|Run DMC – hugely influential, a bridge from the old school to the new school, made striped tracksuits popular (at least twice), first group to get a large clothing sponsorship… Yes, many firsts. In this interview with Miguel D’Souza in 1998, and on the eve of that Jason Nevins remix (yes, the one that brought breakdancing back – again), Darryl McDaniels – aka DMC – talks about the group’s passion for the artistry of hip hop, rap reflecting its environment and some hip hop history.||
What’s the current situation regarding Run DMC and an album, or the material that you’re writing currently?
DMC: We’re going to be on the road, booked up like crazy up until October. So hopefully in October we can get off the road and go into the studio. We’ve been on the road doing 20 to 25 dates a month since we released Down With the King back in 1993. It’s been non-stop touring since and even though we haven’t done a studio album since we did the Down With the King album. We’re one of the few bands, not only in hip hop, but in music period, that can work forever and still be successful. At this point, we’re like, “Oh, we don’t even got to make records to keep our career going. We’ll just keep doing this until we’re 82 years old.”
What sort of dates, shows, and venues are you doing…
DMC: Most of the dates, up until this Jason Nevins thing came up, we’ve been doing a lot of colleges, universities, all the big radio festivals (sic), radio shows. We play all the hip hop clubs and all the rock and roll clubs. This is what is going on in the States. As we were getting ready to come out to Europe just to come anyway … see our main thing is the live show, in any shape, form or fashion, that’s the fun for us, all the other stuff is work, but we kept getting calls because we knew about Jason Nevins’ record coming out, although we didn’t have nothin’ to do with it. The record company played it, “Hey, listen to this. We’re releasing this house mix of It’s Like That.” Alright cool, ‘cause we were out on the road. But now, the booking agency is getting all these calls because they’re saying you’ve got a number one record in Europe, and it’s number one over there and it’s number one in Australia and the record’s big in the UK. So when we were coming to Europe we did a whole month in Germany, this record has given us some momentum to come out here and introduce a whole new generation of fans to hip hop. not just Run DMC, but to hip hop.
I saw the other day that It’s Tricky has been done. Is that right?
DMC: Yeah, the record company’s releasing a Jason Nevins’ mix of It’s Tricky (original video).
Aside from the boost it’s giving to awareness of hip hop and awareness of you, what’s your personal opinion of it?
DMC: I think it’s a good record. I mean we don’t listen to house and we don’t do house at all – that’s one music that we’re not really involved with – but, when we heard it we thought it was a good record. I mean, just as good as a Madonna house mix, or Mariah Carey or Janet Jackson. I mean I’ve heard house remixes of r’n’b records, I just haven’t heard one of a rap record. Ours was the first.
It’s been an amazing voyage for all of you since the beginning…
DMC: Definitely, sixteen years in hip hop is just ridiculous.
It’s unheard of, even in the sense that you’ve had a sixteen year career, I don’t think anyone else can claim that.
DMC: Right, we’ve seen every rap group break up and most rap groups come out one year and go out the next year and some rap groups are very lucky to last even three years. But we’ve been able to do it because we don’t focus on the industry or the business standpoint, we do what was done in rap before rap records was made, that means we DJ live, we scratch with the records, we rap and we freestyle and that what has allowed us so long without an album. If we depended on albums, our career would have been over because, especially the way the industry is, people like you one year, they go out and buy your albums and by the next year they’re tired of you. People don’t get tired of what we do, that’s why we’ll last forever.
So in a live sense, you’re able to keep on practicing those artforms. Can I ask you, on the live performance, you’re doing 20-25 dates a month, are you still required to wheel out the old tunes as well?
DMC: That’s the biggest part of it, over in the ‘States nobody even knows about this record or cares about it [referring to Jason Nevins’ remixes]. We live off all of everything we made from ’83, which was the original It’s Like That… from ’83 to ’93 is what we live off and that’s the expectation that people have for the new record. This new record is just a novelty, I would think, it’s more important for the younger, new fans who probably weren’t even born when we put out It’s Like That. They think we’re a new group and this is a new group and they watch the video and think that’s the type of music we all make. But now, since they’re releasing the greatest hits when the new fans go out and buy the greatest hits for the Jason Nevins remix, they get My Adidas, Walk This Way, Peter Piper, It’s Like That, Sucker MCs… and they’re probably saying, “Wow! What’s this?” They’ve realised this is what Run DMC does…
There’s a lot of firsts in your career: you were the first to fuse rock and rap, you were also the first crew to get a serious shoe sponsorship.
