Darryl "DMC" McDaniels

Date of Interview: 06/03/2010

In the world of hip-hop, one group stands supreme: Run DMC. Although Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell stood upon the shoulders of several rap giants, their countless contributions to the genre are unparalleled in scale and scope.

Run DMC was the first rap act to earn RIAA gold, platinum, and multi-platinum    albums; the first rap act to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine; and the first rap act to receive a GRAMMY Award nomination. Run DMC also received heavy rotation on MTV – starting with their first rap rock video, “Rock Box,” to the unforgettable crossover smash “Rock This Way.”

More recently, outside of the music arena, Darryl McDaniels has ramped up his role as a social and political activist – tackling issues within foster care and the adoption arenas in particular. Even so, in spite of his jam-packed calendar, DMC managed to squeeze some time out of his busy schedule and settle down for an interview with Clayton Perry – reflecting on the 25th Anniversary of Krush Groove, the influence of Ken Webb, and Run DMC’s prophetic induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Clayton Perry:  As you reflect upon the 25th Anniversary of Krush Groove, and the massive success you have experienced in its wake, do you have any particular thoughts that immediately come to mind?

Darryl McDaniels:  Well, when we were doing Krush Groove, it was kind of weird. All I remember is Russell [Simmons] and George Jackson and another producer coming to my house –around one in the morning – when I still living at Hollis. And they were like, “Yo!  Wake up. You gotta sign!” My mother came in. I saw she was rubbing her eyes. My father was like: “What the hell’s going on out here?” I said: “We’re going to make a movie.” So I just remember coming downstairs and signing the contracts. Whatever, whatever. And then I remember us doing a movie. And it was just weird, because it wasn’t our intention to do a movie that was going to work. It was just us thinking: “OK, we’re Run DMC, and this is going to be hot!” We didn’t think that it was going to become a classic cult hit. We just wanted to rock. We had Raising Hell getting ready to drop, and we were just excited about hitting the road.

Clayton Perry:  In the film, all of the characters learn a great deal about the “business” side of the “music business.”  What do you think is the greatest lesson that you have learned over the years?

Darryl McDaniels:  One thing I learned about the business: only 10 percent of people in the business do it because they care about the art. That was early on, too, you know, the shady side of the business, even with how Russell and Rick [Rubin] had to go get a loan to start their record company. And of course, you had to work the records and radio. And then you needed investors, which I didn’t even think about that back then. So filming Krush Groove was kind of educational for us.

Clayton Perry:  Many of the film’s lessons are still relevant.

Darryl McDaniels:  Yeah, it became a big business, which was inevitable. So another thing that I learned: anything that becomes popular will eventually become commercial. But at the same time, there’s only 10 percent of the people who either was there in the beginning, grew up in it, they still in the game, that really cares about the importance, longevity and purpose of this thing that has become such a cultural phenomenon.

Clayton Perry:  Def Jam, for all intents and purposes, is synonymous with hip-hop. And although you were signed to Profile, you have always had close ties to Russell Simmons and Rick Rubin. When you think about the time spent with Rubin and Simmons, and hip-hop’s long incredible journey, what advice do you give to young artists coming into the game who may not have any knowledge of its history?

Darryl McDaniels:  I think every young rapper needs to do some homework on the history of hip-hop. Like go do some real research. Because it’s a shame that you’ve got young dudes out there that will look at Afrika Bambaataa and say: “Oh, ‘Planet Rock,’ that’s old s**t.” You know what I’m saying? But when you speak to Keith Richards or Eric Clapton, these white dudes know all the history of the blues, as well as every black artist that ever picked up a guitar and sung or wrote a song. It’s crazy that you’ve got kids born-and-raised in this hip-hop culture, and lifted up in the hip-hop culture because of the hip-hop business, but don’t know what happened fifteen years ago.  For example, how the hell are you going to be a jazz player when you don’t know Miles Davis? Or Coltrane? You know what I’m saying? Or how the hell are you going to go call yourself being a guitarist, and you don’t know Jimi Hendrix and you don’t know Howling Wolf? So my advice to any artist coming into any type of art form: take a minute to learn the history, so when somebody asks you a question about it, you know something about why you’re doing what you’re doing or who made it possible for you to do what you’re doing.

