Exclusive: DMC confirms a friendly rivalry with KRS-One, spiritually healing himself via Sarah Mclachlan and paying homage to the Blues with Sugar Blue and Sonix the Mad Scientist.
Where others have engaged in a stale battle for New Yorks throne, Run-DMC's regality could never be called into question. For over 30 years now fans have been enamored with their long run of classic lines and songs that have become indispensable to Hip Hops canon. Maintaining close ties to the culture going on a few generations now, Run has become a preacher and an author who has passed down his creativity through his children's ambitions, while DMC is still an active participant in the culture. With endeavors that still include music, Darryl McDaniels has also gone on to lecture and educate on his place within history, while seeking solutions for today's pressing matters.
In a genre that seeks to dispose of elders in place of the youth, DMC is a much needed figurehead. The legacy built by him, Run and Jam Master Jay is remembered fondly by older generations yet barely reflected in today's scene. Refusing to go down without a fight, DMC has gripes to get off of his chest, and he does so in a manner that's compelling and wise rather than unfocused and angry.
A proper label for DMC would be Hip Hop ambassador, his words commanding respect and attention at a time where elders are dismissed as obsolete. Coming from a day where he had to fight to be heard via the radio and other mainstream outlets, his group went on to be considered one of the most recognizable brands of our genre. Bringing everything full circle, he plays the role of an active leader, standing up in defense of the old schools pioneers. Pulling no punches, DMC candidly spoke at length with HipHopDX to air out his grievances, heatedly addressing whatever is on his mind (in particular, the recent controversy surrounding Chuck D's views on New York radio station Hot 97), going on tangents that are interesting and awe inspiring.
DMC On Pioneering Hip Hop & Early Corporate Endorsements
HipHopDX: A lot of Run-DMCs earliest music had elements of Rock in it. From my understanding New York's downtown scene had Hip Hop and Rock intermingling way back when. Tell me about what that time was like.
DMC: It's crazy, in the '80s there was Punk Rock and Hip Hop right around the time before they started saying Rock is dead. There was The Ramones, Lou Reed, and even Blondie made a Rap record. Rock was important to us because before we were able to go in a studio and make records, we were rapping over James Brown. Rappers Delight was (Chic's) "Good Times." We would rap over anything that had a break and a bass line whether it was Disco, R&B or Funk, but the deejays had Rock beats in the crates too.
It wasn't like Run-DMC said, "Were gonna change the world and start a new genre of music with "Walk This Way."" That wasn't even the first Rock Rap record; "Rock Box" was the first Rap record on MTV, and then we had the balls to say, "We're the kings of Rock." We didn't even care about being the kings of Rap, we were going for the jugular at Elvis, Mick Jagger and Jimi Hendrix. All of that came about because here in New York the environment was Hip Hop with Afrika Bambaataa and Grandmaster Flash, and the Beastie Boys was a Punk Rock Rap group. That relationship was already there, and it was nothing new.
DX: The battle culture back then was very different from what it is today. What was the craziest battle you saw and how would you compare that to today's battle culture?
DMC: There were two. Kool Moe Dee and Busy Bee wasn't really a battle. Moe Dee just called Busy Bee out. The most infamous battle in New York City was the Cold Crush Four and the Fantastic Five at Harlem World. When I heard that, that changed my life, because prior to that I wanted to be a deejay like Grandmaster Flash. I had just started writing rhymes. A lot of the deejays at the time were like disco rappers, you had Super Rhymes (Jimmy Spicer), Kurtis Blow, Hollywood and Eddie Cheeba. To be famous you had to be one of them.
When I got to Rice High School in Harlem, I got exposed to the Funky Four + 1 with Sha Rock, Afrika Bambaataa and the Zulu Nation, the Jazzy Five, Cold Crush, Fantastic Five and Spoonie Gee. I got exposed to all of the live performances before these dudes were on Sugar Hill and Enjoy Records. When I started hearing this, they were my age talking about British Walker sneakers, taking the train, graffiti, going to McDonald's and school. The Disco Rap thing just completely went out of the door. I used to save my money to buy all of these tapes. People never heard of the Furious Five rhyming with echo chambers, and most people only knew them from "The Message," "Super Rappin'" and records like that.
