DMC is For The Children
New York, New York
“It’s not how you got here. It’s now that you are here what are you going to do?” These words were spoken by DMC while discussing his adoption. Since this life changing revelation, at 35 years of age, DMC has been championing adoption causes. I bring this to light because we all have a purpose. As DMC explained his purpose was to use his status, as a member of the world renowned rap group Run DMC, to help these children feel their worth. It poses the question how can we help others?
In The Career Cookbook interview DMC talks about what hip-hop means to him, offers advice on the music industry for aspiring MCs, and shares his love for the Cold Crush Brothers.
CCB: How were you introduced to hip-hop?
DMC: There was a DJ on the radio years ago who was called Eddie Cheeba. In eighth grade Billy Morris had a tape of his show but it was only like thirty seconds of it. He played it for me and it was very staticy because where we lived we really couldn’t get FUV. I just remember hearing Eddie Cheeba go, (Starts rhyming) “When you mess around in New York town you go down with the disco Cheeba clown. You go down and down and down and down. You go down. You keep the pep inside your step. Don’t stop until you get to the mountain top…” I remember sitting there with my box and just rewinding it over and over for hours. So, that is when I knew about this hip-hop thing but I had to get the tape back to Billy. I just remember how that thing touched my life.
I forgot about it in eighth grade growing up. But then my brother (Alford) who was three years older than me he had the idea of getting the turntable and the mixer. In the beginning I was going to be a DJ. He had brought home Grandmaster Flash & the Furious Five Super Rappin’. I remember taking that record and putting it on the turntable and listening to it over and over and over. So, then I knew about this DJ Grandmaster Flash because the Furious would always rhyme about Flash. I put two and two together. My brother had records so I wanted to be a DJ. I was Grandmaster Get High because of Flash. I would sit for hours in the basement cutting and scratching trying to be Flash.
CCB: Was there a point when you realized you wanted to spend your life making music?
DMC: Yeah, that happened when I started hearing tapes of the Zulu Nation, Afrika Bambaataa. Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation because they weren’t really rapping like what’s your name and what’s your sign, and say ho and all of that. They would be like, (Starts rhyming) “C to the apple, apple to the core. I am the man with the rhymes galore. Rock a rhyme for me and then a rhyme for you, everybody catch the boogaloo flu. I went outside and got on the train.” They started telling stories. And they had this echo chamber. What Bambaataa and them did was different from party rappers. At that point right there even though I was a DJ I was so moved by the MC, but I was a DJ.
I really didn’t want to MC until I got my first Cold Crush tape. The Cold Crush 4 MCs. Even though they wasn’t as popular as Flash and Bambaataa when everyone was starting to make records. The best people who ever touched the mic and DJ was the Cold Crush 4, DJ Charlie Chase and Tony Tone. I was in ninth grade. I think I paid $12 for my first Cold Crush tape. When I heard the Cold Crush that really made me want to start writing rhymes. So, what I used to do was write rhymes in my black and white notebook. What I used to do when I was in the basement was I would put on the instrumentals of everybody else’s records and I used to say my rhymes over their beats. But, I didn’t want to be an MC but I was just doing that because that was the thing that was moving me. The reason that Run DMC was so def was because of the Cold Crush Brothers.
CCB: What was special about the way that they rhymed?
DMC: There were four of them and they had DJ Charlie Chase and they would rap together. What was so crazy was that while they were rapping Charlie Chase would be changing records. The other rappers would put on Good Times. The MC would rap and Flash would keep the record going or whatever the DJ would keep the record going and they would just rap. But, the Cold Crush Brothers, it was like they were a band. They would be rapping. They would do something like, “We want everybody to get up and move your butt.” Charlie would play one record, stop, and they would keep going. They would keep going and Charlie Chase would change the beat (enthusiastic) and they would just keep going. It was amazing to hear them and see them. What was good about them was they always had these things called routines. What we did, “Here we go, here we go, DMC and DJ Run.” They had hundreds of those routines. Everything that they did was to be better than what was going on. If Flash and them did that last week next week the Cold Crush would come back and do a routine that was better than what they had last week. It was just crazy. It wasn’t that the DJ and the MC was a separate entity. Like we said, Run DMC and Jam Master Jay, we wasn’t two MCs and a DJ. Run DMC and Jam Master Jay was the band. It was all inclusive. Nowadays it’s all about the MC being up front. But, that’s not what hip-hop is all about. It’s about the whole thing that happens from start to end. For the Cold Crush it was like this rap stuff is cool but what these guys do is awesome.