Clayton Perry:  By pretty much every account, Run DMC is given the title of the most influential group in the history of hip-hop.  Even so, is there a contribution that you think tends to be overlooked or advertised less-often?

Darryl McDaniels:  Yes, it important to remember: when Run DMC came along, we kicked the door wide open, and we left it open. We weren’t one of those groups that said: “Yo, Russell,  since we’re here, man, don’t sign that person, or don’t follow that person!” When we went to Long Island and saw Chuck D with this incredible voice, me and Jay was like, “God has come to us from heaven to rock the mic.” And then we see this other cat over there, sitting there with a clock on his neck answering the telephone. We said: “Yo, sign him.” What I’m trying to say is this: when Run DMC obtained the dynasty that nobody could touch, we still were all inclusive. Hip-hop is supposed to be all inclusive – not this bulls**t that these stupid ass labels say. Think about it like this: Run DMC, LL Cool J, Tribe Called Quest, and Public Enemy, we all lived about five blocks from each other, but we all were completely different. So many labels are out here claiming to have the number-one clique and signing people attached to a particular artist. That really messes up the game!  I remember I sat down with Suge Knight. And Suge Knight said: “Man, you know what is the most powerful thing about seeing you cats come over to the West Coast? Seeing all of us rolling together. It wasn’t done on a separatist thing and that was dope.” That’s why hip-hop did what it did, because it was all inclusive.

Clayton Perry:  I agree. The level of diversity within hip-hop’s mainstream community has dwindled.

Darryl McDaniels:  Nowadays, this is what’s happening. You sign me, right? So you want to sign me and the D.M.C. clique. Then all I’m going to do is call my little cousin. “Pee Wee, come here.” He can’t rap worth s**t. He don’t know nothing about the culture, but all I’ve got to do is write his rap, because I can rhyme. So we’re going to make the record. Then we bring a stylist in. We style him up and then we go back to the label and say: “Yo. Here’s your next act.” And these f**king executives at these labels only care about getting rich and sending their kids to college and building trust funds. Nowadays, you can’t do what KRS-One did, and you can’t do what Rakim did. You can’t do what Run DMC did. You know what I’m saying? Because you’re cut. But you can do something else. Chuck D said we created a good problem for hip-hop, because think about this. Before Run DMC came along, hip-hop was the same way it is now. All of the cats before us looked and sounded the same. So once we put that into motion, the reason why hip-hop was so good is because it evolved. It evolved from artist to artist. When we heard LL, Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim, we had to go back there and create Raising Hell. And when EPMD saw all of that, they had to be EPMD. And when De la Soul saw EPMD, Run-D.M.C, LL and Public Enemy, they had to be De La Soul. Hip-hop had to grow, because we bred individuality, originality, and uniqueness, which gave birth to creativity.

Clayton Perry:  How would you compare hop-hop’s creativity today with that of past rappers as yourself?

Darryl McDaniels:  I would never critique another person’s creativity. You know, as MC artists, you can say what the hell you want to say. This isn’t about freedom of speech, and this isn’t about censorship. But our relationship to our audience is completely different from making movies and other forms of music. Because we are the people. You know, we didn’t create this hip-hop for show business. It’s good that we can go into show business. But mother f**ker, you’ve got a responsibility when you strut to that mic, or call yourself a rapper or DJ or a member of the hip-hop community, I’m just keeping it real. Because even in the nineties, if your s**t was bulls**t, the label would tell you it’s  bulls**t, the radio would tell you it’s  and we would tell you to your face your s**t is  bulls**t, and you would go home and work on it. You know what I’m saying? Back in the days, there’s no way these labels would sign the bullsh*t that they signing. And I’m just keeping it real.

Clayton Perry:  After a quarter-century, in spite of these shifts, hip-hop has been able to maintain a firm grip on the American – and international – music landscape. What is your most pressing concern about the current landscape?

