Skip to main content

DMC on the Changing Landscape of Rap Music and Culture

Rap vocalist Darryl McDaniels of RUN-DMC talks about the group's success. McDaniels is the "DMC" of the group. They were the first rap group to earn gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums. Their most recent album is "Down with The King" released in 1994. But RUN-DMC is expected to release their next album later this year. The group is credited with bringing new fashions, new dances, and new language to popular culture.


Other segments from the episode on May 19, 1997

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, May 19, 1997: Interview with Darryl McDaniels; Review of R.F. Foster's book "W.B. Yeats: A Life."


Date: MAY 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051901np.217
Head: Darryl McDaniels
Sect: Entertainment
Time: 12:06

TERRY GROSS, HOST: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The murders of rap stars Tupac Shukar and "Biggie Smalls" have drawn attention to the violence within the rap world.

My guest Darryl McDaniels have seen the changes in rap music and hip-hop culture through the '80s and '90s. He's the co-founder of rap's longest running group, Run DMC.

We invited him to talk with us about some of the changes he's seen and to give us a personal history of rap. Run DMC had its first hit back in 1983, "It's Like That", in '84 they became the first rappers to earn a gold album, the next year they were the first to earn a platinum.

They were the first rap group to have their videos played on MTV and the first to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Co-founder Joseph Simmons, the Run in Run DMC, is the brother of Russell Simmons, the founder of Death-Jam Productions, which has produced hip-hop concerts films and comedy jams.

Before we meet Darryl McDaniels, here he is on Sucker MC, the B side of their first record "It's like that".


I go to Saint Johns University
And since kindergarten I acquired the knowledge
And after 12th grade I went straight to college.

I'm light-skinned, I live in Queens
And I love eaten chicken and collared greens.

I dress to kill, I love to style
I'm a MC you know who's versatile

Say I got good credit in your regard
Got my name not numbers on my credit cards

I go up town, I look back home
What fool me myself and my microphone.

All my rhymes are a sweet delight
So here's a number one for ya'll to bite.

When I rhyme, I never quit
And if I got a new rhyme I'll just say it
Cause It takes a lot to entertain
And sucker MC's can be a pain
You can't rock a party with the hip and hop
You got to let them know you'll never stop
The rhymes I can make a lot a (Unintelligible)

You got to know when to start, when the beats come in.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels, welcome to FRESH AIR.

How do you think the rap world is being changed by the murders of Tupac and Biggie Smalls?

MCDANIELS: Well, I think there's a greater awareness of really what's going on in society and inside the neighborhoods that the rappers come from.

It seems like all the violence and the drugs and the sex and just all the negative stuff that most of the rappers are trying to get away from is now following them into their careers, into their places of business, and into their homes, and I think it's a great awareness now that it's really a problem out there, not just among the rappers, but within our neighborhoods and in the streets that we come from.

GROSS: Are rap performer -- are rap performers now more afraid, more security conscious?

MCDANIELS: Yes, finitely, yes, definitely.

A couple of rappers now -- now have bullet proof vests, now hire security, now hire off duty police officers. A couple of the rappers ride around in bullet proof vehicles, so, I think there's a lot of -- a lot of worry out there among the rappers and not just the rappers also a lot of the R & B singers and the singers in general and a lot of sports people.

GROSS: What about you, have you heightened your security?

MCDANIELS: No, I haven't.

Run DMC has a reputation of being well liked and because we relate so well with the community black, white, Puerto Rican, Japan, European, whatever, you know, we can -- I can go anywhere and not worry.

GROSS: What are your theories about the murders?

MCDANIELS: Well, I think what we have here is when the media hyped up the East Coast/West Coast beef, so called "beef," I think it's sort of like having high school A and high school B and both of these high schools are going to the championship game at the end of the week.

Now, what you have here is fans of high school A and fans of high school B meeting -- meeting each other or confronting each other, maybe at the mall -- at the movie theater and a lot of the things that the rappers are saying on their records, the people who represent the neighborhoods that the rappers come from tend to take these things seriously.

So, you get high school A saying we're the best and high school B saying no, we're the best and then it's actually when it used to be lyrical rhyme for rhyme in a battle, now it's become physical, rap has become so materialistic.

So, I think for the murders you have fans who said OK Tupac was shot this way, somebody could have just seen Biggie Smalls, I mean this is just my theory on it, and said oh, I'm a revenge Tupac and bang, bang, bang, West Coast, West Coast we're number one or whatever.