Right now the battles is strictly lyrics. The battles of the Cold Crush and Fantastic Five were totally based on performance and skills. You could win a battle by basically having a breakbeat that the other deejay didn't have. It wasn't just about who had the best verses, it was about your total presence in Hip Hop. That was the thing that allowed Run-DMC to change the world with "My Adidas." We took what was on the street and put it on TV. What we represented was already there, but everybody else was afraid to show that.
It was about your rhymes, your deejay being dope, your sneakers gotta be fresh and you couldn't say no nonsense on the microphone. You could be egotistical, but your rhymes gotta be inspirational and motivational. It was based on a show that had to be dope, you could have the best fucking rhyme in the world but our show would bust your ass and we would win [laughs].
Why DMC Says, addidas "Should Have Given Us $100 Million."
DX: Speaking of "My Adidas," walk me through July 19, 1986 at Madison Square Garden.
DMC: That was plain and simple. Raising Hell was out, and we were on a tour with the Beastie Boys, Whodini and LL Cool J. It wasn't about us having the Adidas deal, and we didn't care about the fucking million dollars. We were just so happy that this emcee/deejay thing was becoming a dominant performance art form. We were touring the whole nation crushing every coliseum and venue in the United States, and then we had to come home. To see if [the crowd] was down, in tune and if the aura, vibe, mind state and existence was total Hip Hop, Run said, "D, take it off and hold it up." I took off my shelltoe and held it up and 30,000 people held their sneakers up. Run pointed at that and said D, "What are those?" I said, "Myyyyy Adidas!" and the whole fucking Earth shook [laughs].
Our thing was that it wasn't about the material existence of the sneaker; it was about what the sneaker represented. What that Hip Hop movement did then is eternal. You can stand on line to get your new Jordans and Air Force Ones, 1,000 years from now when the hottest new Nike sneaker on the market makes you float, you can wear the plain old white shelltoe with the three stripes and that will crush it.
These sneakers kicked down the walls of Rock & Roll and separation, and the reason why we loved the shelltoe so much is that it was indestructible. If you kept them clean, they lasted longer than Pumas. That represented Hip Hop, what Run-DMC and Jam Master Jay did and what the breakdancers, graffiti artists, pioneering deejays and emcees did before us did. That's the alpha and the omega, everybody else is just players in the game that's gonna fade away.
DX: You just said you didn't care about the million dollar contract. Looking back, do you think it was a good deal that they cut you?
DMC: Nah, they should have gave us more. But it was good for back then, because they didn't know and we didn't know. They probably thought, "We're giving them too much." But now I look back and say they should have given us $100 million. But we didn't care about it, we took that million dollars to pay for some of our buses and show expenses. But people were just giving us money to do what we loved. The million dollar deal was bigger to the management and record label than it was to us.
How Run-DMC, KRS-One & Big Daddy Kane Maintained Friendly Rivalries
DX: On "King Of Rock," Run infamously said, "Other rappers cant stand us but give us respect." Tell me about the competitive climate of the '80s.
DMC: It was totally competitive creatively. Even though we was at the top, there was some bad ass mothafuckas around us. You had LL Cool J to the left, you had EPMD over there, KRS-One over there, and a lot of people were way better than us. But they had to give us respect, because every time they would drop something we would drop something.
It was creative and that's why the game grew. Right now you got a bunch of mothafuckas saying shit. Rick Rubin used to look at me and Run and say, "A lot of mothafuckas can rhyme, but can you make a record that's gonna change the world?" We had a lot of emcees rhyming and making better songs, but what made us timeless was "Walk This Way," "Tricky" and "Mary, Mary." Nobody could fuck with us on that Rock level. I didn't want to be the best rapper, I wanted to be a Rock star. When I grew up in Queens we had AM radio, while everybody else was into the Jackson 5, I was bugging off of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, The Doobie Brothers, Bob Dylan, Jim Croce, Harry Chapin and Elton John. For me, it was all about the music.