Darryl McDaniels:  The issue of responsibility. These kids need role models that they can look up and appreciate. The rappers running around, they don’t care about our community and the listeners. Look, you don’t even have to really be a product of the culture. All you’ve got to do is dress a certain way, act a certain way, speak a certain way, drive a certain car, drink a certain liquor and people will call whatever you present to the public as “hip-hop.” It’s so much more appealing than everything else. You know what I’m saying? You can have the appeal, the swagger, if that’s what you want, without even knowing anything about hip-hop.

Clayton Perry:  That is very true. The commercial side of the entertainment industry tends to take precedence over the culture dimension of hip-hop. Flipping the old Biblical scripture – [Mark 8:36] – upside-down on its head, I pose the following question to you: “What good is it for hip-hop to gain the whole world, yet forfeit its soul?” What words of caution or advice to you have for the new generation of up-and-coming stars?

Darryl McDaniels:  It’s like this: R&B singers used to be R&B singers. There was a difference. We were the f**king rappers. R&B and the bands couldn’t f**k with it. But all they had to do to compete with us is steal our look. You know what I’m saying? Usher is not a hip-hop artist. He might sing over hip-hop music, but he’s an R&B singer. Where all you’ve got to do is dress and sing hip-hop, whether it’s a female or a male, to look like the kids in the street, and they think: “that’s hip-hop.”  No it isn’t. A motherf**king singer is a singer. I’m just telling you the truth. A band is a band. A singer is a singer. And within hip-hop you need a f**king rapper and a DJ. And with all this s**t, when I read that an R&B singing group will get a hip-hop award. I’m like: “No. They should get a f**king R&B award.” You know, 75 percent of the hip-hop now ain’t real. It’s a false presentation and it’s being falsely represented by imposters who are deceiving the audience. But it’s just so appealing. It’s a shame that MTV doesn’t do specials on Melle Mel, Afrika Bambaataa, Cold Crush. See, these guys are great! These young kids in the street need to know how great these guys were. These guys were gangbangers, drug dealers and stickup kids, too, but when they stepped to the mic, they told you, “Don’t do what we do.” Like, you gotta give it to them. When the first rappers came along, and I’m talking about the swagger, the first MCs and DJs had no MCs and DJs to look up to, because they were the first. So who were their idols? Oh, shoot. We’re in show business now. So we’ve got to dress like the Rolling Stones and we’ve got to dress like Parliament-Funkadelic. And we’ve got to dress like Rick James, because that’s what you’re supposed to do when you step up on a stage. But Run DMC, Kool Moe Dee, Afrika Bambaataa, Melle Mel, Grandmaster Flash, when they wearing Adidas and their godfather hats and their gold chains and the Lee suits and the theatre suits, the audience, these people in the streets, whether you was in Beverly Hills or in the ghetto, said: “I know that. I know them. That is me.” So they paid attention, and there was some value there. And what I mean by stealing the swag then, the same thing is happening now.

Clayton Perry:  Beyond the music, Run DMC elevated and redirected the hip hop generation’s sense of fashion and political awareness.  On the first point, you, in particular, were well-known for your Cazal glasses as much as you are for your Adidas shelltoes. And on the second point, in relation to an artist’s social responsibility, I noticed that “Wake Up” – on your debut album – was dedicated to Ken Webb.  What special connection did he have to the group?

Darryl McDaniels:  Well, Ken Webb came up during a time where everybody was saying: “Rappers weren’t going to last. Hip-hop was corny. And this was some big joke.” Or even those one-sided people that only focused on the ghettoness of hip-hop. Ken Webb was like, how in the hell could you all motherf**kers be so goddamn bad and positive? So when he would talk about Run DMC, he didn’t talk about the materialism. He didn’t talk about the success of us selling records and being No. 1 on Billboard and the video.  He talked about some young brothers that were changing the world, who were hard as hell, but were changing the world with positivity. He said our music and presentation and image is what he got on the radio for in the first place. When he would ask a question in an interview, he was one guy that would never say: “Where do you think you guys will be in three years?” So he was a trooper for us.

Clayton Perry:  In a media age that tends to focus on the negative elements of hip-hop, instead of the positive, what words of advice do you have for the current generation of rappers?

