I went to Chuck D’s house in Long Island to catch up with the legendary DMC. We had a good long chat about the changes in hip hop culture, the industry and the myriad of ways to be in the hip hop industry.
Now here’s a man that needs little introduction if ever there was one, but just to refresh!:
Credited with breaking hip hop into the mainstream in the ‘80’s, Run DMC were “First to go gold, first to go platinum, first to go on MTV, first with the sneaker deal, first with the movies, first to do the big tours”. Basically paving the way and setting the standard for their successors.
He reminds us how influential hip hop can be on the lives of individuals. Something anyone who has been touched by a record, an artist, or a movement can relate to.
Interestingly, DMC also shared about his period of depression and finding out he was adopted at age 35. This led him to create an Emmy winning documentary about his quest to find his roots.
Lady Jay UK: The legendary DMC…
DMC: I can’t comprehend legendary.
Lady Jay UK: What’s happening with you?
DMC: Nothing, just working on some new music.
Lady Jay UK: Tell us more…
DMC: OK, hopefully gonna put an album out this summer, and just basically, not like a come back or anything, just the way the industry is right now, there’s not great albums out there. If we have a guitar riff it’s gonna be a dope guitar riff…
There’s people that make beats, but then there’s producers. I wanted to work with producers. People that’s gonna bring the best out for me. Freddie Fox, people are like ah that’s Bumpy Knuckles, but he’s like the dopest producer too. He’s producing me, Johnny Juice, and this young kid named Sonic from Jersey.
I used to live in Queens and moved to Jersey, a couple years ago I went to a boxing match. There was a young dude there, Sonic, The Mad Scientist, and he was like yo DMC what you up to? You know I respect you, I’m working on a record, so he seen the opportunity… “I’m makin’ some beats yo, I got beats”, and we talked earlier, everybody’s a manager, everybody’s a rapper. This kid was like I got beats, so I’m like gimme your address I’ma come over.
He was like, yea right, DMC’s gonna come to my house, so two days later I show up at his door, he shook! I spent some time with the kid and he got a beautiful out look on music.
I wanted to work with people who was gonna give me some good music, because that’s what Run DMC was known for, good records, good stage show, good rhymes, good beats, good scratches, good entertainment, good vibe, everything that made hip hop great. I mean there’s some good stuff out there, the great stuff you have to go look for, because radio here in New York ain’t playing it, radio in America ain’t playing it! There’s nothing great (that’s) accessible.
For me, it’s like, everywhere I go, there’s always a microphone, the only time I can get on the radio is ‘the old school at noon’. I can’t get on the radio, but just because I can’t get on the radio, there’s nothing stopping me from doing the hop hop thing that I love.
Lady Jay UK: Yea, yea…
DMC: I’ll tell everybody, I was doin’ it for free when I was 12 years old, I didn’t have nobody’s permission, so the album that I’m making now, is like me sitting in my room again 12 years old writing rhymes, then going downstairs to the basement and recording it.
Lady Jay UK: Wow.
DMC: So that’s the perspective I’m tryna take it from, a music creative standpoint.
Lady Jay UK: That’s amazing. You’ve been in the industry for so long, and there have been so many changes… It would be a very long conversation to talk about all of those changes, what’s your thoughts about the industry now, and the differences from when you started out?
DMC: Well, it used to be where the industry would look for something new and different. But now, they want the same thing that’s hittin’ already, it’s crazy, it’s like if you pick up any rap magazine, if you go to any rap show, Rap Network, MTV VH1, BET, when you turn it on every artist looks like the same artist over and over again. Same sound over and over again, same lyrics over and over again. Not only that! The same people over again.
The thing that changed with the industry, it used to be like, whoa, these guys over here got Run DMC, these got Public Enemy, these guys over here got De La Soul, these guys over here got NWA, for us to come in the game, we got to come with something new. But now, it’s like, NWA made a lot of money, then he got NWA, he got NWA, he got NWA, he got NWA. Oh Run DMC, DMC he got rock in here? Then he got rock n roll; he got rock n roll… Oh Gazelles is hot? He got Gazelles, he got Gazelles, he got Gazelles.
Like it’s so crazy now, the industry used to elevate the art form, culture.