Competitively, LL doesnt get the credit for becoming a legend by his mothafucking self. He didn't have Jay and Run backing him up. Public Enemy, EPMD and Naughty By Nature had their crews, but LL was all by himself and giving us hell. Another mothafucka that was a threat and still is better than everybody in Hip Hop by himself is Doug E. Fresh. At the height of our Raising Hell time, we would do shows with him, and he would come out by himself, take out a harmonica and start playing it while doing the beatbox. It was presentation, showmanship and delivery, you could be a ABC rapper with a limited skill set vocally and be better than all those mothafuckas saying a lot of words.
If it's competitive creatively, you'll have growth. Right now, there's no growth in the game. Chuck D said, "When Run-DMC came along, y'all created a great problem for the world. Y'all gave birth to Public Enemy, LL Cool J, N.W.A, De La Soul, Eric B. & Rakim and Kool G Rap." People saw us and knew they could be them. In our era was if those dudes do red, you can't do red. If he does blue, you can't do blue. For you to come in the game you had to go, "Okay, Ill be orange. Now it's like, Oh shit, red is hot," and you got all of these people doing red. Of course there's gonna be one that does red better than anybody else, and everybody else gets jealous. Twitter beef is pussy, if somebody says something about you, get on stage or make a fucking record and settle it there.
There were times on the Raising Hell tour where Whodini busted everybody's ass. When you lost to Whodini's "Friends" in certain cities, that would make you go home and pull out the crates, look for a beat somebody didn't use and think of a scenario nobody spoke about. When competition is intense creatively and artistically, the whole culture and everything involved with it will grow. Right now you just got a bunch of mothafuckas up on stage saying shit and it ain't fun. We were on tour with EPMD, Public Enemy, Eric B. & Rakim and Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince; you had a diversity and a total representation.
Mothafuckas in the game now is creatively boring, on their seventh album still talking about shit they don't do. You ain't in the hood no more or in a gang no more, I saw your ass on MTV Cribs, and you live in a gated community, your son goes to the best schools and you're still talking about slanging rocks? You don't do that shit no more, so a fake representation turns into a fake interpretation to the listener.
We made positivity gangster. "Mary, Mary" was a record about a dick sucking hoe, but we didn't make the record "Dick Sucking Hoe." We made you think, and we gave you the scenarios that existed in a creative way. LL heard our record and went home and wrote "I Need Love." P.E. heard Run-DMC records and LL records and wrote "Fight The Power." De La Soul heard all that shit and wrote "Potholes In My Lawn," and everybody who came with a concept, sound, presentation and flow that was different than ours inspired us to go back and do something great. So the greatness kept going, then came Eric B & Rakim, Kool G Rap & Polo, Leaders Of The New School, all the way up to 'Pac and Big. Artistic creativity...that type of competition don't exist anymore.
Our whole shit was, "Damn man, we gotta go out here and rock this coliseum. How are we gonna do that? We're gonna put on a show." Run was always the lyrical dude who would slash you up, and he was quick with the tongue. I wasn't gonna waste 16 bars of my fucking energy trying to beat you. My historical claim to fame is four to six lines: "I'm the king of Rock, there is none higher. "I'm DMC in the place to be / I go to St. Johns University." Mothafuckas can spit 10 16s that still ain't better than six lines I wrote. I was thinking, "What's gonna be the presentation with the most impact to make my job easier? Because I don't want to be out here rhyming against your ass anyway.
We were innovative, and people were like, "Run and them using that Rock shit is crazy." You would have to go home and say, "Damn man, I want to be signed on Def Jam. I want to go on that tour, how do I get there?" It made you think and write. I tell the kids to look at what everybody else is doing, do something different and then you'll get noticed.
DMC Reveals Why He Was Never In Competition With Run
DX: With the game being so competitive at the time, were you ever exchanging shots with other crews?
DMC: Yeah KRS-One took shots at us. On "Criminal Minded" he said, "Kings lose crowns." Everybody was trying to come at us, but thats why on Raising Hell we went ballistic to let mothafuckas know, "You got rhymes and lyrics, but you ain't taking shit [from us]." When Run wrote "You Be Illin'," that was to show this ain't no joke. We run this.
