Darryl “DMC” McDaniels is 57, but he still speaks with the boundless energy and commanding voice that he changed the music world with as a teenager. Whether he’s talking about the MCs that made him want to rap in the early ‘80s, his youth outreach work, or his upcoming single with Sebastian Bach, Travis Barker, Duff McKagan, and Mick Mars, DMC’s enthusiasm is infectious.
McDaniels founded Run-DMC in 1983 with his friends Joseph “Run” Simmons and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell. Over the next few years, the trio became hip hop trailblazers, the first rap group with a gold album, then the first with a platinum album, and then a multi-platinum album. Run-DMC, who we named the 7th most influential artist of the last 35 years, has been largely inactive since Mizell’s tragic 2002 death, but DMC has stayed busy, releasing a solo album, writing a memoir, and establishing his own comic book imprint.
On January 4, McDaniels is teaming with Random House and Nickelodeon to publish his first children’s book, Darryl’s Dream, which he co-wrote with Shawnee and Johnny Warfield and Adam Padilla. The book depicts a young McDaniels in 3rd grade, discovering a love of poetry and learning to love the glasses that would someday be an iconic part of his image. “A lot of kids wanna take the glasses off, a lot of kids don’t wanna express, ‘Y’know, I’m into coloring books and finger painting,’ stuff like that,” he says. “The things that I made powerful were actually things that I got teased, bullied and picked on. Ice-T said ‘Yo, DMC is the only MC that could rhyme about glasses, St. John’s University, chicken and collard greens and make it positivity gangsta.’ So that’s what I’m tryin’ to do with this book.”
SPIN: Thanks for taking the time to talk so close to Christmas. I love hearing “Christmas In Hollis” this time of year.
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels: I mean it’s so crazy that it’s become a part of holiday tradition, I never thought it would. It was usually “Frosty the Snowman,” y’know, Bing Crosby, Nat King Cole, chestnuts and “White Christmas” and all of that.
I know you’ve done a memoir and a graphic novel, was Darryl’s Dream was a matter of you looking for your next literary project?
No, not at all, I just kind of fell into this. 95 percent of what I do, if I’m not onstage or at a Comic-Con, I’m visiting schools. So it started with me going into high schools. I would go to high schools and just speak, “Yo I’m DMC, this is how I grew up, whatever, whatever.” So there’s no tales of drugs and gangs in my story. So the high school kids is looking at me like “How did you become the king of it all?” Then the high school teachers was like “You need to take that into the middle schools.” So I go into the middle schools, not changing nothing, didn’t dumb anything down, didn’t overrate my masculinity or my street cred. Those teachers were like “You need to take this into the elementary schools.” So I would go into the schools, I’m talking about in front of kindergarteners and second graders and third graders. Y’know, I don’t go [slowly] “Hey, kids my name is Darryl.” No, I go “Yo, my name is Darryl McDaniel.” And the kids would ask me some amazing questions.
So long story short, I went to these two schools in Brooklyn, and I spoke to the third, fourth, and fifth graders. And the teachers were like “When you left, the attitudes of these kids changed.” So they invited me back the next year, same thing. So the teachers go, the two educators said, “You should write a book.” And I go no, I don’t feel like doing a book. So they bring me back a third year, same thing, “You should write a book.” I said OK, OK, here’s the deal, I’ll do a book, but you gotta help me, because the educators are the ones on the front lines every day with our children. And some of these teachers know the kids better than the parents. So I said OK, here’s my idea, here’s Darryl, a third grade talent show, the peer pressure that all young people go through, let’s make that part of it, the bullying, let’s make that a part of it.
Run DMC was still very image-based and you guys kinda had the tough guy persona but this was before gangsta rap so it was a different thing.
Right. I tell people, y’know, the reason why N.W.A. is wearing Raiders jackets is because of us. So if I can show a kid, yo, I’m the king of this hip hop thing, yes, that’s true, but I am no different from you, I tell the kids I’m not smarter than you, I’m not better than you, I’m not even more talented than you. But I am you when you take advantage of every educational artistic creative event or incident or thing in your life, and that’s what Darryl’s Dream represents. All of these kids have dreams. Two of the educators that helped me write the book are Shawnee and Johnny Warfield, who at the time were just teachers, they now are both principals in their respective school districts. So we realized that there are so many things that we are not tapping into with these children. So let’s allow them to dream, let’s allow them to be creative.
