Hip-Hop legend. Artist. Musician. Innovator. Father. There are many facets that make up Darryl McDaniels or as we know him as DMC from the beloved Rap group Run-DMC. For over 30 years he, Run, and Jay’s music has influenced so many people. From “Rock Box” to “Walk This Way” and countless other hits DMC to help shape the music industry.
Not only making a name in the music and entertainment industry Darryl works on an even more important cause. It is to help foster kids. He is the co-founder of the nonprofit, Felix Organization. DMC has been invited to the White House by President Obama to address youth groups on responsibility and he’s appeared before Congress in support of adoptees and foster children. In my interview with DMC you will understand why President Obama sought out Darryl’s help.
Recently Darryl’s long love for comic books has come to the forefront in the entertainment industry. Working alongside his partner and collaborator Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez, “DMC #1,” the first full length graphic novel made its way to comic book shelves this past October. DMC received an impressive response when he debuted his book at the New York Comic Con.
I was honored to have the opportunity to talk with a true Rap legend about creating his own comic book, his influence in the world of Hip-Hop, helping out foster kids, and fatherhood.
Art Eddy: Before we talk music and fatherhood I want to ask you about your first comic book called “DMC.” What inspired you to create your own comic book?
Darryl McDaniels: Before Hip-Hop changed my life I was a little kid going to Catholic school. I was a straight A student. I loved the first day of school. I loved everything about reading, writing, and arithmetic. If I wasn’t in school I was reading and drawing my comic books.
A year ago a friend, Riggs Morales and I were talking about music. He asked me what it was like when I was a kid. I said I was a little school kid and I read comic books. As soon as I said comic books the conversation turned from music to comic books for two hours. He said that I should do a comic book. I told him that it would be corny.
He said that he understood what I was saying and that a Hip-Hop comic book is corny. He said don’t do it like the rapper DMC, but the little kid Darryl, who grew up loving comic books. He convinced me to do it. He said that my whole life was a comic book. People always said that Run-DMC were like our heroes.
Ten years ago “Rolling Stone” did an interview where they just asked what makes Run-DMC so great. You had fellow rappers, artists, writers, and educators just comment on the Run-DMC phenomenon. Chris Rock said, ‘Run and Jay were cool. DMC was like a super hero. From the way he sounds to his looks to his delivery.’ My joke was oh my God I have been discovered.
So Riggs said just take who you are and instead of this universe where you are the king of Hip-Hop where you met Run and Jay, but in the comic book your powers would really be super powers. I just took everything that inspired me from reading Batman, Superman, Spider-Man, and The Avengers my whole life and put it with my life as a Hip-Hop artist and a musician and as the kid of Darryl McDaniels. The whole blueprint of Spider-Man, Superman, and the Hulk we applied to my life. It is a dream come true.
AE: While you were making this comic book did you realize how much work went into the book and did you reach out to people in the comic book business for advice?
DMC: Yes. Well, not only for advice, but for assistance. I didn’t want to be another rapper doing something in a different genre messing something up just because I had a hit record. I actually used writers and artists who work for Marvel and DC. I wanted to do it like I did my music, with integrity. I didn’t want this to be a self-centered project and just fulfill my ego.
I wanted this comic to be a celebration of Hip-Hop, comic books, and geekdom. When you think about it geeks rule the world. We make everything possible. What we write. Our inventions. Media, movie, games, and everything that people thought was geeky, corny, and soft as a kid is the very thing that makes this world popular.
In over my 30 years of being in music people would approach me here in the states and even globally and pitch me about a Hip-Hop comic book. For 30 years until we decided to do the comic book I always wondered why does it fail? It fails because you label it. In order to have a successful comic book you don’t make a Hip-Hop comic book. As soon as you make a Hip-Hop comic book it is over. It fails. It is corny. It is gimmicky.
One of the things that allowed us to be so successful is that I am using people who use, work, write, draw, eat, and sleep comic books. The cover is drawn by Sal Buscema, whose work defined my childhood and even into my teenage years. I’m using people that make the culture successful. I could have gotten one artist and said draw me fighting the bad guys. I didn’t. In the comic we deal with social issues that are relevant with people. Everything that is artistic and current is in this comic book.
AE: Now I have to say like a lot of people my age your music captivated me. When did you realize you guys were helping to pave the way for Rap music and the world of Hip-Hop?
DMC: When “Walk This Way” came out it was just crazy. People say when Steven Tyler takes that mic stand and knocks the wall down it didn’t just happen in that video. It happened in the world. I think we kind of knew when everybody got excited for “Rock Box” to debut on MTV.