Darryl McDaniels:  I used to say, it’s the record company’s fault, but the artist has the power. At my age, I always get that kid that goes: “With all due respect, Mr. D.M.C., you’re 45 years old, more mature, more wiser and you’ve experienced a lot. That’s why you’re saying what you’re saying.” And I’ll go: “You know, you’re right young man or young girl, but motherf**ker, I’m the same as since I was at twelve years old.” We were twelve. The typical artist in hip-hop was twelve years old, no older than twenty-two years. And yes, we rapped about a car. But we only made one record about it. We rapped about our sneakers and our fur coats, but we only made one record about it. But the thing that moved the world with hip-hop was, do you hear and see what these young people are doing and saying? We were talking politics, history, economics, etc. You know what I’m saying? So that’s the gist of what I’m saying. Your social responsibility comes because your whole dream was to make us the American dream. And now that you’ve f**king made it, you don’t even care about giving the people listening to you that same chance. And that chance comes from you for taking time out, and to go on the record about being cool, go to school. You’ve got rappers talking about the dirt that they did. Okay, that’s cool. If it’s on your first two albums, it’s cool. But you on your sixth and seventh album, motherf**ker, and you still be talking about your dirt and how you move packages through the streets, and how you beat the man and all of that, and how you own the motherf**king streets. You don’t own a goddamn thing, because when the Feds or the police come and say, “Get off the corner,” what’s going to happen? So you never own things in the first place. That’s what I mean by the false representation. Hip-hop was always based on reality. Here’s what I did. I’m coming out of jail. Cool. And you made your record about the dirt that you did, but on the same album, you made a record about don’t you do the dirt, because you don’t have to. We’ve got a lot of rappers rapping about how gangsta they are, and you’re living in a gated community. Your son’s going to the best schools. You’re throwing your son’s qualities on MTV’s Sweet Sixteen thing. And you still making music that you was making on your first and second album. That’s false representation. That’s why, forget about the music business. The music business wants to sell music. That’s their business. But that’s why our streets are deteriorating. Run DMC, LL, Public Enemy, KRS-One and N.W.A. were relevant. And we didn’t need fifteen NWA groups. I’ve got  mother**kers that will call me and say: “D.M.C., just for you and Run saying it, I’d like to go get a GED to be now.” So that’s what a social responsibility is. We know it’s possible for all. Essentially, we created hip-hop, because our excuse wasn’t “the government couldn’t care about us”. We wasn’t going to sit around and hope somebody did something for us. We created a culture that changed people’s lives and changed the world.

Clayton Perry:  A few years ago, I had the pleasure of meeting you in Raleigh, N.C. for TEEN FEEST.  And I’m curious to know, outside of the world of music, what social organizations or causes do you hope more people will investigate and contribute their time, energy and money?

Darryl McDaniels:  Well, a big issue with me right now, that everybody should do something for, regardless of your financial status, your race, ethnicity, sex, height or weight is foster care. Because I realized this. When I told the world that I was adopted, I could have stopped that adoption, because I’m a foster kid that fortunately got adopted. But then I thought about, what about the foster kids that don’t get adopted? What about the foster kids that age out the system that the damn federal government of the United States don’t give about? There’s two places for them to go: Jail or the grave. And they don’t realize that 70 some odd percent of inmates in jail has been through the foster care system. So there’s a f**ked up education system, there’s a f**ked up foster care system and there’s a f**ked up jail system and court system. So we need to hug these kids, educate these kids. If you ain’t going to adopt a kid, if you ain’t going to be a foster parent, you need to be a mentor. Because all these kids, no matter what their situation is, need, “I’m routing for you. I love you. Matter of fact, young man or lady, I was just like you.” These kids need us, and if we take care of the at-risk youth, we could put jails out of business, and we could make these politicians put their money where their mouth is, and start not just giving Wall Street all the money, after these rich motherf**kers done got greedy and messed up the economy. How could we go through our neighborhoods and see dilapidated schools? How could we pull the music programs? In my neighborhood, they closed the P.A.L. Because from three o’clock to nine o’clock at night, there was a place for kids to go to be off the street. They’re closing all of that, but they keep evil-assed Wall Street open. That’s just a joke. But what I’m trying to say is, when we created hip-hop, it was a service. It was a purpose and it was a service. It was a necessity. It was a way of informing, educating and recreating the youth to be productive individuals. So for me, I’m saying, not just foster kids. Homeless kids. Foster kids. Kids on drugs or whatever. We need to take care of the youth, because these are the individuals that will make the future better, not some old people who already messed it up.

