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Run DMC is more than the three guys who made Walk This Way with Aerosmith. The legendary US hip hop group changed the way music and music videos were made and paved the way for endorsement deals for artists. Ahead of National Geographic’s TV special, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, spoke to Helen Herimbi about their legacy.
Darryl “DMC” McDaniels laughs out loud when I tell him that the 1980s literally made me. By the time I was born, McDaniels and his group, Run DMC, had already made their grand entrance on to the world stage.
The effect Run DMC – comprised of rapper Joseph “Rev Run” Simmons, DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell and rapper DMC – has had on hip hop has transcended the decades. The prolific rap group, known for their aggressive facial expressions and a tone that bordered on shouting, is featured on The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us.
This six-part mini-series that puts the spotlight on innovations such as the personal computer, the first Nasa shuttle launch, big hair, the Pac Man arcade game and, of course, hip hop, will premiere on Sunday.
“When I think of the Eighties,” DMC starts, “I think of hip hop.
“I think of big dookie ropes (large gold necklaces popularised in the 1980s) that rappers are still wearing today so they can have some validation, but they can’t really, because their music sucks.”
DMC is one of the last fiercely outspoken icons left. Jam Master Jay was fatally shot in 2002. Rev Run is more recognisable as the modern Dr Huxtable thanks to his family-based reality show, Run’s House.
The 48-year-old DMC suffers from spasmodic dysphonia, a disorder that affects his voice and results in impromptu spasms of his larynx muscles. So when he is impassioned about a topic his voice see-saws.
I ask him what he attributes the success of the timeless Rick Rubin-produced My Adidas to, a song from Run DMC’s third and seminal album, Raising Hell (1986).
A performance saw a plethora of revellers at their sold-out Madison Square Garden show lift their Shell Toes (Adidas shoes) during the song. It also landed them a $1.5 million (in 1986!) endorsement deal with Adidas.
“Even though it was a materialistic record about a materialistic item, it wasn’t about the sneakers themselves,” says DMC before he raps into my speakers: I stepped on stage/At Live Aid/All the people gave/And the poor got paid!
“My story wasn’t, ‘oh, I was a drug dealer and now I'm a rapper’,” his voice starts to dip.
“I went to St John’s University and not only became a rapper, but one of the best rappers to ever do it. All without disrespecting people, or my beautiful women, or glorifying violence, or using profanity.
“(What’s wrong) isn’t just the music business, it’s stupid-ass America who celebrates the rapper who is talking about ‘praise me because I am a drug dealer and I’m a gangster. I bring kilos of cocaine up and down I-95 (highway) and I am a boss. I’m up in the apart- ment and I cook up the dope, I bag it and distribute it to the street’.
“We could make all the records we want and have all the debates we want, but we gotta live it.
“The corporations who put out the negativity, their kids don’t live that life. Their kids are living in $20million-homes, profiting off the destruction of my community.
“We created hip hop so our kids wouldn’t have to be in gangs. So people looked at those sneakers, heard the song, and were empowered.
“We had Raeganomics holding us down and the government politics were harsh. But whether it was music, athletics, TV sitcoms or fashion, we said we could use our creativity to not just make it better for us, but better for everybody listening to the record, coming to the game, sitting in the living room or going to watch the movies. The Eighties was a movement.”
It was also the pinnacle of DMC’s career. He’s since attempted to start a solo career that saw him work with soft rock singer-songwriter, Sarah McLaghlan – who was adopted – after doing a documentary on finding out he was adopted. Now, DMC plans to release a single featuring Travis Barker (Blink 182) on drums, Mick Mars (Motley Crue) on guitar and Sebastian Bach (Skidrow) on vocals.
But as far as a Run DMC reunion goes: “We’ll be showing up here and there, but we’re not getting back together as a group,” says DMC.
“There’s not going to be a tour or record because right now I’m at my Paul McCartney stage: I have my own band and my own thing going on. Now we’re showing up to do festivals and make the people happy.”
They’re also showing up with Jam Master Jay’s sons in tow.
“Both Jay’s sons are DJs,” DMC explains, “so somebody approached us saying they wanna do this show and I said it’s a good way to shed some light on Jay’s kids and keep his legacy alive. The only reason I’m doing the show is so I can see them perform, truth be told.”
Legacy is a big deal to DMC.
Although he doesn’t talk about it during the interview, in the past this legend has had bouts of depression and alcohol addiction. But he sounds proud when he says: “I got three things going for me: I didn’t overdose on drugs, I didn’t die and I’m not in jail. So somebody’s gotta document the culture. All the rappers who came before us are the reason why hip hop exists, Run DMC just put it on TV.”
• The ’80s: The Decade That Made Us, National Geographic (DStv channel 181), Sunday, 9pm.