CCB: How did you learn about MCing and perfect your rhyming style? Was that practicing in your basement?
DMC: It was practicing in the basement. The real deal was in ninth grade my English teacher before we started class he would give the class five minutes to be creative. You could draw, you could write short stories, you could do poetry, you could do art. I would sit there and write rhymes. That’s where I really got my practice from. In ninth grade one day Joe (Run of Run DMC) found I had a stack of black and white notebooks about this high off the ground. We were in the basement. I was DJing. We were eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. That’s what we used to do. We would play basketball and then go in the basement and DJ. I’m DJing and Joe finds my books because Russell Simmons was his brother. Because before rap records was made Russell was a party promoter and he would go get Flash, Bambaataa, DJ Hollywood, and Eddie Cheeba. He’d go rent out the rec center and charge $5 to go see Flash and all of the MCs. But one day he found my rhyme book and he said, “Yo, D. You wrote all of these?” I was like, yeah.
(Russell said Run couldn’t put out a record until he graduated from high school.)
I graduated from high school and I get a phone call from Joe. (He impersonates Run’s voice) “Remember I said I was going to put you in my group? Well we just graduated. Russell is going to let me make a record. Grab your rhyme books and get to the studio.” I didn’t even tell my parents about it because I didn’t think nothing of it.
It was Sunday afternoon when we went to the studio and we didn’t get home until two in the morning and I came home and got in trouble but I still didn’t tell my mom and dad that I made a record. It goes on, summer rolls by. The second semester at St. Johns University the record Joe and I made came on in the lunchroom and the whole lunchroom jumped up. This is the jam! Nobody knew it was me because it was singles, they didn’t have album covers. I thought this isn’t going to last. A couple of months go by and I got a call from Russell Simmons. “I got you guys a deal, the record is out. It’s a big hit across the nation. We got to go on tour. D, go tell your parents.” OK, I hung up the phone. Then I realized I never told my mom and dad that I had even made a record. I go downstairs. We was young, eighteen years old so it was always Russell said. “Russell said that the record is a hit and it’s coming on the radio, the name of the group is Run DMC and we got to go on tour.” They were like, “Hold up. First of all what the hell is rap music? Second of all, what in the world is Run DMC?” So, I told them I made this record. They were like, “You get your butt upstairs and you hit those books.” I go upstairs and I think Joe is gonna be real mad at me. Russell is gonna be real mad. So, I thought of something. I went backstairs to my ma and father and said, “Russell said that we are gonna go on tour, we are gonna make a nice amount of money. Whatever money we make going on the road this summer I’ll use to pay my tuition.” My mother and father had their little huddle because they were paying off their butts to send me to college. My mother said, “Make sure you take a leave of absence.” Meaning you get to go back at the point you leave college.” I took a leave of absence. Been absent ever since. The rest is history.
I never thought of getting up in front of millions of people and rapping. I just wanted to be a DJ. But, I didn’t think I was going to be a DJ. I didn’t even think I was going to be in the music business. But, like when I go to school and talk to the kids I always tell them it’s about preparation, dudes. If you don’t do the work now you are going to hate doing it 35, 40 years old because what you don’t do now you are going to have to do it anyway to still get to that point. All that English work was preparation for me to become a rapper. How are you going to rap if you can’t pronounce the words and know what is going on? That’s what I look at when I look at my significance. I never thought I was, but I was being prepared by putting in the work earlier.
CCB: When you made music with Run DMC was it your goal to bring that feeling of the park jams to people’s homes?
DMC: Exactly. What we did on records is what Flash, Bambaataa, Treacherous Three, Kurtis Blow did on tapes. The look we had is how we dressed in the neighborhood. If you notice after The Message most of the hot rappers before us would take the hot disco record. Good Times, rapping over that for Rappers Delight. Take the hot disco record because people could relate and make that a hit. Before we started doing that we didn’t have anything to rap over. That’s why we rapped over James Brown. We had to find beats to rap over. People think we made rock-rap to get white people to rock the crowd. No, we rapped over rock because it was a beat without somebody singing disco and it was loud and aggressive.