It used to be like, Kool Herc, Theadore, Grand Master Flash, Curtis Blow, Afrika Bambaataa, Run DMC, LL Cool J, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, and the list goes on and on, Beastie Boys, Eminem, DMX, Ja Rule, Jay Z, used to all be different. Then rap would evolve. Right now, it’s just spread out across the land, and there’s no difference. There’s no substance, there’s nothing interesting.
Look, anybody could kick a 16 bar verse. It’s easy to talk about sex, drugs and violence and guns and stuff like that, and the hood. But nobody now could really sit there and write a universal record that’s not just gonna impress me, or the kids, or the young teenagers. Nobody’s writing music that’s impressing the government, the religious leaders, and the educators. The thing abut us when we was making them records, what I’m saying right now sounds old and mature, but the great hip hop records was made by people who was probably 13, no older than 25. It was political, it was philosophical, it was religious. It wasn’t just my boys, and people 13-25 bugging out, the powers that be, the law makers, the educators was listening to hip hop going, ‘do you hear what these kids from the ghetto is doin!… this stuff is great’. It’s powerful.
But somewhere along the line, two things happened. They started doing what everybody else does. Ice T told me, D, you wanna make a lot of money: sex and violence. But for me to jump on that bandwagon, it would be disrespectful to the culture.
The guy that makes sex and violence records, he says he does it from a perspective. But now, where as it used to be: ‘here’s a story about Jack, Jack sold crack, He got locked up and he never came back’. Now, these guys is: ‘I’m Jack, I sell crack, and it’s cool’. Or I’m a killer, I’m a murderer, and it’s cool. As opposed to; ‘these are things that is happening in our community’.
Hip hop was always, put the information out there, and then we could go, now what?, but now, a guys like, ‘man, if I rap about that, I get paid’, that’s what they’re doing.
For me, it’s not about censorship and freedom of speech; it’s about genocide. It’s also not just for the black community. Its for the white community, for the Asian community, for the Latino community. The hip hop culture has more power than the politicians, the police and the preachers. So what we do, these kids go, man, I wanna do that. But they don’t do it like they used to do it, they do it my any means necessary. What’s the quickest way for me to be like 50 and Jay Z?
Lady Jay UK: Yea.
DMC: Now, if you can’t get a record deal like them, they’re doing everything they can just to get those things and get that status. As opposed to man I love hip hop, I’m not really a rapper, I’m a be a journalist, I’m a go on the radio. The hip hop universe is so fruitful, and so creative. It’s room for everybody. But everybody’s jumping on the bandwagon again, and it’s at the expense of our own people, our own selves, our own culture. Because the labels don’t care, and more power to ‘em; they’re in the business to sell the music. But it’s bad that they don’t say, ok, we can sell and make a zillion dollars off of this, but we have to put a positive rapper here, we have to put the philosophical rapper, we have to put the fun rapper. There’s no balance, and there’s no standard for them to be checked on.
You don’t need the government to check them, you don’t need Al Sharp and Reggie Jackson, you don’t need the senators to check them; we need gotta check ‘em. We gotta be yo, listen man it was cool, when you first came out on your first album and you was killer man, pusher man, pimp man; that was cool. But it’s your fifth album and you still talkin’ that, and you probably don’t even live that life no more!
So for me, it was so great to see Treach, Naughty By Nature, he was out on the streets, but when he got to the microphone he wrote ‘Hip Hop Hooray’, ‘O.P.P’ he didn’t just get up there and say: ‘I’m Treach, I’m mad at the world, and fuck you and I’ll kill you’. And he probably would kill you! But when he stepped to the microphone he knew he had a responsibility for the culture and the people so look at Treach and as rough as this guy is, do you hear the knowledge coming out of him. That’s what made hip hop appealing.
People say Run DMC is the hardest thing on the face of the earth, Snoop and them would go: ‘Y’all were so hard, but y’all didn’t curse, y’all didn’t have no stupid records, but that was gangster to us’.
So it’s all about influence!
You used to look at LL and go ‘yo man, he look good, he gotta lotta muscles and can spit. I can’t do that, but there‘s some way, some form, I can be down with that’. But now it’s like: ‘wow, I can do the same thing’, you know what I’m sayin. And they’re doin’ it with a lack of creativity. They like, he spitting all that knowledge, I’m just gonna bring it an ABC record, talking bout getting drunk and high get me some money.
