We interviewed DMC of Run DMC

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Darryl “DMC” McDaniels

He’s the the King of Rock, and early this week he was in Montreal to record a song with local scene vets Slaves On Dope.

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, aka one third of 1980s hip hop originals Run DMC has never stopped rockin’ or retired.

If we’ve seen a little less of his iconically Kangol-ed head, bespectacled face and Adidas-laced feet in recent years, it’s because he’s traded it in for motorbikes, metal music and getting back to his first passion: comics.

I had the chance to sit down with DMC and talk about his new friendship with SOD’s Jason Rockman and their immediate plans to keep going on another track with Chuck D, as well as a compilation series the two vet rappers are working on now.

We talked about memories of Jam Master Jay, MCA, the Ghostbusters 2 soundtrack situation in the ’80s and working on the Judgment Night project in the ’90s, how comics inform and relate to his standing in hip hop culture, and on living the good life after megastardom.

Ladies and gentleman — DMC.

Darcy MacDonald: So how did you end up coming up here and connecting with Slaves On Dope?

DMC: I’m working on a project produced by Bumblefoot. Bumblefoot is producing a heavy metal collaboration album that I’m doing with Rob Dukes, the third lead singer of Exodus. Him and his band, Generation Kill, produced two records on my album that I was working on. Those two records came out so good that that we said, let’s keep this going and see where it goes. And then Bumblefoot heard the two records and said “I gotta be involved in this.” So he’s producing and playing on this album.

That being said, what had happened was Bumblefoot had introduced me to Mitch Lafon, the journalist from here. We did an interview and then he said, you know, if you ever come to Montreal, you should come and do (Slaves on Dope singer) Jason Rockman’s (radio) show, and this and that. And then he was like “By the way, he has this band, I’ll send you some of the stuff to listen to.”

So I listened to some of the stuff and I was like, yo, this is really good. So I said, “Tell Jason I’ll come to Monteal.” So then Jason sent me a this song idea, saying maybe I’d wanna get on it. He sent me the song and the song was dope, and I did my verse in 11 minutes and said yo, gimme like a week or two and I’m comin’ up to Montreal. So I came here yesterday and we recorded the record.

And it came out so good that now that they got me on the record, they gotta produce a song for my album. But we took it a step further. Because I’m a big Public Enemy fan and of Chuck D, as Jason is. So Jason was just speaking to Chuck’s manager. She said, “DMC’s there recording with you? He did a record with you? You, DMC and Chuck should do something. So now, the record they’re gonna produce for me, we gonna put Chuck D on it!

All Chuck gotta do is come and be Chuck D. It’s gonna be crazy. And it’s fun.

DM: Someone was just telling me that you did like a posse cut with Chuck D and some others recently.

DMC: Yeah, Chuck and (Bomb Squad producer) Keith Shocklee are producing a compilation album, and it’s me, Chuck D, Raheim and Kid Creole from the Furious Five. And it’s something where Chuck wants to do volumes, taking people from different groups and putting them together. Like the Travelling Wilburys. Remember, it was Orbison and Eddie and them?

DM: The Travelling Ill-burys!

DMC: (laughs) Yeah, the Illburys, though! We didn’t know what to call it, we should call it the Travelling Illburys!

DM: Run with it!

DMC: At first Chuck wanted to call it the Hall of Famers, because all of us are in the Rock’n’Roll Hall of Fame. So that’s a good idea for the other dudes (we wanna work with) that ain’t in the Hall of Fame but come from the generations prior to today. The first one could be the Hall of Famers, second could be Travelling Illburys, and then the next, some other clever name.

DM: If that comes to pass I’ll be extremely honoured! I wanted to ask you about something that I may wanna continue to develop on, and it’s a kinda weird thing, but it’s timely. I was thinking lately how Run DMC did the Ghostbusters 2 theme. I’d love to do like, an oral history of that, with the movie coming this summer.

So I’d love to ask you, like, how did that come to be? I know I’m bringing you back…

Illustration by George Blott

Illustration by George Blott

DMC: Like way back! Who asked us? What year was that?

DM: Well, the movie was 1989.

DMC: So we did in ’88. I remember that the weird thing about it was, it was a ill time. We was so concentrated on being dope. Like, we didn’t really wanna do it. We didn’t wanna do no side projects because ’88 was one of the most powerful years of hip hop.

DM: It changed everything.

DMC: Like, Big Daddy Kane…

DM:…Rakim…

DMC: (chuckles) It was over for us. Our careers was over!

DM: Rap changed real quick!

DMC: Right, that’s what happened, so when we go to do that, I mean…I think the only reason that we did it was because we was tryin’ to be nice to our management. It was really…it wasn’t a distraction, but it was really something that just came to us, and I think it was just built on the momentum of what we had done just prior with Raising Hell. There was nothing bigger in hip hop than Run DMC.