You hear all these rappers say rap needs to be this, you have to have that. You don’t have to have nothing except what’s here. (Points at his heart) Even when Run DMC did what we did and was dominating we never claimed to create, to have the blueprint, or the way to do it. So, people can relate to the way we did it because we look like you. We talked about crime. We talked about Mary Mary. We talked about Christmas in Hollis. We talked about everything that whether you are black, white, Puerto Rican. If you lived in a ghetto or you lived in Beverly Hills your existence on this earth is what you know about. It wasn’t like hip-hop nowadays where you have to have your little blueprint to be down with hip-hop. From the perception of MTV and BET you have to go get your checklist. Let me make sure I have my posse. Check. My bling bling. Check. I’ve got to have my whip. Check. With my rims. Check. And my thugs. No, throw that away. You just got to have what you have. That’s what hip-hop is about.
When we set out we weren’t going to be any different. I’m not going to be DMC this superstar Hollywood music… I’m going to be Darryl Mac from the street that everybody knows. Our thing was to give the people what was already there. We didn’t create nuttin’. Even if you look at rapping now it isn’t, Wow, I love your rhyming, why did you make that song? It’s who are you dating? How much money you got? Let me see your refrigerator. But the bad thing is it shows the younger generation results. It does not show them process. We just did it because that is what we did anyway.
CCB: Back to that essential part of rap is there a process to how you create rhymes?
DMC: The process as far as creating rhymes is initially hearing the beat and figuring out what you are going to say to it. Once you can rap over anything it becomes I’ve rapped over everything. So, then sometimes you can just start with the rap. It’s either this, you have the beat and you find a rap to fit it, or you have a rap and you have to go look for a beat to fit it. For us initially, it was what is the beat? OK, give us a minute.
CCB: You didn’t have a theme and then come up with lyrics around it?
DMC: No, we didn’t say let’s talk about Mary Mary. We was messing around with the Monkees record. We said we are going to talk about a Mary we know. Then a guy like Rick Rubin would go, I think that My Sharona, which was a rock record we didn’t know about, I think those two things would blend together. It was like Chuck D and KRS-One said it was us utilizing what was at our disposal. If we never had to rap over other people’s beats…Once drum machines came in we were able to make our own music and original music. Remember sampling? I’ve always described it as, have you ever seen the Little Rascals? How the other team would have a go-cart with real wheels of rubber. The other team would pull up with pails for tires. That’s what we did musically. People would try and disrespect us and say that’s not music. But, rappers could rap over anything. Rock, R&B, folk, jazz. If you look at Q-Tip, De La Soul, Run DMC it was all about us rapping. Rap is what we do not what we are. That’s another misconception. Even though we’re not singing (stretches this word out as if singing), we are still composing albeit with stuff that was readily available.
CCB: What qualities do the great MCs possess? Do you still believe Chuck D is the best?
DMC: The great MCs possess versatility meaning they can rap about anything but when they do it it’s always a different emotion on the record. If you listen to all the records Chuck D made it had a different feeling. If you listen to a lot of rappers today even the so-called great ones they rhyme the same way on every record and what really sells them is the producer producing the record and you have the same producers producing every record. 50 once said this, “I don’t need no name producer. I can take any beat from any kid in his basement right now and make it a hit record.” That’s the skill that a rapper possesses. I think Chuck D and Tupac did that the best. People always say who is better Tupac or Biggie? And I go Chuck D. They go oh, oh yeah, because they get it. Even though Tupac had thug life tattooed all over him he was able to make Brenda’s Got A Baby, Keep Ya Head Up, Dear Mama. Biggie just made good street records. He was a cute fat don from the hood. Tupac was able to go to the next level. I can’t put him over Chuck D because once he got consciousness Chuck D didn’t want to tell you about the party. We’ve got enough drinking, smoking, and killing. Like KRS-One also. But for me Chuck D when Jam Master Jay and I first heard him on WBAU (Adelphi University’s radio station) they used to do what Cold Crush did. Him and Flavor used to have routines of records they made in the basement. The moment me and Jay heard Chuck D we were like God came down from heaven and picked up a mic because of the voice. That voice was the best hip-hop voice ever.
CCB: What about Rakim?
DMC: Rakim is in a class by himself. Rakim is in a class of Kool G Rap, Big Daddy Kane, he is in a class of MCs like that. He is like their king. But the king of all MCs… It’s what he did with the music. If Run DMC is the Beatles of hip-hop Public Enemy is like the Led Zeppelin. If you listen to Stairway to Heaven which they probably say is the greatest Rock ‘n Roll song of all time for me the best rap record ever made was Rebel Without A Pause. “Yes, the rhythm, the rebel.”
