For 30 years now, Run-D.M.C.’s music has been ubiquitous. As rap’s premier group of the ’80s — which saw their hits becoming staples in seemingly every coming-of-age movie — Run-D.M.C., and tracks like “It’s Tricky” and “Walk This Way,” have burrowed themselves into our brains.
With members Rev Run, 50 (née Joseph Ward Simmons), and D.M.C. (born in 1964 as Darryl Matthews McDaniels) coming together for a special concert December 19 at the Barclays Center, D.M.C.’s also making waves in the comic-book world with a new graphic novel from his own Darryl Makes Comics publishing company — the book hit store shelves last October — as well as a forthcoming album featuring some of music’s biggest, and perhaps most unexpected, names.
We spoke to D.M.C. about his historic career and new venture, as well as a certain Christmas regret from years gone by.
As an outspoken fan of the comics and a special guest at comic conventions for a few years, how long has your new comic book been in the works?
We started the whole comic idea a year ago at Comic-Con in New York. I had a meeting with [Vice President of A&R] Riggs Morales at Atlantic [Records]; we were trying to give some up-and-coming MCs an opportunity. He said, “Run-D.M.C. changed my life; you guys were like my superheroes. What was it like for you growing up?” I told him I was a Catholic school kid — I’d go to school and come home and read my comic books. This big light shined, the heavens opened up, and the angels came out. We spent hours talking about comic books. Mostly Marvel, because we connected with Marvel so much because DC had fictional cities, Gotham and Metropolis. Marvel showed you New York, showed you Central Park, showed you Manhattan. Spider-Man lived in Queens. The first time I saw the Roosevelt Island tram was in a comic book. We talked about how hip-hop was up there with comics and kung fu movies. He asked if I ever thought of doing a comic book. For 30 years, people would approach me with ideas for “a hip-hop comic book” and it would be good art, good stories. I’d sit back and wonder, “Why does it always fail?” A year ago, while I was having this discussion, it hit me: It fails because you don’t do a hip-hop comic book, you do a comic book. You don’t label it. We didn’t want to be corny and gimmicky.
My whole thing was two things: We had to do it with integrity and it has to be a celebration, a representation, and a tribute to comic-book culture that touched the lives of us and future comic-book writers and readers. I wanted everything to be done with originality, authenticity, and integrity. Real graffiti artists tagging the wall. D.M.C. isn’t the only superhero for this comic book. He’s the first superhero introduced into this universe, and now our goal is to create a whole universe [like] Marvel and DC [did].
You’ve mentioned before the tremendous influence comics had on your early records…
“Crash through walls, come through floors, bust down…” That’s all comic books. I come from that ’60s and ’70s entertainment media. But the thing that gave me courage to do hip-hop wasn’t an artistic pursuit. Hip-hop for me was like playing with my Army men. The same way I would wrap a blanket around my neck and pretend that I was Superman or Batman, that was the same idea behind sneaking downstairs on my brother’s turntables to pretend to be Grandmaster Flash and writing rhymes pretending to be Melle Mel. I was a nerdy Catholic school kid who wore glasses and read comic books. When hip-hop tapes came into my neighborhood, I was pretending to be these real-life superheroes you didn’t have to look into a comic book to acknowledge.
I went to Rice High School on 124th and Lenox [where] I discovered this other kind of hip-hop that wasn’t like the “Rapper’s Delight” or Kurtis Blow. The rappers that were 22-27 were older men rappers — “Clap your hands and stomp your feet/I’m the disco man with the disco beat.” There was this young street hip-hop talking about sneakers, going to school, and eating fried chicken. All the cassette tapes I was buying were Melle Mel, Treacherous Three. That was the hip-hop I was writing. When I graduated Rice, Run called me up and said, “We’re going to the studio.” I only wanted to have a record like “Planet Rock” or “The Message,” and if [DJ on WHBI] Mr. Magic plays me, I made it. The record became a hit; Run called me up and said, “We got to go perform.” To get my courage to get up in front of a crowd, I created this comic-book scenario. Every time there was a new record to rhyme on, I’d start, “The Microphone Master, D.M.C.” My confidence, my personality, my delivery was only made possible by comic books. If it wasn’t for comic books, I’d say, “Take me off the record, I’m going home.”
You mentioned your admiration for the Treacherous Three. What was it like appearing with them on the pilot for Graffiti Rock, the attempted hip-hop American Bandstand?