“Rock Box” was the first Rap record that came on MTV. Even at that time the only popular black artist on MTV was Michael Jackson. It wasn’t like a Hip-Hop thing. For MC’s and DJ’s to be on MTV was huge. Our main goal wasn’t to get radio play, get rich, and become rock stars and celebrities. We just wanted to make Grandmaster Flash and The Furious Five, Cold Crush, Afrika Bambaataa, and the Zulu Nation happy. We just wanted to impress them.
When “Rock Box” got on MTV everybody was talking about Hip-Hop. Even though when “Walk This Way” came out people still thought Hip-Hop was a fad. “Walk This Way” is killing. Now when we first came out in ‘84 every question at a press conference or an interview was, ‘Where do you think you will be in five years and is Rap a fad? How long is this going to last?’ Even with “Walk This Way” and “My Adidas” killing, people still thought it was a fad. When we got on MTV and everyone was really happy and people started talking about us we thought that maybe we have something here.
AE: The collaboration with Aerosmith for “Walk This Way” connected two genres of music that was seamless. In that moment while creating that record did you feel any pressure of showing what Rap music was to people who may never have heard it before?
DMC: It is kind of like a two sided question. When we first made the record “Walk This Way” the way you all heard it, me and Run didn’t like it. Now this is how it went down. Me and Jay were going to sample “Walk This Way.” Me and Run were supposed to talk about how good we are.
“I’m DMC in the place to be. Been rhymin on the mic since ’83. I’m the best MC in history. There will never be an MC better than me.” Then Run was going say, “I’m DJ Run and I’m number one.”
Rick Rubin came into the studio and told us we should do the record over. Me and Run were thinking from a limited Hip-Hop point of view. We told Rick that we are going to sample it. We are going to rhyme over it. That is doing it over.
Rick said that we should do it the way Aerosmith had originally done it. Jay had heard the record past the break. Me and Run never heard the record past the break. So Rick gave us the record and told us to let it play. Take down a pen and paper and write down the lyrics on the record so you can learn them. So when we heard Steven’s voice we were like oh hell no. (Both laugh.)
This is hillbilly gibberish. You guys are taking this Rock/Rap stuff way too far. You are going to ruin our careers. Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation are going to hate us. You all are going to make us the laughing stock of the music industry. We were like we are not doing this. There was a fight until Jay and Rick were able to convince us to come to the studio. They said to no do the lyrics the way Steven is singing them. Me and Run were pissed off. We were screaming what do you all want us to do? Jay said do the record like Run and D would do it.
It was almost like “Different Strokes” with Arnold like “Whatcha talkin bout Willis?” We said, “Whatcha talkin bout Jay?” He said to do the signature switch off and do the lyrics by helping each other out. So we did that. He put Steve on the last vocal. That is the version that you all here today.
When we heard the finished product we were like it was cool. It was funky. The vocals, the delivery, and Joe Perry guitar riffs are tight. Steven’s vocals were tight. Me and Run go with the version you hear today said you all better not put this version out as a single. Here we are 30 years later and me and Run just sit back. The moral to that story is always be open to try something new because not only will it change your life, but it could change the world. Still me and Run had no idea.
AE: What is your take on the evolution of Rap music from the time you started to now?
DMC: The evolution kind of stopped somewhere. Maybe it was 20 years ago. I can never critique another person’s creativity, but Hip-Hop used to evolve. It used to grow. “The Message” came out. “Planet Rock” came out. “Rock Box” came out. Then LL (Cool J) came. Then Public Enemy came. Then De La Soul came. Then the Beastie Boys came. Then Tribe (Called Quest) came. There was always a variable or different innovation or creativity that was spiking the sound, ideas, or music.
Now for the last 20 years they all sound alike. They all look alike. It is the same car. It is the same video. It is the same sound and the same subject. Somewhere the evolution stopped because people were afraid to evolve. The wrench in the machine is that innovation and creativity has been scarce because nobody is responsible.
Kool Moe Dee said 31 years ago to us rappers that is alright to have fun and lots of pleasures and joys, but it is the brain that separates the men from the boys. He said that when he was 19 years old. He was a young man. The thing that makes Hip-Hop so powerful is that a drug dealer would tell his story to all the kids who looked up to him and idolized him to not do that. That where the power was. That’s what I mean about having responsibility.
What makes Tupac great? It wasn’t the thug life tattoo he had on his chest. He made a record called “Brenda Had A Baby” and “Dear Mama.” That is what makes Tupac legendary in Hip-Hop to us. It wasn’t that he was a celebrity or that he was getting money. It was that he wasn’t afraid to talk to the issues that were relevant to us. That is why there is no evolution in Hip-Hop right now. No one talks about these issues anymore.
AE: You also do a large part in the community. From helping kids looking for foster care and families looking to adopt to other programs in different cities. Tell me a bit about your work in those communities.