Our thing, Run DMC, was don’t judge these books by their covers. We had the gold chains. We looked like the drug dealers and the killers and people would judge us for this. Rap is this and rap is bad for the kids. But, when people would pick up a Run DMC record those mothers and fathers changed their opinions about rap. When we first met him he didn’t want to just do records and play the game. But we were like Chuck you can talk about your social conscious (issues). I could? It’s not only the way he did it is what he did with it. We were kind of braggadocios. We’re the king of rap, we’ll be here forever. People just wanted to focus on Run DMC but we never let the people forget about the look, the b-boys, the graffiti. Until the day Jay died… When you look at Run DMC like Busta Rhymes and them say, “That’s not Run DMC, that’s hip-hop.” When you’d see us we always had the total package. With Chuck looking at the total package and saying,” Wow, this hip-hop is powerful and I can use it to convey a message,” the same way KRS-One did it.
CCB: Did Run DMC put Queens on the map as far as hip-hop?
DMC: We didn’t put Queens on the map. We’d say Hollis, Queens on the map because everyone wanted to be from Hollis. When we started making our records people used to just drive through Hollis to see us standing on the corner. Because we were in the neighborhood. See Jay in the park playing ball, DJing. Even when we was rollin’.
CCB: Even after you made it?
DMC: Of course. We never had bodyguards and never needed them because we was approachable because we represented you.
CCB: Is it true you weren’t sure about recording Walk This Way and then it became a huge hit?
DMC: Me and Run hated the idea of doing their record. We loved the beat. We wanted to be, “I’m DMC I’m the King You see is me.” But me and Jay was actually in the studio one day sampling the music. We’re going to steal this music. (Tongue in cheek) Rap on the air how good we are and how Jay is the best DJ in the world but Rick Rubin walks in the room and goes, “Do you know what you are all doing?” We didn’t even know it was Walk This Way. It was Toys in the Attic. When we wanted to freestyle, pull out Toys in the Attic. (The album) He gave us the 411 on Aerosmith. We were looking at him, “And?” This is how Rick always is. “It would be really great if you guys did that record over.” Jay being the visionary that he was, said that’s a great idea Rick. We were like hold up. You are taking this rock-rap stuff too far. We made Rock Box. We made King of Rock. Ya’ll want us to do this? So with a little persuasion it was take the record home and learn the lyrics. So, me and Run had never let the record play past the guitar and drum break. Right when Steven was ready to sing Jay would mix it back to the beginning.
I remember the day. We went into my basement, put the record on. It came on. (Mimics drum beat.) “Backseat lover…” Jay said, “Don’t do it the way Aerosmith would do it. Take those vocals and make them Run DMC vocals.” “What do you mean Jay?” “You take a word. Joe takes a word. Do the vocals as if it were a Run DMC record.” We laid down the vocals. Next day, history.
Still that’s OK. When we put out Raisin’ Hell don’t put this out as a single. We’re going to put out Peter Piper/My Adidas so we don’t lose our audience. They put out Peter Piper/My Adidas for all the rap radios but at the same time they released the single (Walk This Way) to all the rock and the urban stations. I’ll never forget the day Peter Piper was hot, Adidas was killin’ them, Adidas sales was off the hook. One day we hear Red Alert say I’m going to play one of the greatest rap records ever made. We’re thinking Peter Piper/My Adidas. He threw on Walk This Way and the rest is history. So me and Joe we felt kind of stupid. We looked at each other like what do we know? The whole moral to that story is Jay said if we are going to approach this musically we can’t be afraid to try new things forever. We can’t be rapping Rapper’s Delight forever, you have to evolve.
CCB: That brought Aerosmith back too.
DMC: That’s what everybody says. I remember there was a point where the management, the label said… The PR person would say in front of 100 reporters the guys will walk out of this press conference if there are any Run DMC questions, even to this day. Is it true Run DMC brought you back? That’s happened so much to them. We always say this too. When we made Walk This Way they were already working on the album (Permanent Vacation) with Dude Looks Like a Lady, Angel. That album was being made. The timing and the arrangement of the universe had it that we came. They had that record. As good as that album was we just say if we wasn’t there to reintroduce them people wouldn’t have paid it because it would have been Aerosmith, a bunch of druggies and they over. But doing this with Run DMC was like what the hell is this? Right after they said thank you to us, when introduced their music you couldn’t front on them. It wasn’t like we made Walk This Way and they ran to the studio to make it, they was already figuring it out. We didn’t just do the record and just take their lyrics, we did it with them. It was a joint effort.