Clayton Perry:  In 1985, you recorded the video for “King of Rock,” and in the following year Run D.M.C. became the first rap group to be featured on the cover of Rolling Stone. Two decades later, in 2009, you became the first rap group inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.   When I look back at your prophetic “King of Rock” video, what thoughts immediately come to mind?

Darryl McDaniels:  It’s really surreal. I’m glad you remembered that. Let me just say this. When we got down there two days before the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and I was down there, doing all the press and stuff like that. Someone from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame came to me and said this: “D.M.C. Did you guys know that when you did “King of Rock, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame wasn’t even in existence yet?” The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame started after we made that video. And when he said that, I stared, because I was like: “Wow. The power of life and death is on the tongue.” It was prophetic. It was prophetic. But I could take it deeper. That’s why when I do small interviews, people would get it twisted. It was  prophetic. But before Run DMC came along, what did [Grandmaster] Flash [and the Furious Five], the Funky Four [Plus One], the Cold Crush [Brothers], the Treacherous Three, Africa Bambaataa, Jazzy Five, Zulu Nation all say? And they should be found in the Hall of Fame, and we’re rocking their names and make you feel shame.  It was always prophetic. You know, when we did it, our thing was, you know, we come into it like, all right, we going to pull the plug on Jerry Lee Lewis. We’re going to step on Michael’s glove. And it wasn’t meant to be done personally. But the perception was they didn’t want to accept us. It was like, to these motherf**kers, it was like the hoola hoop. To these motherf**kers, it was like Slinky. And we did “King of Rock” as a statement, like:” F**k that. We bad. We’re worth s**t. We’re going to push you all in your face. We’re going to take what’s ours.” Because for the meaning behind “King of Rock” to really come true; I mean, if you mean these MCs and DJs could really be appealing to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, it’s scary and prophetic. Very spiritual.

Clayton Perry:  I was not aware of the full story! So I just got chills hearing you say that!

Darryl McDaniels:  Yes, when the guy told me that, I said: “What? You mean the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame hasn’t been around since 1949?” You hear what I’m saying? Because wouldn’t you think that? It didn’t start until ’86. That’s crazy.

Clayton Perry:  And it’s also crazy, because ’86 was also the year that you were on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Darryl McDaniels:  Right.

Clayton Perry:  It’s amazing how the stars in the universe align at some point.

Darryl McDaniels:  Oh, I never looked at it. Right. We did the video, then the very next year, we did Rolling Stone. That’s crazy. When we put out the first rock rap record, it wasn’t “Walk This Way.” And the first rap record wasn’t “King of Rock.” The first rock rap record was “Rock Box” which was the first rap video to be aired on MTV [in 1984]. We didn’t even have MTV in Hollis. But everybody was like this is a phenomenal thing. Run DMC, you know, Russell and the label and everybody was jumping around. I mean, it was like, “So? Can we just rock?” Our thing was, like we said on “Together Forever”: “Yo man, can we see the mic?” That whole thing.

Clayton Perry:  In this age of new media, what do you think is the biggest obstacle that hip-hop artists have to overcome?

Darryl McDaniels:  Now, we live in a time, right now, where everything is so based on the dollar. Everything is so based on who’s selling the record, who’s making the most money, and who’s number-one on Billboard. So there’s a lot of music that the kids need to be heard, that they can’t hear, because I’m not going to be able to go up on Hot 97, right now, at one o’clock in the afternoon, have six hour energy, and they’re going to let me be on the air for an hour, and they’re going to play my new song. But if Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty or Lou Reed was to walk up into any rock ‘n’ roll station in the United States, and regardless of the playlist, if they looked through the glass at the host or deejay, they would say: “Oh my god, Tom Petty just walked by. Go get him.” But remember, if I walked by the windows at Hot 97, they would only say: “Guess what, y’all. D.M.C. walked by. He’s a legend.” And they would get back to business. Radio shouldn’t be run that way.

For more information on Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, visit his official website: http://www.me-dmc.com


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