DMC: When I was 35 I found out I was adopted. Then I found out I was a foster kid. It might have been unfortunate that my birth mother had to give me up and I went through the system. The two powerful things about that was in 1986 was when I am on top of the world. There is nothing bigger than Run-DMC. Even when Michael Jackson telling me, Run, and Jay that we were great. We are scratching our heads like why is Michael Jackson bowing to us?
My therapist in 1986 told me that I wasn’t rapping about having more adidas than you all, having a lot of money, or being the number one MC like other rappers. I did something powerful that was going to lead me to where I was going to today. When I did a freestyle, “Son of Byford, brother of Al. Bannah’s my mamma and Run’s my pal. It’s McDaniels, not McDonalds. These rhymes are Darryl’s, because these burgers are Ronald’s. I ran down my family tree. My mother, my father, my brother and me.”
I didn’t rhyme about my money, my riches, or my fame. I rhymed about something that was so very key and valuable to every little boy and girl on the Earth regardless of who they are. They need parents or someone who will guide them through life. When I think about how was able to be successful at who I am what I am able to do, it is regardless of my situation. Whether it is foster care, adoption, being a big brother or sister or even being a mentor. Even if it is just taking a kid in your neighborhood that you know has got it bad and walking up to them and getting them some ice cream. Let me talk to you. I am rooting for you. I am here for you.
If you can guide and educate a kid and show a kid that you care, there is not telling what that kid will grow up to do. When I look at the way and see how a lot of the laws and the legal system can prevent a kid from achieving a dream makes me feel like we need to push all the law books aside and just get involved into a kid’s life.
So when I found out that I was a foster kid I looked at all the foster kids. I looked at all the adoption agencies. All they need is about the help of two people in their lives to help them on where they are supposed to go. Even though I was a Catholic school kid, I lived in a house and had a backyard I thought about all the information that Moe Dee, Melle Mel, and Afrika Bambaataa were giving me on records. So it was my responsibility that when I got a record I wouldn’t be afraid to rap about telling kids other alternatives about how to be successful.
You don’t have to be a drug dealer to make a lot of money. You don’t have to be a basketball player to make a lot of money. Get a high school diploma. Get a college degree. Learn to be a cook or be a baker. We have to give the kids the information that is necessary for them to get to the place where they are supposed to go.
AE: Switching to fatherhood now, what are some of the morals you look to instill in your son as he is growing up?
DMC: I try to tell my son to always be honest. Don’t be afraid to be who you are. Always ask questions. Put your hand up and ask a question. Even if people tease you and say that you are a dummy, once you ask that question and get the answer you are empowered.
So I try and treat my son the way my father treated me. Whatever he likes to do I won’t tell him otherwise like I don’t think you should be drawing. You should get out there and play football. So if he doesn’t want to play football, he doesn’t have to play football. If he doesn’t want to be a scientist then he doesn’t have to be a scientist. I think it all falls in line with be true to yourself. Whatever you are looking for that thing is looking for you, but you have to be ready and prepared for when it shows up.
AE: What are some of the traits that your son gets from you?
DMC: He is very inquisitive. He is very scientific. My wife says that he will debate you. Oh my goodness. I think he gets that from her. He will debate you and make you see the thing that is there that you are not seeing. That is very important. I don’t want him to do something without questioning. Is this really the only way to do it or is this the way to do it?
My son is to technology as what I was to books. He has got the internet and video games. Back in the day we had books and encyclopedias. What he finds out in five minutes took me about a week going through in all the encyclopedias. (Both laugh.)
AE: What advice do you have for new dads out there?
DMC: Always be hands on. Be involved in school. Be involved with him and his friends. Get to know his friends. His friends speak to me and my wife. They respect us. They won’t follow him right up into his room. He will go right into his room, because he doesn’t care about us. (Both laugh.) They will stop and talk to us.
So be involved in their life, but don’t try and control any of the aspects in it. They will respect you. They won’t be afraid to come to you and tell you stuff.
Life of Dad Quick Five
AE: What is your favorite family movie you guys like to watch together?
DMC: Horror or zombie movies. “Shaun of the Dead.” Oh my God. “Shaun of the Dead” is at the top of the list.
AE: Other than your music do you guys have a favorite song that you all like to sing and dance to as a family?
DMC: I would probably say Nirvana songs. I don’t think he was born at that time. He was born in ’93. When he set up my computer for me, my surprise was the Nirvana screensaver. He knows I am big fan of Nirvana.
AE: Describe the perfect family vacation.
AE: Favorite pair of kicks?
DMC: adidas. Shell toes. It might have been Puma, but Pumas fall apart. If you take care and clean your adidas they will last forever.
AE: Who would you love to work with next on a record?
DMC: Paul McCartney. It would be amazing if one of the real Beatles of Rock ‘n’ Roll hooked up with one of the Beatles of Hip-Hop. It would be groundbreaking. So Paul, I am coming to see you.