CCB: Do you have any advice for people interested in becoming MCs or working in the music industry?
DMC: First thing we say is don’t lose your day job. Second of all it used to always be go to school, get an education. If you don’t go to college like me, Joe, and Jay did you have to learn. There is a word vocation, learn to do something, learn a trade. If you ain’t going to go be a student with books please take up gardening, plumbing, electrician, something.
Learn to do something other than your main thing. Not everybody is going to be the MC, the DJ, or the basketball player or the football player or the boxer. But, you can be the lawyer that represents these guys. I tell the kids this all the time. They have whips and mansions too. This is how I explain it to the fourth graders. The doctor that has to fix Allen Iverson’s knee when it hurts, they have whips and mansions and spinners too. The kids don’t know this. When they look at hip-hop they see results they don’t see process. Even me and Jesse Jackson talked about this.
See I wasn’t afraid to go I’m DMC in the place to be I go to St. Johns University. A lot of cats nowadays they think before they put some positive message on a record. They think if I say something good that’s soft. It gives the kids a bad idea. I tell the kids first of all go up there and be original. You don’t have to follow the so-called Hip-Hop 101. OK, I’ve got be like 50. I’ve got to have tattoos. I have to have a thug image. I’ve got to have, excuse me, bitches and hoes. You don’t have to do that. Old School isn’t a time it’s a feeling. What really makes Old School better for eternity as long as there is an earth everything after the Old School comes and goes: Vanilla Ice, Hammer, gangsta rap, Tupac, Biggie, Jay Z. All of those things come and go but the importance of you love Run DMC, you love Tribe Called Quest, you love the Beasties, you love Big Daddy Kane, you love Stetsasonic. Groups nowadays you like the single and you like the video. But the reason why the Old School is so significant is you had Run DMC lived here, LL lived right there, Tribe Called Quest lived on Linden, Public Enemy was on Long Island, EPMD lived in Islip, MC Lyte was over in Brooklyn, Big Daddy Kane was over there. We all were from the same place but we all were different. We gave you the total experience of what it is to be a b-boy and a b-girl.
Now you have everybody doing this; Wow, it’s great to be a phone! (DMC picks up a cell phone.) I’m a be a phone. I’m a be a phone. I’m a be a phone. Now when you get so many phones trying to be better than all these phones it creates animosity. You are taking food out of my mouth. You are stepping on my territory. Hip-hop is really about this, this is how hip-hop started. Wow, hip-hop is a phone! That’s cool but if I be a phone I’m a be a biter so I need to be a phone with a cord. So, the other guy goes that’s cool we have phones and we have phones with cords so if I do the same thing as that I’m a be a biter so I’m going to be a bag of groceries. (DMC proceeds to grab objects around the table to emphasis his point visually.) You’re going to be a bag of groceries then I’m going to be a pen. It goes on. Then I’m going to be a sneaker. You have all these things that the whole world can relate to and it’s all good. Right now they make you think you have to have this and that, that’s what hip-hop is about. That is why even though hip-hop is widespread it’s not growing. Musically it evolves with Rappers Delight, Kurtis Blow, Run DMC, Beastie Boys, Public Enemy, Big Daddy Kane, Tribe Called Quest, Jay Z, 50, Kanye. Rap is not doing that now. Rap is doing this now. It’s spread out on the table, its no growth. That’s what’s happening. The industry don’t realize that.
Another thing I tell the guys, you don’t need permission to say and do what you want to do. They say DMC where do you see rap is going? It’s not where it’s going it’s where you are going to take it, young man. What I mean by that is you don’t have to be D, you don’t have to be Jay-Z, you don’t have to be 50. What’s in there? What do you do in your basement? Forget about what Pharrell, Kanye, 50, and Premiere and them do. Forget about what Run DMC did. What’s going on in your basement? That’s what people want to see. If you do it like that you will create a following. If you just jump on the bandwagon you may be successful, you may make a lot of money but there comes a point where what you did is so monotonous that people get tired of you. OK, you’ve got money now what? I tell the kids you don’t need permission to be creative and innovative. Don’t be afraid to challenge yourself. Don’t be scared to say I’m going to put on polka dots. From an artistic point of view… Don’t be afraid to be yourself I tell every MC.