Which is all good, you can have that, but my thing is this, if you make a record about a gun, you gotta make a record about not using a gun. If you make a record about a bitch and a ho, you gotta make a record about your mother, your aunt, your sister who don’t live that life ‘cos the kids in the hood, they know Mrs McGillacutty. Like I told you earlier, they know about that lady who worked every day for 60 years, sent all her kids to college. None of them went to jail. But if the rapper don’t rap about it, the kid is just gonna think, ‘man I’m stuck in the hood, my only way out is either to be a drug dealer, an athlete or a rapper’.
Lady Jay UK: Do you think it’s about balance?
DMC: That’s not the total existence of us, because hip hop didn’t just create rappers. It created C.E.O.’s, executives… The other day I was walking in the city and this Tony Soprano looking guy come up to me like ‘come ‘ere’. I’m like, oh shoot, what did I do?! He said ‘come here, I gotta tell you this. I’m on Wall St because of Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Kool G Rap, and Polo… because ya’ll inspired me; to do something with myself. I could have still been in Brooklyn, I could have still been locked down… But I’m on Wall St, I went to school. It felt good being in school, and right now I’m on Wall St trading stocks and getting’ a lot of money’.
That’s hip hop too.
Lady Jay UK: You got an Emmy for your documentary didn’t you?
DMC: Yes I did, and everybody always makes a big deal about that. Even when I got nominated, it was a big deal. I didn’t do it to get the Emmy. I wouldn’t do TV unless it served a purpose.
So I was at a point in my life where, I done did possibly everything I could do with records. First to go gold, first to go platinum, first to go on MTV, first with the sneaker deal, first with the movies, first to do the big tours. Like Run DMC set it for everyone to achieve what’s goin’ on now. Ya hear people in the game go, ‘when I get 35, I don’t even know if I’m gon’ do hip hop’ and the labels and record industry is like hip hop is a young person’s music.
No. You got young people doin’ it, but it’s not a young person’s music. If I was hip hop at 8, I’m gon be hip hop at 80. So does Bruce Springsteen stop playing the guitar because he’s 50? Look at Mick Jagger; people laugh at them. ‘They too old to do that’. First of all, they been doing it since they was 12 years old, in a garage, beating on pots and pans and The Rolling Stones do it better than a lot of the young dudes out there…
For me, hip hop doesn’t just stop with your record career… I found out at the age of 35, after doing everything I did with my whole career… that I was adopted. I didn’t know my whole life.
I got really depressed with it.
Lady Jay UK: How did you find out?
DMC: No, they would have never told me, but what happened was before I found out I was adopted, I was on tour in Europe, when Jay was alive. Run DMC was doin’ a tour with Aerosmith, and every day I would wake up, this a true story, and I would wake up an I’d go, ‘am I here just to be DMC?’ This famous rap dude. And I thought about my whole life: grew up in Queens New York, I remember the rhyme ‘Son of Biford, brother of Al, Ben is my man and Run’s my pal, it’s McDaniels not McDonalds, these rhymes are Darryl’s those burgers are Ronald’s, I went down my family tree, my mother, my father, my brother, me’. I did that record in 1986, cos it wasn’t me being kind, DMC that was important. It wasn’t me selling records, to me it was my friends and my family so, I rapped about that. So we tourin’ in Europe, getting 35-40 grand a night, and I’m waking up depressed… ‘what’s the purpose of all that?’.
I thought about it, I met Jo and Jay, I went to St. John’s University, me and Jo made a record, Russell went and got a record deal, I took a leave of absence from college. I didn’t know I was gonna be a rapper! I took a leave of absence ‘cos I thought, this ain’t gonna last! I’ma be back next year, make a couple dollars and have some money in the bank.
It was like this void in me, and I got really, really, really depressed. I was like what’s my purpose, I don’t know success without significance didn’t mean nuttin’. So I called myself an alcoholic, suicidal, metaphysical wreck… I was happy rhyming and stuff like that, but there was something missing about me.
I got a little suicidal, I read every book by Deepak Chopra, I read the bible, I read everything. Really what happened was I got in the car one day and Sarah McLoughlin had this record back in ’97 called ‘Angel’, and when the driver put this record on; out of everything in my life, this record made me go… something in me made me say ‘yo it’s beautiful to be alive, life is good’.
So for one whole year all I did was listen to Sarah McLaughlin records, and at the end of that year; I’d heard of her but never met her, I got to meet her! I went to Clive Davis’ Grammy party, I didn’t want to go, I went to a party I didn’t even wanna go to, and she walked in. I was like ‘oh my god, that’s that lady’; so I just walked over and said ‘yo, Ms McLaughlin, your music, that record Angel saved my life. You sound like an angel, you sing like an angel. But you’re not an angel to me you’re god!’…
She shook my hand and said ‘thank you Darryl, that’s what music is supposed to do’, and she left.