There were countless emcees. I remember one day Big Daddy Kane said he saw me drunk as shit outside of club saying I would battle anybody and that nobody was better than me, and he was such a fan that he gave me a pass. He said, "I'm looking at my idol DMC, and I wanted to go at him but I was in total awe." LL and Whodini was competition on tour, but we shut shit down when Run would say, "Whose house?" and the crowd would say, "Run's house." We could have wrote records about KRS-One, but it wasn't like that. We shut it down subliminally.
DX: I'm assuming there was also an element of competition in the group. Why did you let Run dominate most of the lyrics on Sucker M.C.s?
DMC: We was never competitive. "Sucker M.C.s" was already written, Run was originally going to be in a group by himself. When he got the record deal Russell (Simmons) was like Run, "I'm gonna let you make the record and Run remembered, 'Oh shit, my friend Darryl McDaniels got a lot of rhymes.'" He put me in the group because he didn't want to be a solo act.
When Run got the deal, Russell was like, "You need a radio record," and we made "It's Like That" because (Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Fives) "The Message" was huge. Run told me to write a bunch of rhymes about how the world is, positive and negative. We knew that in the dirt poor hood there was goodness there, so why don't emcees rap about that? A couple of days go by, he comes and picks me up and takes me to the studio and we did "It's Like That."
Originally "It's Like That" didn't have that uptempo "Planet Rock" type of flow. Russell was managing Kurtis Blow so a lot of the shit that they were doing was Kurtis Blow type of stuff with disco funk tracks. I'm in Rice high school hearing Sha Rock and Zulu Nation tapes, "Planet Rock" just dropped and I looked at (producer) Larry Smith and said, "I ain't doing that corny Disco Rap bullshit, we gotta make this shit like "Planet Rock.""
We did "It's Like That" together, and I was originally only going to be on that song. Run had to do a B-side, so he did "Sucker M.C.s" and told me "D, go in there and put a rhyme on the end of that record. You did the message song with me, but I want mothafuckas to know that you can rhyme too." I didn't even want to be on another record, it was 2:00 am and I didn't tell my mother and father I went to the studio to make a record. I always wrote rhymes, and I knew I had gotten accepted to St. Johns University. The day I graduated, I wrote, "I'm DMC, in the place to be," so I went in there and dropped that rhyme and the rest is history.
How The Song "Sucker M.C.s" Changed DMC's Life
DX: What was the first rhyme you wrote where you knew you could compete with everyone else who was big at the time?
DMC: On "Sucker M.C.s," I was just rhyming to be rhyming. It was Jam Master Jay, the B-side to "Hard Times." When we formed the group, it was confusing to people because we didn't have a video or album cover, and when we showed up it was three of us. So me and Run said, "We gotta make a record about our deejay so the world can know." The first rhyme that I wrote, when I knew mothafuckas was over was this rhyme. It changed Hip Hop.
"We're live as can be, never singing the blues / Got to tell y'all all the good news / The good news is that there is a crew / Not five, not four, not three, just two."
When I wrote that rhyme, I had no idea Hip Hop was gonna happen like that, but I wrote that rhyme because I was into comic books. I was pretending to be a superhero in this Hip Hop land using my imagination. By myself, I was gonna battle the Furious Five, the Cold Crush Four and the Treacherous Three. If I ever played a show with them I wanted them to say, "That was a dope routine," so that was the first rhyme when I knew I was unstoppable. People would say, "D, why didn't you say you were the king of Rap?" Rap mothafuckas is lowlifes, and I ain't getting no fame from that. My aspirations as a young individual were always high.
We always had our commercial records, but we also made records like "Here We Go," and thats what Cold Crush would do. Even when we was less popular, Biggie refused to go on after us. He said Ain't no way I'm going after y'all and getting my ass kicked. Y'all mothafuckas got an arsenal." 'Pac said, "Ain't no way I'm going out there and getting my ass busted by y'all." We was like, "Pac, that's very flattering that you and your boys know we don't fuck around, but that audience is out there to see you."