CCB: Why do you think everything has become the same? Is it because all the media is owned by the same companies?
DMC: Is that a problem with it? No, because it’s like Ice T says sex and violence sells. That’s the bottom line. Except for people like Lupe Fiasco. Like Run DMC we did the rock thing, we wore the hats, we wore the Adidas. So, when LL looked at us he did the same thing but he said first of all I can’t wear the black hat but I can wear a Kangol. Wow, they’ve got the dark shirts and the gold chains. I’m going to take my shirt off and rock the gold chains. So when they looked at LL, even the Beastie Boys, they wasn’t white rappers tryin’ to be black MCs. They were white rappers who were white rappers. That’s why the black people loved them ‘cause they was themselves. You hear the guys say Big Daddy Kane influenced me, Rakim influenced me, but they aren’t doing what Rakim was doing. If you listen to the music coming out of the South and all these others regions even though it’s new and innovative they all sound the same. It ain’t like in Atlanta you have three different demographics of rappers, it’s all the same. Once you found out you could make money in New York everybody had to be bad boy and bling bling. They are influenced by the images that are put on the records. The kids looking at the videos see I’ve got to be that to be hip-hop. I don’t really blame the corporations. The corporations and the companies are in the business to make money. They don’t really care about you, you see.
If you make a record about a gun, make a record about not using a gun. If you make a record about a bitch and a ho, make a record about the aunts and the mothers and good girls. If you make a record about a jail, make a record about not going to jail. That’s not happening now. I can just get paid talking about my ‘hood. That’s all they doing. I don’t care whether you are in Beverly Hills or you are in the ghetto, what happens at Christmas time? You sit around the table with your family. Now the perception is that people in the ‘hood don’t care about Christmas and family, they do. The killer-murder loves his baby. Keeping it real is talking about the real. Half of these guys have never held a gun. You aren’t in the strip club all day! That’s all I’m saying. At the end of the day you go home you lay down like everybody does. You wake up in the morning you turn the radio on. You turn on the TV, open the blinds. You have to go out into the world. Why isn’t the rappers talking about this complete existence which it was created on? Number one a lot of them have this ulterior motive I’m gonna get rich. But, with this blessing no one is a role model but we are all responsible because we have all these little kids looking at us. Imagine if these so called gangsta rappers who are making a lot of money just said, if there was just one record about going to school and not getting high. Listen Run DMC got higher than God but we never put those images on record. We did the 40 dogs, we did the blunts. When we had did Adidas we rolled through Detroit. It was early in the morning. The whole town had on Adidas suits and Adidas. We looking out the back window, posters of Run DMC everywhere. Most people nowadays would sit back and go, Oh were paid. Me, Joe, and Jay sat back and said we have to watch what we say because we knew like Chuck knew this hip-hop thing is powerful. These guys nowadays think they are doing you a favor by showing up. Hip-hop is not about that. It’s good to be successful and compensated for your hard work and your talents and all of that. Now that you have all this money what are you going to do with it? That’s the point of the whole thing.
CCB: There are some alternatives to what you are talking about like, Common. But, they haven’t been able to have as big an influence.
DMC: Someone once told me the reason you don’t see any good rap shows anymore is because of the promoters. No. When the Bad Boy family was together one thing they always did was put Run DMC on the show. The reason Puffy said he did that was so I could show the world why this is happening, so nobody never forgets. He wasn’t afraid to be very successful but to give the limelight. Puffy said this, “We would like you guys to headline because you are going to bust our ass because of what you do.” We’d say in reality those guys are here to see you and Biggie but thank you for the courtesy, if you understand what I’m saying. But, nowadays Big Daddy Kane did the hip-hop honors like a year ago. All the little kids were like who is that man? He came up with Scoop, Scrap, and he rapped. It wasn’t about shake it to the left, move it to the right or get my hustle on. Big Daddy Kane got up there said, “Come on get some you little bum.” He started rhyming. These kids had never seen. That’s a rapper. A rapper is a guy that gets up in front of millions of people and goes, “Come on get some, you little bum. I take the cake and you can’t get a crumb.” From the whole point of an occupation or business let’s put it this way, there are entertainers and there are artists. I tell the rapper guy you chose which one you want to be. The artist will be here forever. The entertainer they are waiting for the next one to come along.