Three years went by. I still had this void in me, tryna figure out what it was. I said, man if I died tomorrow people know my musical legacy, they know what Run DMC did… the kids of this generation don’t know about the little boy Darryl who became DMC.
Why their brothers love me, why their mothers love me. They know ‘It’s Tricky’ and ‘Walk This Way’, but they don’t know about the little boy Darryl. So I’m a write a book, just in case if I die tomorrow, you know if I really O.D., I was drinking heavily, if I do commit suicide, no one knows about Darryl.
So I just basically called my mother up and said, I just need to know three things: how much did I weigh, what hospital I was born in, and what time I was born. And she told me those three things. Thank you, love you, hung up the phone.
Hour later she called up with my father on the phone, Darryl we have something else to tell you…
Lady Jay UK: Oh my god!
DMC: On the phone yea… you was a month old when we brought you home, and you’re adopted. So right then and there, I knew the void was filled. That was the missing piece, I was already depressed, suicidal, so, that was really a wake up call… I realised that was the void in me. That’s why I was given a foundation of hip hop. Not religion, not politics, because politics divide. If you say you’re democratic and I’m republican; we have a beef. Even within the parties, if you’re liberal and I’m conservative, we got a beef.
Look at religion, if you’re Baptist, Protestant, if you’re Muslim, Christian, we got a beef. Hip hop is the only force on the face of the earth that brought people from all races, all creeds, all colours together. I mean, people that don’t even understand English know Run DMC and Wu Tang and hip hop and it’s all good. I realised my purpose. But then, I also realised that, I was in the foster care system. And then I started thinking about the hoods and the street. All those at risk youth out there. Whether they’re in foster care, incarcerated, whether their mother’s, father’s on drugs, homeless, it don’t matter what if you’re in the ghetto or Beverly Hills. All these kids are me.
So I feel it’s my purpose to represent the streets, everybody who’s associated with the hip hop culture, because that’s why it was given to me. That’s my personal responsibility.
I was fortunate to get adopted, not lucky. And at the same time, I’m a good representation to these kids, ‘cos even though I didn’t go to jail, ‘cos I was fortunate, I grew up around these kids. I tell ‘em ‘yo I got 3 things going for me. I’m not in jail, I didn’t o.d. and I didn’t get murdered’, like my friend Jay and all the other rappers that got murdered.
So it’s my responsibility. The thing that made me start rappin’ at 12 years old, it’s my responsibility just to keep that alive. The best advice that I ever got, for this business, wasn’t from lawyers and management. It was from the people I see everyday in the street. Whether it’s this dude’s son, who knows his father loves me, or it’s the fathers and mothers of the generation. People tell me, D, keep doin’ what you’re doin’.
No matter ‘hip hop is dead’, they can look at D and go ‘no it ain’t’. I’ma keep that alive.
There’s a lotta other people like me, so for me, what I’m tryin’ to do now is kick the door open again, and leave it open. If you think about all the great rappers that’s always progessin’, and when we was all able to co exist.
Now it’s like, if I get a record deal, instead of sayin, yo ‘ma sign this kid over here, who has nothing to do with me, but I like what he’s sayin. You hire DMC, and I get my cousin down, call my cousin, this is what we’ll do for you, we’ll dress you, I’ll ghostwrite for you, I’ll have my man make you beats, and we’ll present you as a artist. Man you gotta put your work in.
I wanna bring it back to where everybody’s doing what they supposed to do, and not what everybody else is doing. By me doing that, it opened my creativity again. Me, Run and Jay, we never cared about what people thought. Our whole thing was to make the best hip hop beats, rhymes and scratches, and be a good show…
People would be like rap is a young persons music. But after all these things that happened to me, I realised that that wasn’t true. Once I found out that I was adopted, and I let the world know, I started meeting all these other adopted people.
But a lot of people didn’t know… see it wasn’t about me going to find out who was my real mother and father, my real mother and father is (those) that raised me. This is about me knowing how my story began. You never start a book from chapter two. I was living my life from chapter two, because I didn’t know how Darryl got here.
