people can relate to. Everybody’s ashamed to tell their struggles because they think it’s weak, you can’t be vulnerable, you can’t be afraid, you can’t be confused, you can’t be weak. I’m saying when you admit you’re vulnerable, confused, have anxiety and you’re going through stuff, that’s the strongest thing that you can possibly do. I found the greatest strength in talking about Darryl the same way I’ve talked about it all my career, but there’s no reason for me to be guilty and ashamed about whatever it is that we as people go through. You remove guilt and shame, you remove the pain. I’ve removed a lot of pain from people by being honest…When I rhymed, (raps) “I’m DMC in the place to be, I go to St. John’s University, Since kindergarten, I acquired the knowledge, After 12th grade I went straight to college”, I was 18 years old. Everybody in my neighborhood 17 and younger, came to me dumbfounded, how in the world can you be in hip-hop, in hip-hop you’re supposed to be gangster and cars and money? How in the world did you become one of the greatest things in hip-hop if you go to school and you learn? Ice-T said, “DMC is the god that can goodness and make it gangster”. I realized if I can make somebody go to school, if I can make somebody stop selling drugs, if I can make somebody go get a GED and then actually go somewhere with it, I can tell my stories. I can prevent somebody from committing suicide, I can help somebody go to rehab to stop drinking, to stop drinking, to stop drug abuse, to stop gambling, I can keep somebody from harmful behaviors if I can tell them how to live a good life. I can also keep them from harming themselves by telling my story. I’m an alcoholic, I’m suicidal, I have suicidal thoughts. It has such a profound power and music succeeds where politics and religion fail. 24:52
On writing a children’s book – Well, that was never in the plan, but that came about where I realized that when I spoke to people from my generation and they heard my story it had a profound impact. I’m talking about from early childhood to all of the Run-DMC stuff, even to all my struggles. So I was doing a college lecture set. All those professors and all the administrators from the colleges was like, “D, you need to take this message into the high school”. So I just started going to high schools for free, visiting schools and doing exactly what I did at the colleges. Those educators in the high school was like, ” D, you gotta take that message to the middle school”. Exactly what I did in the colleges and high schools, I do at the middle schools. Of course, you know what happened, “D, you need to take this to the elementary school”. So exactly what I did, I go into kindergarten to fifth grade, sixth grade, “Hey, what’s up? So my name is Darryl McDaniels, I grew up in Queens”, all of that stuff like that. And the teachers and educators said that the kid’s attitudes about what school and being good at being honest is changed dramatically, but how they felt about themselves. So I was doing that for four years straight, and then the third and the fourth years of me visiting kindergarten and sixth graders, two of the educators who actually helped me write the book, because I needed to say, “How do I present the story in a scenario they can understand?” They were like, “D, you need to write a book”. At first, I didn’t wanna do the book but then they said, “D, you can reach so many more kids and not even have to be there”, so I just don’t have a story about the young DMC, ‘because everybody knows me from high school to St. John’s University to walking this way with Aerosmith and Run and Jay, and our Addidas and tell the world how tricky life could be. I realized on my first son, I said “I’m DMC in the place to be, I go to St. John’s University, since kindergarten I acquired the knowledge”, I’m realizing the same way I told stories in music from high school to adulthood, I can now go back and tell stories about the same Darryl that their mothers. fathers and I’ve been around so long that their grandmothers and grandfather know of, I can now tell stories to the younger generation from kindergarten to sixth grade, so that these kids will see somebody who looks and sounds like them, but I will talk about the things that they experience every day. Our environment is family, home, our relationships, and our work environment, their environment is exactly the same, except it’s their household, their backyards, the neighborhoods, the classrooms, and their schoolyard. So I put young DMC, who became the mighty King of Rock that changed the world, use him as an example to teach the kids two things, you are okay the way you are, your freckles, your red hair, your height, your weight, your funny shoes that people think are funny. Your shoes are better than Run-DMC Adidas and Air Jordans, so they can understand you’re perfect the way you are. The second thing is you could be anything that you want to be, that was the whole message for the book. 29:27