CCB: I took a quote from your book, The King of Rock.
“My definition of failure is not being unable to accomplish everything that you set out to do. I believe failure is not finding the truth that lies in every experience.” Can you explain that a little?
DMC: Yeah, what that basically means is you have all these opportunities. When you fail it wasn’t the point that you didn’t receive the goal… A lot of people look past the experience. I tell people when I say what I say I’m not speaking from ego I’m speaking from experience. For some reason I’m not in jail, I’m not dead, and I didn’t OD. I’m speaking from a hip-hop stand point. I made an album five months ago. It didn’t sell twenty five million like Britney Spears. I’m not all over TRL, but I made the album. You make the record. You’d damn well like to sell twenty million but if you only sell two records it still had a big impact on somebody’s life. That’s actually what that means.
The last album wasn’t about DMC coming back. It wasn’t about be sad for me because Jay died. It wasn’t about I’m still relevant. I went through some things in my life and I heard a record by Sarah McLachlan Angel and that record really did something to me at a very low point in my life. For me not to commit suicide. I’m DMC. I’m still here for a reason. I said OK, I don’t need to talk about my sneakers no more. People know what I wear. I don’t need to walk around and tell you I’m the king anymore because everywhere I go people scream that at me. What am I supposed to do? I’ve got to make music that is going to touch people’s lives the same way Sarah’s record did to me. So, I did a record about me being adopted. I did a record about the war in Iraq. Whatever was going on in society around me, forget Hollywood. Forget MTV Cribs. Forget what’s in my refrigerator, where I sleep, and how big my Jacuzzi is. What we go through is what I have to represent on the record. Once that happened to me I knew I wasn’t making music anymore to be successful financially or publicly. In all actuality I’m still making music the same way when I made my first album just because I like it and it makes people happy.
CCB: How did finding out you were adopted change your life? You found out late, right?
DMC: I found out when I was 35 years old. It came at a time where I was trying to figure out what does this all mean. My life would be greatly different if my mother never gave me up for adoption. If my mother never came and got me. I would never have moved to Hollis. I would never have met Run and Jay. I would not be sitting here. The world would be a different place. What had happened to me basically made me say all this success, not this success it wasn’t about my endeavors. All of the so-called fortune and fame thing is useless. Doesn’t mean nothing if you really don’t know who you are. But, until I seen my birth mother me being adopted wasn’t true. Because as a kid for me even though we wasn’t wealthy it was Christmas for me every day. My mother and father worked every day to provide for me. They worked every day. They paid for my ass to go to school. Gave me whatever I wanted when it was possible. I had a great life. Then what do I do? I turn around and become DMC. Even when I was depressed all my friends would go why are you depressed? You are DMC. But you don’t understand what this does to you. I thought I completely knew who I was. When I found out that I was adopted I realized this. An adopted person once said everybody else gets to start their book from chapter one, I started mine from chapter two. Everything you knew about me was true but there is a whole chapter that I don’t even know about. You think you know? Now when I go back to tell you, it’s not about my growth its part of our growth.
CCB: You’ve become really involved with adopted, foster kid issues now?
DMC: There comes a time in your life when something happens where you say OK, I’m going to do this, this is what I’m supposed to do. There is a time in your life when you realize that you’re the person that has to do it. There is a big reason I became DMC for those little foster kids, those adopted kids that think my mother threw me away, I’m worthless. It’s not how you got here. It’s now that you are here what are you going to do? The most important thing I am is that I’m just like you homey. I’m just like you, young girl. They go, really? Really.
CCB: What are the challenges of trying to make it as a solo artist after a highly successful career as part of a group? Does it feel like you are starting over?
DMC: Yep, completely over. First of all it’s the scariest thing in the world. As a solo artist it’s a scary thing standing there alone because I spent 25 years standing there with my crew. With Run DMC I had a role but now I don’t have no expectations. I can be free to be me. With Run DMC I had to be DMC the Devastating Mic Controller, the King of Rock. With a solo career I just have to be Darryl. I have to start all over from the bottom. I don’t like the privilege because you are DMC I’ll do this for you. I don’t want no favors. I like the experience. I like the process. It wouldn’t be satisfying if I said DMC from Run DMC play this record. I love starting all over again, the experience, the process, the journey as opposed to the free ride, the special attention. I don’t need to headline. I’ll go on first. It lets me know why I got into this in the first place.