I met other people who wished they knew when and where they was born. And I thought ‘cos I’m DMC, I can get a camera, then I could show the world, follow me as I go on my journey. So I could show people…
I tell people, stop saying fans because you’re not fans. If I say you’re my fans, that implies that I’m greater than you. I’m not better than you, I’m not more talented than you, I’m not smarter than you, I’m not more blessed than you. With hip hop, I am you. I represent you. That’s why I called the record just like me, so I just did the search for all those people who need something done for them.
When I got the Emmy, from a business standpoint, I sit back and say the purpose and intent that that I set out to accomplish has been accomplished. But then when I won! It was really like ‘oh man!’. It’s a whole other level. People tell me that documentary was like one of your dope records D. So now I’m putting in this culture of hip hop, whether it’s dance, making a good record, whether filming a good interview and saying some good stuff what ever I can add creatively, always adds to what’s missing with the music. Evolution of hip hop.
It’s all about telling a story.
Lady Jay UK: What else do we need to look out for with you DMC?
DMC: Well… when I went to the awards it wasn’t the typical TV show Emmy. It was the journalistic, story telling documentary Emmys. So I’m sitting in a room with Katy Corick, Dan Braver, Ted Copple, journalists from all around the world… My new love is telling stories through film. I’ma add that to my reservoir. What’s good, it all goes hand in hand, it’s good for my music.
I wake up tomorrow, I could do a documentary on violence and education in America. No, in the world. Whatever it is, but I can score it with my music, and put my music in my own productions. I don’t gotta worry about a record deal… the radio. There’s so much film, TV, music, radio. There’s so many other mediums I can fill my music with to let people know I ain’t never gon’ stop rappin.
I’ma be 90 years old, ‘I’m DMC, in the place to be, you remember DMC from ’83, now it’s 3001 and I’m still on the mic’. Im saying I’ll be old as hell, rhymin’.
Right now, I’m just havin’ fun again. My whole thing is, can I get the mic! Everywhere I go, if you invite me to your event, I’ll say, ‘yo can I do my record’. And I’ll get up there and do my record, and it’s real funny, ‘cos you see the father there with the son. And the father’s telling the son, this is the real rap. I like the look I’m getting from the kids, ‘cos they’ll see me rapping, and I got my DJ now. That might be old school to us ‘cos we know the whole vinyl thing, but this generation of kids they so used to seeing a video, downloading. When they go see a show, they don’t get that energy off the record ‘cos the shows be, wack.
So when they see me rhymin’, they see this old man up there rhyming, and the DJ cutting, the kids is goin’ what’s that!? See it’s new to them.
It’ aint new to Johnny, because we been doing it. They looking at it, ‘DJ scratch the vinyl?’ and do the tricks and stuff like that, and a rapper rapping, the rapper ain’t talking bout ‘look at my chaaaain, look at ma rims’, so take a little bit of this, a little bit of that, out it with Darryl Mac now you got a dope track. Rap is so wack so I had to come back.
Kids are looking like Daddy what’s that, and they be like, that’s rap son! When they see me now, even though I’m doin’ what I been doing since 8 years old. It’s new to this new generation, so I gotta utilise every opportunity to do what it is that I do.
I can’t go up to Hot 97 right now in New York and get on the radio. Because there’s no respect for our hip hop culture like that.
Lady Jay UK: Does that make you sad?
DMC: It makes me real sad. Bruce Springsteen, Lou Reid, whichever one of the Ramones is still alive, the Beatles that’s still living, if they come to New York… If Lou Reid put out a record tomorrow, Rolling Stones magazine will give them the cover, and they’ll give you the story of why he was great when he first came. What he did when he was doin’ it, and what he’s doin’ now.
These rap magazines, they got no love for hip hop, they should be telling what Bambaataa is doing… If Bambaataa put out a record tomorrow, you gotta go to page 168, and it’s at the bottom real small.
The rock and rollers and the jazz people, and the blues people they got respect for everybody in the culture. Listen, Bambaataa is just as important as 50 and Jay-Z, now. But the reason the kids ain’t got no respect for Bam, is because the magazines, the networks and stuff is only about making the dollar. The fool ass buffoons out there not giving ‘em the other part of the culture that little kid in the ghetto should see. So he can go, man I hope I could go to the strip club to see the girls , but at the same time, I know it’s really cool to write a positive record like the other boys in the hood.
Lady Jay UK: Thank you, it’s been good speaking with you.
DMC: Thank you.