Thirty-three years after the release of Raising Hell, Darryl McDaniels, 55, still speaks with the flair and conviction of the man he was back in Hollis. They’re decades apart, yet never far from home; he’s a King of Rock, a recovering addict, and a tireless advocate for mental wellness and anti-whatever hell the system’s up to tomorrow. He speaks of the past with such an unflinching clarity: He’ll be the first to tell which Run-D.M.C. albums were trash, how many 40s he could throw back, how he walked the brink of suicide, and what hip-hop is and isn’t. We recently caught up with McDaniels for an interview; this is an extremely truncated version of our talk with him: In a couple weeks, our talk with McDaniels will be an episode of Good Convo, our podcast interview series.
VMP: I felt like it was appropriate to start with “Son of Byford,” that’s like your mission statement in 30 seconds. I just wanted to know: How did your peoples react to you immortalizing them like that on a record that became so pivotal?
DMC: For me, through the presentation of hip-hop, it was always about taking those things that were deemed not powerful in the streets — such as family, education, positivity, and love and respect — and using that as a force to be reckoned with. Now, that being said, the only reason that I did it was just my spirit to not tell you about my money, the cars I drive, what was in my closet… but to say the thing that was most important to me, personally, which was family.
But the crazy thing about that rap is… Raising Hell, that was like we was runnin’ the world. And I found out that I was adopted when I was 35 years old. So when I went into therapy, my therapist said “D, even though you didn’t know you was adopted, something inside of your spirit told you to proclaim the most important thing to any little kid on the face of the Earth, which was just havin’ a mother and a father and a brother and a family. It wasn’t the riches, it wasn’t the fortune and fame.”
So for me, when I did that record, the most powerful thing about my existence at that time — even though we had a sneaker deal, we was killin’ the charts, tourin’ the world — was mom and dad. And I hope that was something that could resonate to all the people who was listening to my album: don’t worship me cuz I’m the King of Rock, respect me because I’m no different from any of you.
For my mother and father, it immortalized them eternally because that rhyme made everybody feel like Byford and Bannah and Alfred was their family. So, that was like my greatest achievement.
The “Adidas” record, right? Y’all were one of the first groups to get an endorsement deal of that nature. And although you flipped the capitalist implication of it by saying where shit’s been, where you step with these Adidas, right? I just wanted to ask if you felt like there was a tension… to see y’all take that sneaker deal in the ’80s into the ’90s, and now you see how mainstream and hypercapitalist these representations of rap are where there are endorsements everywhere… how much is too much? Even though people are getting paid?
Well, the first thing that I let everybody know — especially these young kids, when I walk in the room and speak to them — I tell ’em, “First of all, y’all, I wasn’t thirsty. I didn’t call Adidas, Adidas called me.” And they go, “Oohhhhhhh!” So with or without them, I was great. I don’t need commercial or corporate support to determine or define what is success to me. Second of all, it’s only too much when people are doin’ it just to get the money. I don’t mind a kid that says “I’ma play basketball to get rich,” or “I’ma become a rapper to get rich!” If you gonna do that, you’re gonna do that. But if you’re comin’ from a hip-hop standpoint — I don’t give a fuck who the fuck you are! — you have a responsibility, or you should be fuckin’ kicked outta hip-hop, and that’s just my personal opinion. Your success — business, fortune and fame — is different from culture.
And people only begin to understand that when anything that is culturally relevant to people, place, or nation, will get diluted, polluted, and destroyed once it’s commercialized. Because the commercialization of that culture, artistic endeavor, or artform will become the last thing people care about once somebody writes a big check for it. So, it’s only too much when people are doing their commercials, events, ads, promotion, and marketing… they don’t mention the culture and the sincerity of those values that made it possible for whatever it is to be recognized! That’s when I get pissed off, cuz once you lose all of those things, it doesn’t become real anymore. It just becomes their thing.
One of my new rhymes is, and all the kids say “Yeah, DMC do really got bars”:
No curls, no braids Peasy head, and still get paid I am the reason why Yeezys can get made!
What that means is… if I did that 30 years ago, and Kanye’s doing what he did now, young girl, young man… what can you do in five years? But they don’t see that no more. They’d rather say “OK, lemme just be like DMC, or Kanye, or A$AP Rocky,” to get that thing that we’re already doing. My thing is: no, you can do this, but when you gon’ take it? I don’t want these kids to just be in the rap game, I want them to bring sum’n to it. So, it’s only too much when people are just doin’ it for the money, and then everybody starts doin’ it, so then it ain’t special no more!