I didn't want mothafuckas to think I was just some commercial rapper signed to a record label. I was always jealous of Eric B. & Rakim, EPMD and LL Cool J because I always wanted to rhyme over "Seven Minutes Of Funk." When Jay Z and Foxy Brown did it, I was pulling my hair out. I could do that shit way better than all of them, but if I would have put those out, I would have just been a flash in the pan because that wasn't unique. I was always jealous of Def Jam. We was always on Profile Records.
DMC Defends Chuck D Against Hot 97
DX: You guys came from a time when Hip Hop had to fight to be heard on the radio, and Chuck D recently voiced his frustrations with Hot 97. What do you think of the radio today?
DMC: The radio today is total bullshit. They lack the responsibility, eagerness and enthusiasm to present art that can transform show business. I know radio is in the business, but I remember a couple of years ago we were shopping around a dude we were working with, and everybody at these fucking stupid labels was like, "We need a radio record." "Sucker M.C.s" was a fucking radio record. That was just me and Run rhyming, and it was the dopest shit on radio.
If the radio host from New York goes to Florida and discovers a dope artist down there, he's supposed to be able to come home tomorrow morning, get on Hot 97 or Power 105 and say, "Last night I was in Florida, and this morning I want to play you this record I heard." Then the mothafuckas in New York will hear that and be inspired. Fuck that playlist bullshit.
This is how radio used to be. When Raising Hell was out, me and Run knew Kool DJ Red Alert was either going to play "My Adidas" or "Peter Piper." He said, I'm about to play the best Hip Hop song out right now. This mothafucka throws on "Walk This Way," and we were leery about that song. When we made it we told Rick Rubin, Russell and our record label, "Y'all better not put this out as a single. "My Adidas" and "Peter Piper" is the shit we want on radio." We just totally bugged out when black radio and Rock radio started playing "Walk This Way." That's what radio is supposed to do. Radio is supposed to inspire music.
They say, "If we don't play these same eight songs every 20 minutes over and over, we're not gonna get no business." You'll get more business by playing a fucking new song that you just got yesterday that none of the mothafuckas listening have ever heard, because they would listen all day to hear it again.
DX: There was a recent controversy where Hot 97's Peter Rosenberg made some disparaging comments towards Chuck D. What do you think about the generation gap where people lack respect for their elders?
DMC: There's no generation gap, its an information gap. The O.G.s and the young Gs dont kick it. What made us so powerful was we were young Gs that listened to the O.G.s. We took what the elders said to us, put it with the lives we were living and put it on records and videos. There's no generation gap. Mothafuckas is ignorant. The mothafucka that says anything to Chuck D of Public Enemy is ignorant. The problem is when you say something ignorant, it has a fucking harsh connotation. It doesn't mean stupid, it means you're ignoring the truth. We don't kick it no more. When I'm in a room with B.B. King or Steven Tyler, my ears are fucking open.
When I was 15 years old, my brother was 18. When I was 22, my cousins and relatives were 25 and 30. Those little jewels of education and inspiration that could be street knowledge—when I'd hear that shit I'd write a rhyme about it. Everybody 15 and younger was getting information from me, at 18 years old. I was acting and talking the way my 25 to 50 year old elders were speaking. When that kid who's nine hears me and turns 16, he's highly evolved. Nowadays kids age nine to 18 are looking at individuals 25 to 50 years old who dress like them, act like them and talk like them, and they're winning. There's no power in sitting there with an elder, because he's fucking foolish and on the same level as you.
Our entertainers today ain't highly evolved artistically or conceptually, because people refuse to accept that responsibility. The artists are responsible, and they like to say, "It's the record company's fault." You can make a record about a strip club, but everybody don't want to hear that strip club shit because everybody don't go to strip clubs. We were young people who wanted to be responsible and in control of our communities, our destiny and our artistic form.