DMC: By Adidas.
Nowadays clothing sponsorship and hip hop are virtually synonymous. Even underground crews, who haven’t even got a major record deal, haven’t even sold a record, are already sponsored or they might have a shoe contract or something like that. You started all of that. How did it work in your day? Has it changed much?
DMC: No it’s still the same, because the companies realise that…but see it’s not…it’s funny, because the fans are wearing the clothes anyway, so it’s not like it’s making a big impact. People in my neighbourhood, in the Bronx, in Boston and places like that were wearing Adidas anyway. But I think giving the artist a contract and giving them free stuff is basically you know another medium of promotion. See, we really didn’t understand that because we made My Adidas way before we even got the deal with them. So it wasn’t like it was something big to us, it was, “Ah cool, we got the deal…”
I saw an interview with you at the time and the impression I got was that this was something you thought was cool-looking to begin with…
DMC: Definitely. That was what we always wore. I grew up wearing Adidas. It wasn’t like we said, “We’re going to make a fashion statement and we’re going to wear Adidas and dress the way we dress because that was what distinguished us from all the early rap groups because we didn’t have no costumes. We came dressed as is, and that’s what made the fans relate to us more than any other rap bands because when they looked up on stage and seen us it was like looking in a mirror. But for people who weren’t involved in the hip hop scene it was something new to them, it didn’t make them run out and buy Adidas and the gold chains just because they thought it was something hip to do. And the sneaker companies knew that and that’s why to this day they’ll give the underground crews more of the clothing that they’re buying anyway just to keep them draped in it.
This is a broad question, I’m throwing this one to you because you’ve been around for sixteen years and could be for another sixteen years. What do you think of what has happened to the way a hip hop crew can develop these days?
DMC: It’s exploitation basically. What I mean by exploitation not that whatever happens in hip hop isn’t positive for the evolution of hip hop, but it’s just now the record companies don’t spend any time for artist development. It’s like they search for what’s hot. Once this thing is hot they put it out there all over the map but if next year you’re not popular, they drop you. They don’t understand that rap is a creative medium, just like any other part of entertainment, or even other parts of music. But that’s the only different thing that I can see that’s going on in hip hop today. I mean, most hip hop bands have got a life-span of either one to three years… and that’s it. That’s why in Run DMC we don’t focus on the record-making, we focus on how many shows are we going to do this month, and hopefully we can go around the world. The only reason we lasted so long is because we’re doing what was done before hip hop records was made. Forget about the video, forget about the producer, forget about the album, let’s see the DJ DJ live. My DJ’s better than your DJ, my DJ deals for real, your DJ uses a DAT and pre-recorded tape. Run DMC, they rap live, we don’t rap over no tape, we have a whole bunch of hit records that would be just freestyles on a tape if we didn’t have a chance to make records. That’s what distinguishes us from everybody else. Everybody else is rhyming for the money, produced by this big-shot producer, dressed, it’s like a package that is built. Run DMC is what is what was always there.
What you’ve given me is a pretty good analysis of what’s going on now, but it’s not as cynical as I might expect… staying true to an ideal keeps you focussed as an artist and keeps it interesting too, it’s still an artform that you practice, rather than being purely a business you’re involved in…
DMC: For us the art comes first, therefore we’re happy to get paid for something that we like doing. There’s a bunch of groups that will always be here when others are not. LL Cool J he’ll always be here because he does what he does, KRS-One, he’ll always be here, Public Enemy, Rakim just came back. But a lot of these new groups that’s out now, you know, I wonder do they have the vision or the heart that we have? ‘Cause basically it’s a money-driven industry too. Rappers are getting a lot of money. When we started, we paid a lot of dues, we opened a lot of doors, but right now, you get a lot of money when you sign a deal, the big record companies are really interested in you, like when we started, the big labels wouldn’t even look at us because they thought rap wasn’t selling nothin’.