But they came to us to do it, and me, personally, I woulda did it a little more deffer. Like we coulda made a dopper track idea.

DM: It’s got a like a new jack swing beat.

DMC: Yeah, we was trying to be what was current. And not even that. What was current was making what Rakim and EPMD and them were making. We shoulda made it like that. We was tryin’ to do a big record so-called-Run-DMC-style.

But it was just one of those things where we was the biggest thing in rap at the time. And you see how it was so different than everything that was out. If we was on the cutting edge, we shoulda did it with an old-school break beat.

DM: You were following up a fuckin’ monster smash hit pop song, too, in terms of the first movie’s theme!

DMC: And see, for that audience, when we did the up-tempo style, I said we shoulda done something completely new. You know what I’m sayin’, it coulda been groundbreaking.

But it was just one of those things where, like, nowadays, the hot group that’s out the, the studio’s are like, “Get them to do the soundtrack.” It’s like James Bond. You’re not gonna go get Stevie Wonder – not sayin’ you shouldn’t, but…

DM: No, but in 1972 they might have…

DMC: Right! You’re gonna look and get whoever’s hot, like they do in the new James Bond films. (So) for instance, now you go and get Adele. And in the Ghostbusters film, we was Adele!

(laughter)

DM: It’s making me think now though how you also had the cut on the Judgment Night soundtrack! Now that was ill. It was “Me, Myself & My Microphone”, you quoted yourself on the title!

DMC: Right? That was dope! We did that with Living Color. That was incredible. That was dope, and that was the beginning of all that Korn, Limp Bizkit, Rage – all of those hybrid rock/rap groups, that was at the beginning of it. Now that was dope.

See, what’s funny about that (Judgment Night)  album was, you know, Run DMC, we didn’t create rock/rap, but those guy were already doin’ it. We did “Rock Box,” “King Of Rock,” “Walk This Way,” but all of those dudes that came later, they were just doin’ it.

Like, Sum 41 is producing a song on my new album. When I finally got to meet them, they had called me up about a year ago and the wanted me to play the Alternative Press Awards in Cleveland with them, last year.

DMC by Kenneth Cappello

DMC by Kenneth Cappello

It was one of their first shows in North America reunited with Deryck (Whibley). Now usually when I perform with a band they wanna do “It’s Tricky” and “Walk This Way”, and that’s what they all want. (Sum 41) wanted to do “King of Rock.”

And I said “Yo, why you wanna do…” they were like, when we heard that record, that made us wanna start the band. And I was like, “But you were little babies!”

(Or) you think of Travis Barker sayin’ most people jumped on the bandwagon with “Walk This Way”. Travis said the one that did it for him was “Rock Box”, when he heard those guitars, and those drums, and the rhymin’.

So all of that was already bein’ done. Run DMC was just the baby that came out after the sperm in the egg of hip hop and rock’n’roll, united!

DM: Bobby Brown caught a huge hit off the Ghostbusters 2 record. I was a little kid reading Rap Masters and it wasn’t supposed to be that way. There was a lot behind you guys being the band doing the “Ghostbusters” follow-up. And then Bobby Brown ends up really taking that footnote to history.

DMC: Rightfully so! That was really Bobby Brown’s thing. He was hot, he’d went solo.

Our record would have kicked his ass if we would have made some dope Run DMC stuff. If we’d have made somethin’ dark, like (starts rapping and beatboxing) “Spirits/In the graaayve-yard!”

(laughter)

DM: Yeah man! Doug E. Fresh actually had a kinda dope song like that on that soundtrack.

DMC: We bugged out and was tryin’ to make some like, “You Be Illin'” type remake that was safe.

It was like when we did our movie Tougher Than Leather. Russell didn’t want us to have nine millimeters and Uzis. “Duh, I got this gun from my grandfather!” Nah. Us in Hollis, we had nines, and Uzis, and our best friends, you know? “We gonna kill the motherfuckers that killed Ray!” That was the real line. Not “I’m gonna get you, bad guy!”

(laughter)

But it was one of those things, that’s what it was like. But Bobby’s was dope! Because it was him! Bobby came under “My Prerogative”! Run DMC shoulda made Ghostbusters, here-we ghost-style! We shoulda dropped “Tramp” by Otis Redding. (Beatboxes) “There’s somethin’ in the graaaave…”

But we went safe. Russell was concerned with us keeping our pole position of bein’ the family-friendly, universal goodie-goodie guys.

DM: It looked like you had a ton of fun shooting the video, at least.

DMC: Yeah, silly set, dressed up with the suits. It was silly, and you know, I was drunk, and Jay and Run were high, and so we didn’t take time out to say “Hold up, wait, this is fake.” We were just like, film us rhymin’ and y’all do all that other stuff.

