Music » Music Feature

He's the king ad hoc: Run-DMC's Darryl McDaniels

After a historic career, DMC rolls with life's impromptu flow



As hip-hop's first platinum-selling group, Run-DMC's place in music history is secure. In April, the group became the second rap act to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The experience was a singular thrill to Darryl McDaniels, better known as DMC, and brought back memories of the group's 1985 "King of Rock" video.

"Remember at the beginning where Larry 'Bud' Melman stops us at the door and says, 'You can't come in here, this is a rock 'n' roll museum'?" recalls the 45-year-old MC, who was raised in Queens, New York, but now resides in the New Jersey suburbs. "The week of our induction I found out that when we made that video they didn't even have a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. We were prophetic!"

Though he'll forever be known for helping to integrate rap music into popular culture through such hits as "My Adidas" and "It's Tricky," McDaniels' life has been full of intrigue since the group's '80s heyday. He suffered from a near-suicidal bout of depression in the late '90s, before re-emerging upon being inspired by Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel." He proceeded to buy all of her CDs and collaborated with her on a track off of his 2006 solo debut Checks, Thugs and Rock N Roll.

Not long afterward, while doing research for his 2001 memoir (King of Rock: Respect, Responsibiliy and My Life with Run-DMC), he learned that he'd been adopted as a child, which led to a reconciliation with his birth mother and an Emmy-winning VH1 documentary ("DMC: My Adoption Journey") about the experience in 2006. He's also had a host of health problems, including a vocal disorder that causes him to talk with a lilting inflection and makes him sound like he's about to break down and cry.

But it's not his voice that makes conversations with him strange, it's his habit of trailing off on confusing, lengthy digressions. For example, rather than speaking directly about his recent visit to the White House —during which he spoke with President Obama and a group of high schoolers about his adoptive experiences — he launches into a seven minute diatribe about foster children. "I got fed up with politicians, educators and religious people saying 'underprivileged' kids. These aren't 'underprivileged' kids, they're kids of opportunities!" he exclaims. "He may be from the dirt poor ghetto, but he's a child beaming and flourishing and flowing and just giving off vibe after vibe of creative energy."

He sounds ready to break into a rhyme when he says, "The key to a positive, opulent, excellent future is putting our time and energy into the younger generation."

Despite his verbosity, McDaniels has plenty of fascinating stories and anecdotes. Discussing his upcoming sophomore solo album, The Origins of Block Music, he says he collaborated with everyone from Chuck D to Motley Crue's Mick Mars to Skid Row's Sebastian Bach, with whom he became fast friends. "Me and Sebastian are great boys," McDaniels says. "He may be crazy but he's the most talented artist on the face of the earth."

Though it has been delayed for more than a year, the release, which McDaniels characterizes as a rap/rock hybrid, is due in September. He asserts it will be "the best hip-hop album in decades" and says it will be his attempt to counter the materialistic, thuggish direction hip-hop has taken in recent years.  

"In Run-DMC we lived the sex, drugs and rock and roll lifestyle, but we never put those images into our music," he says. "We knew we had a responsibility to the community. So if they wanted to wear Gazelles and Kangols and gold chains and sneakers with no laces like us, that was OK, that was positive. The difference between a lot of cats today and the old-school [mentality] is that we cared about the audience. It wasn't about money and fame and fortune, it was about representing them in a positive way."

McDaniels' show at Hard Rock Cafe will feature two sets, one backed by a DJ and one backed by Atlanta-based rock/rap fusion act 5150. The concert will also benefit his charity, the Felix Organization, which helps children who aren't being raised by their birth parents. It's all part of his plan to take his positive message and advocacy for foster children everywhere he can, he says. "I am going to take back the streets, I am going to take back the airwaves, and I'm going into the schools and the jails."

It's impossible to doubt the guy's heart and easy to get caught up in his enthusiasm, though his comments are often as delusional — "If you thought my first 25 years in this game were great, you ain't seen nothing yet" — as they are perplexing. "Hip-hop culture includes education and information, creativity breeds innovation, and innovation causes evolution, and with evolution comes information, education, inspiration and motivation."

Even if he's not easy to follow, there's no doubt his trailblazing history and passion make him a fine ambassador for hip-hop. One can't help but wish him a positive, opulent, excellent future.

Add a comment