What broke it for you?
DMC: It ain’t broke nothin’ for us, because we’re still on the same label we’ve been on since 1983. But what broke it for other rappers was people seeing that when we sold that first album and it went gold, was the record companies realised, “Oh, rappers can obtain platinum status.” Rap used to be just a bunch of singles… Sugarhill Gang, Grandmaster Flash, The Message, nobody thought they would buy a rap album, like they would buy a pop star, rock or r’n’b album. We broke that, we broke the mould, we broke the mould by getting rap on MTV…
This was another first. You were a group that was strong enough to string together a series of successful albums…
DMC: Exactly, and that set it up for those in the industry that came after us…
The one thing that you heavily influenced in a lot of rap to come and a lot of rock to come, and I tend to believe that you really breathed life into rock music, as well as giving rap a real kick along, but you did more for rock when you did stuff with Aerosmith’s record. Does that come about through mucking about with records and jamming?
DMC: We used to rap over rock records before we got a chance to make our own records because we had to find records with beats. And rock records, James Brown records, they always had a break in them where the drums would just play, and maybe a bassline would play with the drum, or maybe a rock guitar would play with the drum, ‘cause we couldn’t rap over the vocals. So rock, not just for Run DMC, but for every rapper before us, was a big part of our repertoire. You had to have rock records inside your record case to give a good performance, because not only did they have the break that you needed, but it was hard and rap in the beginning was a hard music. Before rap started fusing the way it is today, where you got a lot of r’n’b-type rap.
And what about the environment that created alot of the early rap groups. Yourself, you’re from Hollis?
DMC: Hollis, Queens, New Yooooork.
And what about some of the other neighbourhoods, the South Bronx has always been really pivotal in terms of creating early rap. How have those environments changed, and do you think those environments continue to bring the best out of the new groups that come out?
DMC: Definitely, that’s why rap isn’t coming out just from the South Bronx or Hollis Queens anymore. That’s why you’ve got rap coming out of Los Angeles and rap coming out of Texas and rap coming out of New Orleans and Florida and places like that. You’ve got rap in Japan and rap in the UK, you got native rappers of their native lands, that’s because the same thing that’s happening in the Bronx is happening all over the world, it’s just that the Bronx is the first place to bring it out, people thought this was so shocking, but all the attitudes and all the problems with society and community are all over the world and as rap grows, so does the attitude and this type of mentality which brings out whichever type of rapper you want. NWA and all the so-called gangsta rappers were no worse than Grandmaster Flash when they came out with The Message, ‘cause people were shocked by The Message, you know: “Broken glass, everywhere, people pissin’ on the station (sic), turn stick-up kid, look what you done did, got sent up…” You know, The Message was shocking to some people, to be talking about jail and prostitution and stuff like that. When NWA came, they just reflected what was going on in their society and as rap gets bigger, more and more people come out of the woodworks, and you realise that crime and violence are all over the world. When rap first started, rap was supposed to be a release and an alternative to all the bad stuff that was going on in the ‘hood – that’s why rappers started rapping. You’d rap because you didn’t want to be in a gang no more, you know what I’m saying. You’d rap and you’d join a breakdance team because instead of fighting, you’d have breakdance battles…
I know you talk about rap reflecting its background, what about rap making suggestions, rap rather than reflecting, rap suggesting possibilities for a different future or environment. Do you think rap does that?
DMC: Same way Bob Dylan did it, same way John Lennon did it, same way all the great writers and poets and people like that do it to their music or whatever. I think rap is like, rap is the music of hip hop and hip hop is the culture and a way of life and hip hop is gigantic right now, so same way Public Enemy came with their message and same way KRS-One gives his message, same way Run DMC give their message, the message is definitely in the music. And music is the best medium to carry it with.
It’s really refreshing that sixteen years doesn’t make you cynical, it makes you positive about things. It’s also a realistic way looking at things…
DMC: Right. We’re going to be around, the same way the Rolling Stones are still jamming in their late fifties, you’ll see Run DMC, rapping, scratching and jamming in their late fifties.
I hope so.
- This Run DMC interview with DMC was conducted by Miguel D’Souza on the eve of Run DMC’s Australian tour in 1998.
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