Go listen to my records. Everything that I represent at 50-years-old today is spoken in my records. Kids say, "Mr. DMC, you're just saying this right now because you're a pioneer. You've experienced a lot in the business forever, and you're 50 years old." I've been saying this since I was your age, so let's not get it twisted. For anybody to say anything about Chuck D, first off they're wrong because anybody saying anything about him didn't do what he did at his young age. At 22 years old he formed Public Enemy, and it wasn't just about him being the greatest rapper of all time, it was about what he did with his music. Writers and radio stations will never do what he did with his music.
You can never say anything about Chuck, Melle Mel or Bambaataa, because if you go listen to Hip Hop before it was on records these mothafuckas was prophets with all of the music that came from our ill fortune, poverty, death, destruction and drug dealing and gang banging. Chuck D is a prophet of rage, and everything he said about the music industry is happening now. The ignorance, the disrespect of our culture, the use of the N word, people look at Chuck now being 52 years old, but go listen to what that man was saying when he was your age, young buck. The disrespect of women, the downloading in the Digital Age, he prophesied all of that. People go, "DMC, who do you think is the greatest rapper of all time, Tupac or Biggie?" When I say Chuck D, they'll never say anything to that. That man is the fucking voice of God.
When we went to WBAU [Adelphi University] college radio, Chuck D, Bill Stephney, Flavor Flav, and Hank Shocklee gave us our first interview when we put out "Sucker M.C.s" and "It's Like That." They ran out of records to play, so to fill the air time they created their own demos. I remember I was sitting there with Jam Master Jay and we first heard "Public Enemy #1," we went to Rick Rubin and Russell and said, "God has come down from heaven to rock the mic." Anybody who's looking at the beef between Chuck and Rosenberg, he told you years ago, "Don't believe the hype." No rapper today can do what P.E. did.
DMC Calls Jam Master Jay The Embodiment Of Hip Hop
DX: In addition to influencing Run-DMCs iconic style, Jam Master Jay was responsible for 50 Cent and Onyx. What are your thoughts on them still carrying on his legacy?
DMC: Jay was the embodiment of Hip Hop, and he knew when there was a catalyst of uniqueness in the individual or the group. When Onyx first started, they were dressing like Slick Rick, and when Jay heard their style he said, "Your look don't fit your style. Do like Sticky Fingaz, get baldheads and rep what y'all rep in your hood." He was a deejay and a producer, so he had the eye and the ear.
Like I said Run was going to be solo and then he put me in the group, and when people started liking the records Russell said, "Y'all need a deejay." When we started, our looks were night and day. I used to wear Pumas, Pro-Keds, tan mock necks and cream British Walkers. The first show we did, we went to pick up Jay in Hollis, and he had the big four speaker box, the white on white shelltoes [Adidas], black jeans, the black three striped Adidas shirt, the black Godfather hat.
The first rappers like Melle Mel, Bambatta, the Fearless Four and Kool Moe Dee needed stage clothes when they started to get into the recording industry, and they had no rappers to look up to. Their idols were Parliament Funkadelic, The Rolling Stones and Rick James. They were looking at all of the glam rockers that were famous show business people. Our idols were them when they were at clubs and block parties, not on album covers. We didn't notice until we saw Jay and we said, "Oh shit, that's our look." When we stepped on stage people didn't see celebrities, they saw themselves. Even though we was the dopest mothafuckas on the planet on that mic and turntables, it wasn't like we were unreachable or untouchable.
Jay was our look and our direction. Lyrically me and Run were different, but Jay was able to bring it together. The best producers are deejays, because all they do all day is play music. Jay heard something special in 50 and Onyx, and that's the deejays job. Real fucking deejays need to be on the radio now like Premier, Terminator X and DJ Scratch. These are the mothafuckas that will come on the radio Saturday nights and play that song that will have you sitting next week waiting by the record button.
There should be a rule on radio where every artist should get a limited amount of playtime everyday. That would give the mothafucka not being heard a chance. I'm not going to run for political office, I'm going to run for an office to change the fucking rules. Musically, socially, politically, religiously, we are fucking up.
DX: Speaking of music and politics, Lyor Cohen and Russell Simmons are often credited with helping usher in this current era of Hip Hop moguls. What do you think of the current direction its taken?
