Run-DMC are undoubtedly one of the biggest names in music.
Named Greatest Hip-Hop Group of All Time by MTV in 2007; in 2009 they were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the second rap group to do so. (with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five being the first.)
Run-DMC’s history is steeped in groundbreaking moments for black music artists: The first rap group to go Gold, Platinum and Multi-Platinum, the first group to blend rock and hip-hop; to have airtime on MTV; to grace the cover of Rolling Stone Magazine and to play Live Aid.
Other firsts include selling out arenas, and releasing a Christmas single, which was actually quite good too. They were the first artists to gain endorsement from a sneaker company (Adidas) as suddenly sales executives began to take note of the huge cultural influence the group held over their fans. Run-DMC were the first to bring the DJ centre stage as a personality- no longer at the back or the side of stage bringing just the beats.
Emerging in 1983, Run-DMC kept their lyrics true to their roots,, inspiring the urban community with simplistic rhyming patterns, bouncing off each other’s lyrics and stage energy, with rhymes about going to college and the clothes they wore, about unemployment and the importance of education. They became a contrast to rappers who spoke about violence, gangs and drug deals. When they became celebrities, they never forgot where they came from. Ice-T once said Run-DMC made positivity ‘Gangsta’.
There is so much more to Run-DMC than just being a rap group from Queens, New York. Chances are, they are your favourite rapper’s rapper too.
Now, on the 35th anniversary of Raising Hell, Run-DMC pay tribute to their late DJ: Jam Master Jay, who was shot and killed in a NYC recording studio in 2002. The exclusive vinyl-only record is limited to just 500 copies and features some of the tracks that inspired the group from their humble beginnings to gaining the most valuable hip-hop commodity: respect.
I entered the Zoom call with Darryl McDaniels: the Devastating Mic Controller to Joseph Simmon’s ‘Run’. Sitting in his lounge in his New Jersey home, wearing an AC/DC t-shirt, Darryl’s enthusiasm and friendliness was instantly infectious.
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With so many achievements under his belt, and a history of being at the forefront of staying both innovative and influential in hip-hop and rock culture, I wondered: How has DMC managed to stay so grounded?
DMC: I learned something really quickly in the early years of hip-hop, it was taught to me by the real pioneers. People call Run-DMC pioneers and legends, but the real pioneers is everybody before recorded rap. Those are the guys we need to talk to and learn from. Those were the innovators, the artistic, the ones who were creative beyond the whole Earth’s comprehension. They taught me to keep it real, to always talk about who I am, at every level: I don’t need to say I’m something I’m not.
When Run-DMC came into this, we became so-called celebrities, but when you saw us, you saw Jay, Darryl and Joe, you could relate to us as people, our attitude, the way we talked, that’s what people saw. Today, you see so much focus on celebrity: how much money this person got, who they date, where they live, what they driving. Even at the height of Run-DMC, we didn’t allow those things to come to the forefront, so, when you saw us, you saw who you could be.
I don’t wanna remind people of what I did, I just keep doin’ it, I’d rather live by an example than live by a resumé.
How has the pandemic and lockdown experience been for you?
For the first three days, it was anxiety and panic. It was like oh my God, life is over, there’s gonna be no more shows, what’s gonna happen, why the Hell can’t we get toilet paper anywhere? But after three days, for me personally, a peace came over me. I found myself doing what I did aged 12: writing rhymes just for the sake of writing, not for a record, not to make money, just being creative and coming up with new stories for my comic book.
So, for me, the panic turned into a party where every day I was just writing. I’ve got about 25 songs that I’m starting to record now to hopefully put out in 2021, so, it turned into a blessing.
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The roots of rap music were always about art and creativity, but it feels perhaps the new generation of artists have missed the original message in favour of selling mediocre, throwaway records.
Right, it’s not about being innovative, creative, artistic, mind-blowing, creative, or taking risks, but it’s still getting’ the money, (he laughs) those are the things that built this spirit, but what people don’t realise, is that it’s no different from the beginning: before Run-DMC came along, all the hip-hop sounded alike. There’s always a period in music where it all sounds alike.