That's the way I look at it.

GROSS: Do you think it's fair to make connection between the glorification of gang banging and rap lyrics and the shooting of rappers?

MCDANIELS: Well, the only connection there, actually, is whether or not the rappers were rapping about these things or it was happening to the rappers who are the celebrities of the hood. This is going on in the hood all day.

I'm mean Tupac Shukar and Biggie Smalls are just examples of Tupac and Biggie dying in our neighborhood everyday. Even where I come from, I mean, so many of my friends have died by senseless violence, I mean, probably in the last 15 years I know 20 people, that I grew up with, that died by, you know, gun shots. Drive-bys and just stupid, you know, arguments and pulling out guns and bang bang, and you know it's really scary.

If they ain't dying they're in jail, so the things that the rappers are rapping about are things that they experience, it just seems that most of the rappers now making the records all are rapping about the same things, so it seems like this is all that there is to rap, but there's a other -- there's another positive side of rap that people don't talk about.

GROSS: Talk about that.

MCDANIELS: Well, you have groups like LL Cool J, Run DMC, Public Enemy, KRS-1, A Tribe Called Quest, the Fugees (ph) and these are groups that just make music and make good songs. These are groups that do a lot of things for their communities.

These are groups that have positive images. These are groups that also sell a lot of records, even though the so-called "gansta rap" sells millions of records, the Fugees sell millions of records, LL Cool J sold millions of records, but nobody want to talk about the good things and within rap music there's a lot of positive rap records being made and there's a lot of positive rap groups that are very successful, but it seems more interesting to talk about the gangster rappers that are making all this money, that are dominating the industry right now.

GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Darryl McDaniels. He's the DMC in Run DMC, which is, I think, just about the longest running rap group performing today.

Lets talk about the history of Run DMC, which spans a lot of the history of rap. But, before we do I had asked you before what you prefer that I call you, and you have a great rhyme that answers that question...


... would you just do that rhyme for us.

MCDANIELS: Yeah, well, you can call me Darryl, you can call me D. You can call me Darryl Mac or you can call me DMC.

People always ask me what does my name mean, D for never dirty, MC for mostly clean. But, sometimes I tell them when certain people ask, that DMC means that Darryl makes cash.


GROSS: That's good.

How did you first hear rap?

MCDANIELS: Wow! That's a good question. The first time I ever heard rap was back in 1970 -- I think it was either '76 or '78. There was a radio show, it was like an underground radio show and the disc jockey's name was Eddie Cheba, and the station was in New York, it was WFUV, and that was the first time I ever heard rap.

He had a rhyme where he said, "when you're messing round in New York town you go down with the disco Cheba clowns, you go down, go down, go down, go down, you go down."

You know it was really simple, but the first time I ever heard rap was back in '76 or '78 or WFUV, DJ Eddie Cheba.

GROSS: Now, what made you think, I want to do that?

MCDANIELS: Well, when I first started out I wanted to be a DJ. I really liked the scratching and the quick mixing and you know doing the DJ thing, spinning records and mixing records back and forth.

And then out of the, you know, listening to DJs and studying Gram Master Flash, I started hearing, you know, tapes of DJ Starsky, and Melly Mel, and Cool Mo Dee and the Treacherous Three and then something just sparked in me where I wanted to become a vocalist and express myself on the microphone.

GROSS: So, did you sing before you started rhyming?

MCDANIELS: No, I didn't.


MCDANIELS: I started rhyming first.

GROSS: And what were your very early rhymes like?

MCDANIELS: Oh, well, the very early -- my very early rhymes were, you know basically simple, talking about I had the best rhymes, nobody had more rhymes than me, my DJ was the best DJ, we had the louder sound system, you know it was simple stuff like C to an apple, apple to a core, I am the man with the rhymes galore, rock a rhyme for me, rock a rhyme for you, and everybody catch the boogaloo flu, Hollis (ph), Queens is where I'm from, don't be stupid, don't be so dumb.

So it's basically boasting about my neighborhood, me being the best MC and nobody can take me out.

GROSS: Speaking of your neighborhood, you're from Hollis Queens.


GROSS: In New York and the two other members of Run DMC are from the same neighborhood...


GROSS: ... I think and -- you were -- went to school together, right, you know each other before you were a group?

MCDANIELS: Yeah, definitely. We all lived in five blocks of each other, we went to elementary and high school and college together.