I think one of the reasons hip hop keeps connecting with generation after generation is that rhyming is the most fun you can have with words, you see it in how kids react to Dr. Seuss books.
Dr. Seuss is better than Eminem, Jay-Z, and LL, let’s keep it real! Dr. Seuss got the best bars in the history of hip hop, you hit it right on the nose. A lot of hip hop, the parents can’t listen to and the kids can’t listen to either. All my music from day one was never ageist, now I’m even more famous than I was in the ‘80s because the kids love the “Tricky” song.
Yeah, it’s interesting that “It’s Tricky” wasn’t your biggest hit at the time but it’s become the one you hear the most now.
Right, it’s everywhere, it’s in every Adam Sandler movie, Road Trip, it’s in every cartoon. It’s one of those songs that resonates with your total being. And I noticed that once I connect with the kids with the songs, I can talk to them.
I’m curious, which Run-DMC album are you proudest of?
Of course it’s Raising Hell. I think Raising Hell was just a complete presentation of what to do if you wanna do a hip-hop album, because remember, nobody believed hip-hop albums was gonna sell, because everything was singles. We took a gamble when we did the first album, and it was hugely successful because of “Rock Box,” where we combined hip hop and rock, because rock was some of the records we freestyled over in the streets. I was inspired by Grandmaster Caz from the Cold Crush, Melle Mel, DJ Daryll C. from the Crash Crew, whole bunch of hip-hop bands people never heard of. My rhyme style with the echo is from a girl, Sha Rock, the first greatest female MC ever, who’s better than 99% of the dudes rappin’ today. Sha Rock was from The Funky Four Plus One. Everybody wanted to know what the Plus One is, the Plus One was this dynamic female MC. And this was in the early days of hip hop was definitely dude-dominated, Sha Rock on the mic, some dudes left the party because you can’t be better than her.
Even today with so many women rapping on the charts, you still don’t see a lot of male rappers saying one of their biggest influences is a woman, so for you to say that now is rare.
Yes, yes, and she heard me, and reached out to me and said “No one has ever done that.”
I know you’ve had some singles out recently, do you think you’ll ever do another solo album?
Yes! I’m working on it right now, it’s gonna be called America. The single ”America” is out now, I just dropped a song called “Ghetto Metal,” it’s all rock/rap-based. The video’s out on YouTube, I pay homage to Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix, and to my man Slash who’s still runnin’ around slayin’ people.
I’m putting out a vinyl EP in about four months, I got a song with Sammy Hagar, I got a song with Joan Jett. The next single we’re dropping in January or February is called “She Gets Me High” but it’s a remake of “Black Betty” by Ram Jam. It’s me on the mic, Sebastian Bach singing, Mick Mars from Motley Crue on guitar, Travis Barker on drums, and Duff McKagan from Guns N’ Roses on bass. So that’s dropping, and then Bumpy Knuckles aka Freddie Foxxx, one of the greatest underground lyricists in the history of hip hop, he’s also a great producer. He produced a song featuring the incomparable DJ Jazzy Jeff, Ice-T, and Chuck D of Public Enemy, all of us together.
It’s cool that you have Travis Barker in there, because he’s really the person right now that is putting rock and rap together the most at a mainstream level right now.
Yes! You know how he got on the record, I went to a party. Travis is there, he walks up to me and says “Most people jumped on the bandwagon with ‘Walk This Way,’ but I was there since ‘Rock Box.’ When I heard ‘Rock Box,’ I knew I could be a rock star.” And he said, “If there’s ever anything I could do for you,” I go oh, by the way, me and Sebastian are doing this thing, he’s like “I’m in.” That showed me that what I did in ’85 was resonating two generations below me. But we was always wholesome, we were dominant, we were Godlike, but you didn’t see a celebrity, you felt like you was down with us.
Yeah, it kinda feels like Run-DMC was like The Rolling Stones or The Ramones, just these guys who grew up in the same neighborhood and had a cool look and happened to make music.
When we first did our shows, when we played New York, it was always “Joey’s here, the Ramones are in the audience.”