There’s nothing really wrong with the hip-hop today, the reason some people don’t like it is because it is monotonous and repetitive, once something reaches that point, it becomes boring, but if boring is selling, it becomes easy for all of these cats to sound alike and make money. I come from a generation where it was like: ‘Yo, you can’t sound like Run-DMC, so what you gonna do, you can’t sound like LL Cool J, De La Soul or Public Enemy, so, what you gonna do?’ You couldn’t do the same thing and sound like everybody else, but now, everybody raps alike, they haven’t their own definitive sound.
From Run-DMC, to LL Cool J, to Public Enemy, to Stetsasonic, to A Tribe Called Quest, hip-hop always evolved and grew, but now it’s not growing. It might be the number one genre globally, but what people of this generation don’t know, is that it’s always been like that. I’ve been going to Japan, Germany and Russia since ’83, and when you get with the people in these places who love the art, they don’t love the commercially successful stuff, the hot stuff, they love the underground, the raw, the diverse presentation of what hip-hop is.
Some people, when they think old-school, they think it’s a time period, like it’s not cool anymore, but it was a way of presenting who you are with your sound, your look, your style, how you feel, and your content, but people are afraid to do that now because they are worried about the record sales, they worry about what their audience is thinking about.
Hip-hop and punk-rock is brother and sister, we don’t give a f*ck, we say what we wanna say and we dress how we wanna dress. Now it’s all about likes and views and chart positions. It’s all industry driven rather than creatively driven and that’s what’s really missing right now.
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'12on12 Run-DMC' is the first in a series of Vinylworks albums, why were these songs chosen in particular?
We wanted to show the diversity of our influences, because everybody looks at hip-hop like ‘this started here with this group,’ but hip-hop would not exist in the music industry if it wasn’t for all the music that we sampled, utilised, recreated, and rapped over, just to be heard. So, in order for it to go from ‘Rapper’s Delight’ to Eminem, it had to start somewhere.
These were the records that played in the streets and in the discos of New York City. People need to know that just because we were black kids, our influences were not just soul and funk. There’s a white group from Germany called Kraftwerk, who made some of the best music ever, it was played at every party in the 70s.
People are ignorant to think that back in the Bronx, all they would hear is Black music. No, we would have Rush, Tom Sawyer, Led Zepplin, and Aerosmith playing. We’d have Chubby Checker, Elvis, Kenny G, Anita Baker, and jazz records, we listened to different music and used it all for samples.
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The DMC rap-rock record ‘Missed Opportunity’ sounds very fresh and shows that you are comfortable straying from your roots.
That was a record we tried to get out before the Election, it’s heavily punk-rock influenced. It’s about not missing the opportunity to bring people together, don’t miss the opportunity to do something great, don’t miss the opportunity to vote. The arts succeed where politics and religion failed. It says look at the Walk This Way video with Aerosmith: it brought black people and white people together, hip-hop and rock n’ roll together, and when Steven Tyler used his mic stand to break the barrier between us, people all over the globe said that is what happened in the real world.
So, when I’m making records now aged 56, I’m coming at you with the old-school of style, fashion, and innovation, I’m not saying ‘I used to do this, and you should be doing that’ I’m coming at 56 the same way I was coming at 18. I know who I am, I want people to know who they are.
What is next for DMC?
I’m working on an album called D.M.C, but this entity of D.M.C stands for Dynamic Musical Collaborations. It’s me collaborating with all my favourite classic, alternative, and punk-rock artists.
I got a song with Joan Jett, I got a song with Sammy Hagar, I’m working with Tim Armstrong, from Rancid. I love working with live musicians, not having to sample music from Joan Jett and recreate it, I can go in a studio with her. Totally blows my mind.
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Vinylworks’ 12on12 Run-DMC limited edition vinyl is available here: www.12on12.com
Words: Mike Milenko
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