It was a vacation. You know what was good about it? It wasn’t a distraction – it was a release from all the pressure. You’re makin’ me think, with the suits and all that – it was fun. But I don’t remember making the record.

Run DMC & Beastie Boys

Ad-rock, Jam Master Jay, MCA (front), DMC, (Reverend) Run and Mike D

DM: It’s cool that you’re wearing that Beastie Boys t-shirt, and it ties into two things I wanted to ask you. When you think about Jam Master Jay and MCA, what do you think of right away?

DMC: Jay, all Jay did — well, this was when video games got really popular — all Jay did was play basketball, and then later on when video games came out, played video games. That’s all he did. And then, he would take time outta that to come play DJ for Run DMC.

Like, when we was on the road, if it was a tour bus, he’s in the back of the tour bus, playin’ video games. We get to the hotel, he’s carrying the thing, unhooks it, carries it, and he sits in his room…if we got to Kansas at 11 in the morning, he would sit in his room and play until it was time for Erik to go get him to come downstairs so we could go over to the show to go on stage at 11:30 or quarter to midnight. Then when he was finished that, he’d go back and play video games ’til he’d fall asleep. That’s what I remember about Jay.

And he got shot, he died play video games in the studio.

(With) MCA, we was in Europe on the Together Forever Tour, and (the Beasties) used to throw beer all over the stage and it would get real slippery. And I just remember MCA sliding, going up in the air like about six or seven feet, fallin’ real hard — we thought he was dead – then he just gets up, and keeps goin’.

But he fell.

DM: When you think of Adam, that’s the image that crosses your mind?

DMC: Whenever someone mentions Adam Yauch, all I see is him goin’ up, comin’ over and hittin’ hard. ‘Cuz he was skinny! It was like he just broke every bone. Then he got up and just kept goin’. I’ll never forget that.

DM: I saw this amazing live (Beasties) video last night that has all you guys backstage together after chillin’, bumpin’ reggae records and dancing. JMJ is singing away into the camera, Adrock is there….

DMC: Hurricane…yeah, reggae man. There was a period on the road where we was just captivated by Yellowman and Fathead, and Tiger, and all of those reggae artists in the ’80s. There were reggae artists in the ’80s that made dark, street reggae – there was a hybrid reggae form of hip hop. Not the clean reggae form like Sean Paul and Shabba.

There was a b-boy, like…if you woulda come to New York in the ’80s and went down 125th Street, or came through Queens or came through Brooklyn, and came through where the Rastafarians and the Jamaican people were, you heard this…it was dope reggae toasting. We was a hybrid of that. I mean like, they came first. But it was that time period, where that reggae went on to influence us a lot.

It started with the toasters, and the (Jamaican) DJs, and the soundsystem battles. People think it started with a record label but it didn’t.

DM: Or they think it started with you guys! I remember thinking that as a kid that Run DMC was the first rap group, and then learning what came before.

DMC: Really, the best hip hop is before the recorded period of hip hop. That’s the best hip hop.

DM: Would you go out to the jams as a kid?

DMC: No, I didn’t go nowhere! All my jams came through the cassette tapes. I lived in Queens. I went to Catholic school. All my hip hop came through the cassette tapes; the live recordings of Bam, of Kool Herc and the Heruloids, the live recordings of the Cold Crush, the Crash Crew, the Treacherous Three, Busy Bee, Spoony Gee, DJ Breakout and DJ Baron, Grandwizard Theodore, the Force MCs before they became an R’n’B group…everything that came before us. That’s the best period of hip hop ever.

DMC comics

DM: So you have your own comic, and there’s been this Hip Hop Family Tree series….

DMC: That is amazing! Yo, nobody cares about hip hop and he uses an amazing medium to keep it alive and tell the truth. ‘Cuz nobody cares about that period. He has to do it that way. He’s not just doin’ a comic book, he’s doin a piece of history.

DM: It’s beautiful.

DMC: What he does, in a hundred years from now, they’re gonna look back like, that’s the whole…it’s more than just a comic book. It’s like hieroglyphics. He’s experienced something and it’s like hieroglyphics. You can know it, but you don’t read it. There’s no documentaries, there’s no..it ain’t like now. YouTube and smartphones is everywhere. He’s documenting hip hop.

DM: And you have your own comic.

DMC: Yeah, and DMC issue number three will be at Montreal’s ComicCon this year, it debuts 2016. Issue two is out, we put out issue one a year ago. It’s being received really well. And the reason it’s doing so well is that before hip hop, I was a comic book kid. That’s my first love, that’s my foundation, which allowed me to read, write, tell stories, have an imagination. It’s all because of comic books. So everything that my music is is inside these comic books and that’s why people like it so much. ■

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