DMC: Of course you can become a mogul because of the growth of the music. We started selling out clubs, then we started selling out theaters, coliseums, and now we can sell out stadiums. The growth of the business individual is relevant to the growth of the particular industry. Hip Hop is doing the same thing Clive Davis and Ahmet Ertegun were able to do with Rock & Roll. That's nothing special. Of course if you know the business, you'll be a successful businessman.
The thing that I don't understand is if you're with a record company, when the executive that signs you gets fired they get a $30 million walking bonus. But when the band gets dropped, they don't give us shit. The mothafucka that signed me didn't make any of the shit; we're responsible for the growth. Everything is backwards. There should be equal control and say with the executive that signs an artist. We have to put importance on the artistic aspect of the business, pay more attention to the images, concepts and ideas that are out there. I'm talking about growth of a people and a culture—growth of creativity. Hip Hop didn't just create mothafuckas that rhyme, get money and make videos that go on MTV and BET. It created doctors, lawyers, directors, journalists such as yourself, educators, dancers, designers and so much more. We don't see that anymore, another thing Chuck D said that was really true to was (there are no more) groups. It all became about the front man, it's not exciting no more.
DMC Explains How Alternative Music Saved His Life
DX: Tougher Than Leather was received with mixed reviews. Where were you creatively with that album?
DMC: It was fucking hard to beat Raising Hell. We wrote that on tour, and when it was time to do Tougher Than Leather, we were still on the Raising Hell high. Even though it was two or three years later, those records like "Peter Piper" was still the best shit out. I ain't give a fuck. I was drinking and happy to be hanging out with Eric B., going over to Kane's house, chasing Nas and MC Lyte around. My Hip Hop life was good, but we went from selling the most records in Hip Hop to selling a million-and-a-half records. Run took it hard, like, "Damn, we ain't as hot as we used to be." I remember Russell looked at him and said, "Joey, you sold a million-and-a-half records. Mothafuckas in the game wish they could sell 300,000."
If you compare it to Raising Hell, of course it was a downfall, but Run's attention to that brought the record labels attention to that where they started demanding hits like "Mary, Mary" and "Walk This Way." Chuck D said, Tougher Than Leather is one of my favorite albums ever. The thing that fucked it up was we called ourselves trying to make Krush Groove by ourselves. We got away from focusing on the music and we wanted to do the Tougher Than Leather movie. Our egos said, "We don't need Hollywood," but there was no way we were gonna do music and motion pictures at the same time. So that was a wake up call saying to focus on one project at a time, complete the first project and then move on.
DX: You've previously spoken about Sarah McLachlan's song "Angel" helping you through some tough times. What was it about that song that resonated so much with you?
DMC: Music is a vibration. Alcohol, Deepak Chopra, the metaphysical section of Barnes & Noble and Borders, that shit wasnt helping. There was an emptiness in me, and my friends were like, "You're fucking DMC," and none of that shit mattered. I was depressed. Jay died, then my father died and I found out I was adopted. But before that, I just didn't feel right. We would go to Europe, Asia and Africa making 200 grand a night, but that shit wasn't satisfying.
I came to the conclusion that my purpose had been accomplished. I'm DMC, the King of Rock. Eminem said, "Nobody will ever do what y'all did. You open up the dictionary and look up Hip Hop and its a picture of y'all three mothafuckas." I didn't want to wait to live 'til I was 100 to get to my next plane of existence, so I took it upon myself and said, "I'm depressed and drinking, and I want to kill myself." Fortunately I didn't. I get in the car, and it's funny that the driver says, "Hey DMC, you want the radio on?" and he turns it to Hot 97. The last thing I wanted to hear at that point in my life was a mothafucka running his fucking mouth. I'm like, "Anywhere but there."
He turned it to Lite FM, and I heard that piano and her voice, then she said this line about dark cold hotel rooms. I'm staying in the best luxury hotels, but they were dark and cold like a coffin. For one whole year all I listened to was Sarah McLachlan—that record plus all of her other stuff. There was something about the vibration that spoke to mesomething that kept me from killing myself. I put Run and Jay through torture, and they had to listen to that shit on the ride to the airport, backstage before we went on. They would say, "Here comes D with that fucking Sarah McLachlan CD again," but they didn't want me to kill myself so they had to roll with me.