Run’s vision saw what it really was: He saw an industry, he saw show business. Me, I’m a fan. I’m a fan of everything that made me want to do it. For me, it was “Oh, snap, this is Kool motherfucking Moe Dee standing here!” All I did was write rhymes, so when [host] Michael Holman said, “Y’all gonna have a battle,” Run took it seriously. I didn’t take it seriously, because Moe Dee was there, [fellow Treacherous member] Special K was there, but my whole time on that set I was thinking, “Where the hell is Sunshine?” When it came to the battle, I could not reach into my arsenal and destroy Moe Dee on national television. So I just freestyled some rhymes. When Moe Dee started to battle, I thought, “Take it easy, D, this is your idol.” Big Daddy Kane said the same thing about me one day. I was outside in front of a club drunk in the city and said, “I’ll battle all you rappers,” and Kane said he was ready to get me, but I was his idol, so he stopped right there.
You tweeted this week that you’re working with DJ Premier.
Yes, we had a meeting in D&D Studios. We’re going to film it and document it because he’s getting ready to move the studio because they’re selling the building. It’s crazy for me because Premier and I have been in hip-hop forever and we’d never worked together. I told him this is a top-two moment of my MC/rap life. Number one is meeting Sarah McLachlan; number two is, after 30 years and watching him become the best hip-hop producer walking this Earth, working with DJ Premier.
Who else will be on the new record?
I got three crazy records already produced by Tim Armstrong of Rancid. I’ve recorded with Rome of Sublime. Travis Barker, Mick Mars, and Sebastian Bach all on the same record. I’m waiting to get [Korn’s] Fieldy or Flea on the record to play the bass. We did Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” over. I got Chuck D on it. Billy from Biohazard, who told me how he and [late Run-D.M.C. member Jam Master] Jay used to be in the studio together working with Onyx and how he was one of the coolest dudes, and thinking how Jay’s looking down from Heaven and seeing D.M.C. hooking up with Billy. I describe the new album as punk rock, heavy metal, hardcore hip-hop. I’m waiting to get with Dave Grohl and, hopefully, the icing on the cake would be getting with Paul McCartney.
Have you ever interacted with any of the Beatles before?
No. I’ve hung out a lot of times with Yoko Ono, though. I do a lot of work for her charity.
I ask because I know your “Crack” demo was originally meant for a record with Michael Jackson, correct?
Yeah, we met with Michael Jackson two times. The funny thing is, he said, “I love the ‘Walk This Way’ thing, but I want to make a song like ‘Peter Piper.’ ” He was brilliant, he was a beat and could beatbox damn near better than Doug E. Fresh. Imagine that type of record with Run and D and Michael Jackson on it. He wound up doing a song with Heavy D, so I would always joke we met him two times at a studio at Santa Monica and we were too busy to work with him. Imagine Michael dancing to “Peter Piper.” That would have been crazy.
With the Barclays show Friday, during the holiday season, it conjures up “Christmas in Hollis.” What about the follow-up Christmas single, “Christmas Is”?
You hated it?
I hated it. I hated the whole idea of us doing it again. But Run and Jay wanted to do it. I was always a team player. But, NO! And not just because “Christmas in Hollis” was so dope. You don’t do that! You don’t climb the same damn mountain! I hated writing my rhymes. I hated doing the video. Keeping it real with you, I thought it was the stupidest thing for us to do ever. It was dumb. [I should have said] “Go get someone else. We’ve already rapped about Christmas. Leave me alone. If you want us to rap about New Year’s, yes, that’s new for me. I’m excited about that. I’ll probably read a book because I don’t know much about New Year’s.” You. Don’t. Do. That. Again. Nobody cared. Nobody really cares about that one. They like the one that was created for the purpose it was written for. That’s why we didn’t do another “Walk This Way.” I hated the idea about doing another Christmas song. Let Chuck and Flavor do it. The second edition spoils the value of the first edition.
You’ve performed live with Run, but this is the first show since Jay’s 2002 death that’s been billed as a “Run-D.M.C.” show. Why?
Funny, because of Hot 97 and the damn radio stations’ stupidity. It’s not a Run-D.M.C. show. Run and D.M.C. are getting together to perform a show for the city they love. We’ve done Made in America, we’ve done Fun Fun Festival. Our appearances are sticking to festivals or special-occasion shows. Me and Run can’t be Run-D.M.C. without Jam Master Jay. Me and Run aren’t representing what those three guys represent. Run and I getting together to do the songs that people love isn’t a Run-D.M.C. show because he’s Reverend Run now and I’m King D.M.C. It’s us getting together for a special occasion, showing up to support the city we love.
WBLS and Hot 97 present Christmas in Brooklyn with Run and D.M.C., LL Cool J, and others. [Click here for tickets.]