In an era where identity and appropriation are hot topics within hip hop and the music industry as a whole, I Am Hip Hop recently had the opportunity to discuss image and authenticity with one of the pioneers of hip hop, Darryl McDaniels. The artist, creatively known as DMC, broke through some of the strongest barriers, with Run DMC being one of the first ever rap groups seen by general audiences around the world in the mid 1980s. To this day, they are one of the most recognised brands in entertainment across the board with their logo planted all over slogans, their music still heard on rock and rap stations and their clothing style replicated on streetwear across cities worldwide.
Despite being the first rap group to appear on MTV and the first to sign to a product endorsement, DMC humbly plays down Run DMC’s innovation and claims that they were just able to bring what was happening in their community to the bigger stage.
‘When I speak at colleges, I always start by stating that Run DMC didn’t do anything’ DMC shared.
‘Everybody in response is like, “But you’re first to go gold, first to go platinum, first on MTV.” I say yeah yeah but if you listen to for example, My Adidas, what made Run DMC so good, is that we took the beat from the street and put it on TV.’
This fresh yet natural style became massively revolutionary in the music scene. Before, rappers would dress in more flamboyant, eye-catching outfits that were inspired by the funk and soul veterans that preceded. Early groups such as The Furious Five and Whodini resembled Parliament and Prince in a bid to stand out while Run DMC’s organic approach allowed them to truly be noticed, which also allowed their successors to follow suit.
‘The world didn’t know about it and nobody cared about us but we took it on’, DMC explained.
‘We didn’t create it, we didn’t say this is what you had to do, we had just put that image on TV then people dressed with no laces, Adidas, and leather, our style became very influential.
‘Chuck D said that when we did that, we created a good problem because Run DMC came along and they allowed others such as De La Soul, Public Enemy and LL be themselves.’
The rap group’s perseverance broke further ground, giving them the spot of being the only hip hop act to perform at the now legendary, Live Aid event in 1985. This performance allowed millions across the globe to see their first ever rap performance on TV while DMC stared fearlessly into a crowed of 100,000 people at the John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia. Even though they were about to represent a whole community in front of the masses for the first time, DMC was unfazed as his confident energy was felt across the globe while the group performed King of Rock.
This larger than life personality was something that ran through the veins of DMC, who explained that his love for superheroes subconsciously influenced his rap content and imagery.
‘My movement to hip hop came from comic books ‘cause I was into comic books first. I went to a Catholic school my whole life, straight A student with glasses. I got teased and all of that so you know once I got to school it was cool, I loved to learn but to make it make and forth from school was terrible but when I got home after I did my schoolbooks, comic books was that world that empowered me, comic books was that world that educated me, it made me strong it made me feel like something.
‘Then when hip hop came over the Bridge to Queens, I became attracted to that, originally it was just another make believe world, I had my comic books and I always describe it like this, little kids used to play with the G.I Joes and the Barbie dolls, that’s what comics and hip hop was to me.’
DMC’s relationship with comic books had never ended, with the art forms still combining together creatively and with the artist launching his own series of comics recently, titled Darryl Makes Comics
‘People really started to notice Run DMC in 1985 with King of Rock. There we shouted “Crash through walls, come through floors, bust through ceilings, knock down doors.” That’s the Amazing Spiderman, the Incredible Hulk, Superhero’s always had a title of who they were, I was the Devastating Mic Controller, DMC You know what I’m saying even in the last 10 years after (Jam Master) Jay died, Run is on TV with Runs House, this and that, everyone’s going” “Where’s D?” I only come out when it’s time to do something.
‘All of those similarities were there but comic books were always first for me. Run rapped “I’m DJ Run, I can scratch”. I didn’t say “I’m DMC I can rap”, I said “I’m DMC I can draw!” I was still drawing. This isn’t DMC the Rapper, doing a comic book it’s Darryl McDaniels the little boy that loved comic books doing a comic book and people are receiving it.’
DMC highlighted the importance of art when it comes to more more personal situations and how it can help individuals in tough situations.
‘I had to go to therapy when I found out I was adopted, the therapist said your whole life you was using things like ‘I’m the King of, I’m the Devastating Mic Controller’ on the mic you was always defining yourself so subconsciously there was always a missing piece, something didn’t feel right, it was almost like Spiderman, it was almost like Batman.’
As we drew our conversation to a close, DMC summarised that Run DMC’s more natural approach allows them and their counterparts to perform music that is timeless as opposed to many newer artists today.
‘A lot of these rap dudes can’t do their songs when they are 60-years old and look good doing it. I mean I’m 53 and Chuck D is 56 but he still can rock the stage as he is still the same 18-year old kid from Roosevelt. I’m also not trying to rhyme like Eminem I’m not trying to rhyme like Jay Z, I’m not trying to start a liquor company, I’m not trying to sell jeans. I keep it hardcore eternally.’
Check out Darryl Makes Comics here.
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