CCB: What are your career aspirations? Your album Checks, Thugs, and Rock ‘n Roll is in stores. I read you are working on screenplays too.
DMC: Yeah, it’s in stores now. Right now I’m working on two movies, a couple of TV shows. That’s where I’m at right now. I don’t want to be in them. I want to write. Hopefully the same thing I did with music I can do with films. Every show doesn’t have to be particularly about what is happening in the ‘hood. It can be what’s happening in the ‘hood but other things. I tell people this. The pimp, the dealer, the pusher is hip-hop. But, also the kid who works three jobs; Walmart, the drugstore on the corner and carpentry to get the whip and the gold chain too. People tend to forget that. They think hip-hop is just the stick-up kid, the struggle or I used to sell crack and now I’m a rapper. I never went to jail. I was never arrested. I didn’t shoot nobody. I was a straight A Catholic school kid became king of the whole hip-hop. You don’t hear those stories. Every story is always from poverty to that. I went to college. Chuck D went to college. Those are the stories that give visions to the kids. You don’t have to do nothing but do you. Be you… Whatever you believe you will become.
CCB: Can you talk about what made Jam Master Jay special?
DMC: The thing that made Jay special was we let the people know that without the DJ there would be no hip-hop. It started with the DJ playing the records going, “Get out your seats, dance to the beat.” His skills elevated to a level that he could scratch and sing at the same time. Also when you look at hip-hop today it’s always about the people up front. We let people know Run DMC and… The reason why Run DMC can’t replace Jay because you three as a unit is much more than a rap group. It says something. The significance of Jay was the MC and the DJ as a unit. It was always like this, Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five. When Melle Mel, God bless him, got so dominant the industry was like who is this guy Melle, broken glass everywhere. He had the power to keep Flash in the forefront but he ran with it so much that it became all about him. Who cares who is playing the records? Anybody can play the records. These rap groups nowadays ain’t doing nothing, just pushing buttons. They don’t even need a DJ.
Probably the DJ is the most important part of hip-hop. When we was doing the Raisin’ Hell tour me and Run up front going My Adidas, we had people going get out of the way I want to see Jay. Because nobody believed in an hour and a half show he isn’t pushing a button, there is no band. He is up there doing the Charlie Chase thing. So, to us Jay represents the DJ being an equal component of this hip-hop stuff. If you go to a so-called hip-hop show to see a rapper who has these records and a video that is number one on MTV and they ain’t got a DJ there you need to get your money back because that is not real hip-hop. It’s like if you remind people of the truth it all adds up.
CCB: Do you think that people have a sense of hip-hop history?
DMC: No, nobody has a sense of hip-hop history. It’s all because the people with the power ain’t giving it to them. I talked to a seventh grade class recently in Milwaukee and they had no idea who Run DMC was. Think about the greats of Rock ‘n Roll when you think about the Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Led Zeppelin, and on and on. When they sat down for the interviews, Mick Jagger and them when they was young, sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. If you look at the Beatles, all the old footage, they would always say Chuck Berry, Little Richard. Even the rockers today Slash and them would talk about Keith, Mick Jagger. The rapper cats have no sense of history. If you look at rock or jazz, every genre… Jazz, these labels will keep putting out the jazz musicians records not because the CEO of the company really loves them but it’s a sign of respect and power. Hip-hop is the only one that has no respect…
CCB: And why is that?
DMC: Because a lot of people in like the last twelve years it’s really only a way out for them. You have these kids now I want to rap and get money. That’s OK because you can get out with it. A lot of people don’t care about the history of it. It’s all about what I can get by any means necessary and once I get it, it’s all good. With the other rappers you didn’t care about what we was doing, you cared about what we was saying and we knew that. That goes to show the rapper (today) is only concerned about what he is doing. So why should he take time out to sit down and explain the history of this genre because he don’t really care about the genre.
CCB: That’s why we try and talk to people like you to help keep the history intact.
DMC: That’s a good thing because even when I think about it reminds me of stuff. Every interview I do is not always the same especially when I talk about the Cold Crush. There’s nothing better in the world. (Enthusiastic) The Cold Crush tape… I could sit here forever and tell you about the Cold Crush tape. The Treacherous Three before they made a record. The real power lies in the substance of this hip-hop stuff.
* Interview conducted by Paul Maniaci and Taina Coleman