GROSS: So, when did you actually form Run DMC, where were you in -- in your school years?

MCDANIELS: Well, me and Run first started rhyming and DJing together in my basement. I actually taught Run how to DJ, he was rapping first then I taught him how to DJ, how to do the quick mix and how to spin records back, and how to blend two -- two of the same records together.

So, Run and DMC was like formed back in 19 -- I think it was around 1980, we started DJing in my basement and then when he got -- he got better equipment than me for Christmas, so we started DJing in his attic.

So, I would say Run DMC was formed right then, and then as the group it was 1982 when we put together "It's Like That," and That's the Way it is" and "Sucker MC's," which was our first single, and then we needed a DJ and that's when we got Jam Master J, who was the neighborhood DJ, he was like the best DJ in the neighborhood.

J would set up his equipment in the park and he'd plug it in -- into the light post and then we would -- we would play until the cops would come and stop us. So, actually we came together as a professional group in 1982.

GROSS: And were you in high school, in college?

MCDANIELS: We was all in college, we was all in our first semester of college.

GROSS: Did you leave college once you started performing?

MCDANIELS: Yep, we took a leave of absence and been absent ever since.

GROSS: What were your parents reaction to taking a leave of absence to perform? Did they think you were making a big mistake?

MCDANIELS: No, they was -- they was mad, they was like are you crazy, what are you doing, and you know, even when the got a hint of me wanting to be a rapper as my career, as my job, you know, they was telling me stuff like, it's ridiculous you better stay in school and we're not paying all this money for you to got to Saint Johns for nothing, and as a matter of fact, when I went to record our first single I didn't tell my parents, because I knew they wouldn't have let me go.

So, they was outraged, you know.

GROSS: How did they find out?

MCDANIELS: Well, I had to come tell them where I was at for the last 15 hours...


MCDANIELS: ... you know, cause I just left the house, it was a Sunday afternoon, I left the house about one o'clock, and ain't come home in the morning -- till the next morning like five a.m in the morning.

GROSS: Did you play them the record, did they like it?

MCDANIELS: Yeah, I played them the record and they didn't really like it tell they heard it on the radio.

GROSS: Was that "It's Like That?"

MCDANIELS: Yeah, that was "It's Like That."

GROSS: Good, lets hear it, this is Run DMC's first recording.


MCDANIELS SINGING: Money the key to end all you woes.
Your ups your downs your highs and your lows.
Won't you tell me last time that love bought your clothes.

CHORUS: It's like that, and that's the way it is.

Bills rise higher everyday
We receive much lower pay
I try to stay young, go out and play

CHORUS: It's like that, and that's the way it is.

GROSS: That's Run DMC, their -- their first recording, and my guest is Darryl McDaniels, who's the DMC in Run DMC.

Now, when you started performing it was the big gold chain era...


MCDANIELS: Right, actually we started that.

GROSS: Yeah, there's...

MCDANIELS: Cause Russell...

GROSS: ... some great pictures of you with giant big gold chains...

MCDANIELS: Well, like when we was saying Russell was a big part of that J was always dressing like that. The way Run DMC dressed, J always dressed like that, so when Russell seen J he said, that's how you're going to dress and that's when the gold chains came into play.

J had a gold chain before he even thought of me and Run DMC. J wore chains like that when he was in high school.

GROSS: What did you think of those chains, I mean, especially looking back from the '90s at the early '80s with the big gold chains, they look so dated...



MCDANIELS: Yeah, right now it looks so funny. You know I look at it and say I can't believe we dressed like that, I mean what's the purpose of that, I mean our parents didn't understand, what's the purpose of having a chain that big?

You know what I'm saying?

GROSS: I sure do.

MCDANIELS: You know, and it's like why, why...


MCDANIELS: You know it looks so funny now, but back then it was like so cool, you know.

GROSS: What -- what do you think it did for your image back then?

MCDANIELS: What it actually did show that we had money, you know, it showed that we had the big gold chain and the fancy car and that we were truly the superstars of the neighborhood, you know, cause if you got a big chain and the other guy don't you must be doing something.

And you know it also brought a bad image to us because people that didn't know Run DMC before we had a album cover out thought we were just drug dealers, because mostly drug dealers was wearing chains like that and driving in big cars, even before the rappers made it big.

GROSS: So, were the chains solid gold?