How Pete Rock Helped DMC Extend His Legacy
DX: What were the interactions with other emcees like recording "Down With The King" with Pete Rock & CL Smooth?
DMC: Pete Rock hates me saying this, but he saved our career. Not our status and position, but our career. We had respect, but nobody was saying it. On the Down With The King album, we were so far away from who we were. The record Q-Tip produced sounded like a Tribe record, the record Naughty produced sounded like a Naughty record. Pete Rock's record was the only one that sounded like a Run-DMC record.
We was already nine or 10 songs deep into the album, and Pete called us over to his house to play us the idea he had. Me and Jay drove up to Mount Vernon, Pete pushes the button and the music you hear on "Down With The King" comes on. He starts scratching and Jay immediately goes, "That's the single, that's the name of the album and the record that defines who we are." Pete was like, "D, fuck trying to rhyme like Naughty and Kane, fuck trying to impress Eric B. and Rakim. Go and do your thing."
When he told me that, a weight dropped off my chest and I went and sat down and said, "Where am I at right now in my life?" I said, "I'm taking the tours, I'm wrecking the land / I keep it hardcore cause it's dope, man." This is all I know, this is my style, but nobody in the world can do this better than me. Then Pete said, "Me and CL are gonna take your classic rhymes and flip them." When we did the video and when mothafuckas started flying in to be in the video, that was the day we truly became the kings. We got knighted by Pete Rock doing that song, and that's when we became legends. Pete says to stop saying that, but no other record on that album would have pushed us into eternity.
DX: Your most recent music with Sonix The Mad Scientist and Sugar Blue is a change of pace for you. Tell me about what it was like working on Next Level.
DMC: Sonix is a producer I've known for a couple of years. I sat around and watched his sessions, and we always talk about the music. Last year when Public Enemy got inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame, Chuck D was like, "D, you gotta come because Run-DMC made this possible". When I got there the whole theme was the Blues, and I learned a lot about all of the Blues greats. Chuck is a deep text; he can give you baseball history and Blues history, so him arguing with Hot 97 is a waste of his fucking time, because they could never compete with him.
The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame asked me to do a freestyle about the Blues, so I kicked a rhyme and Chuck said I should make a blues record. A couple of months go by, and I get a call from Sonix saying he had something for me to hear. I go to the studio and he plays me this Blues/Hip Hop mashup. Forget about the beat, Sugar Blue with the harmonica on that shit was giving everybody in the studio chills up their spine. Eventually I met Sugar Blue and he said something that was key. He said, "The blues is the roots, everything else is just the fruits." Hip Hop, Rock and the Blues needs something exciting again and this is that record.
DX: You were the first in Hip Hop to have a platinum record, the first to have videos on MTV, the first to appear on American Bandstand and the cover of Rolling Stone. What would you say is your careers greatest accomplishment?
DMC: Thats still to be determined, because I've only been alive half a century. I don't go by accomplishments. I don't live in the past and later. I live in the now, and what the fuck I'm about to do tonight is what I'm worried about. What I'm most proud of is forming The Felix Organization for foster kids. We started that for homeless kids, adopted kids and kids in group homes whose parents are on drugs or incarcerated.
My greatest accomplishment is still being Hip Hop without rhyming. Everything positive that I rapped about, I wake up everyday and work at it.
DX: You've dropped a lot of gems in this conversation. What would you like to leave the present generation with?
DMC: The first thing we need to do is educate ourselves. The second thing we need to do is have communication and be involved. If you're gonna change something, you gotta wake up every day and work at it every day to change it. I don't care if you're a writer, singer, musician, sculptor, painter, poet or journalist. Every revolution starts with the arts, so dont forget that. If they dont believe me, I got a comic book dropping in October that's gonna change the world the same way I did with music and when I got involved with a sneaker brand.