I guess it’s just human nature to place our musical idols on pedestals. We like to believe they live that rock star life free from mundane problems. When trouble comes their way, like super heroes, they bust out a guitar solo or fresh rhyme to resolve it. They don’t deal with bills, bosses, broken vehicles or ex-wives; let alone addiction.
Meeting one of your idols can sometimes be a recipe for disappointment. Not in them but in yourself. I had the opportunity to sit with Darryl McDaniels from RUN-DMC and talk about his new book “Ten Ways Not To Commit Suicide“. I met him in Manhattan at the Dream Hotel. I kept thinking to myself, ” This is DMC, the King of Rock”. I expected him to walk into the lounge surrounded by body guards and an entourage. Instead he showed up in an Alice In Chains T-shirt with jeans on. Alone. He walked into the lounge, looked at me and said,”Hey, you Mike? I’m DMC.”
I lost it. Totally threw me off my game. I should have learned my lesson from my interview with Keith Shocklee (I’ve had the opportunity speak with Keith many times in the last two years. True gentleman and cool guy.) We sat down, got comfortable and what was supposed to be a one hour interview turned into a three hour behind the scenes look at the history of Hip Hop, RUN-DMC and Darryl’s personal struggles.
Mike C: Thanks for meeting with me today. I read your book and I’ve gotta say, it’s brutally honest and blunt. How hard was it to put down on paper your personal addictions and struggles for the world to read?
DMC: The only way I could keep it real and help people was by being totally honest. I told my publisher, we’re going to do this, but we’re going to do it my way.
MikeC: Considering the turmoil and craziness of New York City in the 1970’s you seemed to have a pretty good childhood. How would you describe growing up?
DMC: Yeah, I was lucky. We lived in a nice house in a quiet neighborhood in Queens. My dad worked for the city and was really respected. My brother and I played in the park. My mom took us to church. My thing was comic books. That was my world. It was nothing like Harlem was at the time. We were a typical middle class family.
MikeC: When did things start changing?
DMC: Around high school. My brother Al got into music and wanted to DJ. We sold a bunch of my comic books to get the money to buy a small system. We got some house speakers, a couple of turntables. Nothing like what you guys use today.
MikeC: Is that when you starting rapping?
DMC: No, actually I wanted to DJ. My comic books paid for the system, but Al wouldn’t let me use it. So when he wasn’t home Run and I would sneak into the basement and practice.
MikeC: I don’t think anybody knew that. I bet you wish you had those comic books right now.
DMC: Hell, yeah! Comics were my life as a kid. It hurt me to give them up, but I did it for my brother.
MikeC: When did you make the switch from spinning to rapping?
DMC: At first I would DJ and Run would rap. After Jay joined us, he took over spinning. It worked better having Run and I both rhyme.
MikeC: The time frame is right around 1981-82, right? That was right at the birth of Hip Hop.
DMC: Exactly. We were surrounded by new artists. There were guys playing in all the parks and rapping on all the corners. I would take the train and sneak up to 159th street in Harlem to buy cassette tapes with the latest raps on them.
MikeC: So RUN-DMC wasn’t the first rap or hip hop group. Grand Master Flash, Kurtis Blow and a few others had been around for a few years already. I gotta say though, you guys brought Hip Hop to middle “white” America.
DMC: (laughing) True, true. There were only a few local stations playing Hip Hop at the time and mostly college radio everywhere else. After “King of Rock” dropped, everybody starting listening.
MikeC: According to your book, right after “King of Rock” broke out and RUN-DMC was on the rise, that’s when it all started falling apart for you. Why?
DMC: Success, pressure, shyness. I really was a quiet kid who loved comic books. Rapping in a park with friends is so far away from being on stage in a packed stadium. On stage I had to become this alter ego to deal with it all.
MikeC: Kind of like a comic book super hero?
DMC: Exactly! DMC is the “Super Hip Hop” version of myself.
MikeC: I think it’s pretty common for Artists to have an onstage persona. It seems though that it didn’t help you. What happened?
DMC: Alcohol. I started drinking after the show to calm down and relax. Then I started to have few before each show. Before I knew it, I was doing whole shows bombed. I was drinking almost a case of 40 ounce Malt Liquor a day.
MikeC: Jesus, that’s like 3 regular cases of Bud. How could you function?
DMC: I wasn’t. After each show the guys would go out to party and I would sit in my hotel room alone trying to figure out how to kill myself.
MikeC: So RUN-DMC is at the height of their popularity and you just want to kill yourself? Was there more going on?
DMC: Yeah, I found out I was adopted. (read the book)
MikeC: Wow, that had to throw you for a loop.
DMC: Big time. When I was on stage I was DMC “King of Rock” and off stage I was Darryl McDaniels. Now I find out that my on stage life and “real” life are both fake. I didn’t know who I was or who I was supposed to be. It threw me further down.
MikeC: Did Run and Jay give you any support?
DMC: Run was all about the money. One of the biggest things affecting me was that he didn’t respect my creative input to the group. He would shut me out. Towards the end I only showed up to gigs as a favor to Jay. Then my vocal chords started to let go.
MikeC: You’re kidding, right?
DMC: In 1995 my voice started to go. The last year or two that we were together I couldn’t even rap. The doctors called it spasmodic dysphonia.
MikeC: Ok, what were some turning points for you?
DMC: In 92 I went to my doctor for a physical. I had acute pancreatitis. He told me flat out “Quit or die”. I stayed sober for almost a decade.
MikeC: In the book you mention another artist that had a profound effect on your recovery.
DMC: Yeah, Sarah McLachlan. She and her song Angel literally saved my life. I played in constantly, everywhere I went. It really changed me.
MikeC: You found out a secret about Sarah, true?
DMC: I went to her home to record a song and at the end she told she was also adopted. Blew my mind.
MikeC: There’s one other person who has been a big influence on you.
DMC: My wife Zuri. She is my rock. Through all the drinking, rehab, depression…..Jay’s death. Just all the bullshit life has thrown at me, she never left my side. She never stopped believing or loving me.
MikeC: I love the quote in your book:”I think showing love is an important part of being yourself”. Is that a big part of who you are now?
DMC: Definitely. It’s one reason I wrote the book. There are so many people struggling with addiction and adoption. I wanted to give them a voice.
Darryl and I spoke a lot about his foundation for adopted kids, charity work, the gym and so much more that is in the book. It’s really worth the read. We also talked about some new tracks he is working on. He let me listen to a few. He definitely still has that hard rock sound I loved as a teenager. Yeah, He still is the King of Rock!
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