MCDANIELS: Well, me and Runs was semi-solid and J's was solid.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels is my guest, the DMC in Run DMC and let's take a short break and then we'll talk some more.





GROSS: Back with Darryl McDaniels, the DMC in Run DMC, which is the probably the longest running rap group and one of the most popular over the years. You were teenagers when you started performing, how did you handle fame when it first hit you and you were still in you teens?

MCDANIELS: Oh, man, fame hit us so quick, I mean, it's like now we got this thing that we say that certain periods in our career we can't remember we call it "dazein," it was just like was just in a daze, it was just like -- everything happened so quick, you know the first record, then we did the rap album -- the first rap album to go gold, cause nobody thought rap was going to sell.

Then right after that we had the first video on MTV and that was really like a precedent because the only black star they was actually playing on MTV was Michael Jackson. Then we got on there and then when "Rock Box," which was the video that got on MTV went into heavy rotation Russell and everybody down at the record company and at Rush Management was all excited.

Ya'll on MTV and me and Run and J was like, what is MTV, why are you guys so happy about this, and then the big tour, the Fresh Fist tour, and we was going around and selling out Madison Square Garden and all the big venues it all happened so fast that, you know, it's like -- it smacked us up side the head, you know the money the fame and the fortune, it didn't go to our heads, but it smacked us up side our heads.

GROSS: What was it like to suddenly have a lot of money?

MCDANIELS: Whoa, it was -- man, it was -- you know me and Run always say, you know when we was little growing up in, you know, unless you was the star of the basketball team, the high school basketball team or the CYO basket ball team or the neighborhood Hollis basketball team, none of the home boys or the home girls would give you any attention.

And me and Run always said, all we want is one pair of Addidas, but our parent wouldn't buy us Addidas, cause they was $40 it was like ridiculous to our parents, you know what I'm saying, they're middle class, what's the point of you, no, we're going to buy you these $25 shoes, $20 shoes, if we can get them for 15 you're wearing those and you're going to be happy.

And then when we became Run DMC we could buy all the Addidas we wanted, all the Addidas suits we wanted, we could buy all the gold chains that we wanted, we could go buy the Cadillac that we wanted, and it was like just ridiculous, it was like God blessed us with everything that we wanted when we was, you know growing up in elementary school.

You know you was at a point where you want to be like that guy who got every color pair of Addidas and you want, you know, most -- you know you could tell the kids -- a lot of the kids that was going to my school they had jobs, you know what I'm saying?

And, you know we didn't have no jobs, the only job me and Run ever had was pushing shopping carts to the super markets, giving out circulars and that was like twice, you know twice a week. But most of our friends they had nine to fives and they was out there, you know working and getting a lot of money so, every month if something new came out they could get it, so when we got money it became -- we could get anything and everything, and as a matter of fact we had stuff before it even came out, cause people started giving us stuff.

GROSS: So, you -- you just started acquiring everything you could?

MCDANIELS: Yeah, exactly -- everything that we ever wanted we was able to get.

GROSS: You know you mention Addidas and of course you have a very famous record called "My Addidas," before we hear it why don't you say a little bit about coming up with this rap.

MCDANIELS: Well, it's real funny, actually, Run's brother Russell Simmons came up with the idea. He like put it in the air, one day he said, ya'll need to make a record about your Addidas and how ya'll come from Hollis.

And then the next day, you know, me and Run had the pen and pad out and we was writing this record, so, we did the record even before we was approached by Addidas to, you know, for the promotional deal and stuff like that -- for the endorsement.

And the record came out and then in 1986, you know, we was really the biggest thing going on in music and a Addidas representative came to Madison Square Garden and on that show Addidas was the first record that we did and before we did it we said, who ever got on Addidas take one shoe off and hold it up.

And the whole Madison Square Garden held up a pair -- held up their Addidas, and when the Addidas representative seen this he was like, ya'll guys got an endorsement, it's going to big you're going to be the first non-athletic group to get a major endorsement with an athletic company. I mean that was like really cool.

But, we made the record because we always just rapped about anything and everything, and we just gave a tribute to or Addidas saying we'll wear these sneakers for life, whatever we don't care about Nike, we don't care about Bally, we don't care about nothing, Addidas are it forever.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels is the co-founder of Run DMC. He'll be back with us in the second half of our show.

I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH AIR. Here's "My Addidas".


MCDANIELS SINGING: My Addidas walk through (Unintelligible) doors
And wrote all over coliseum floors
I stepped on stage at Live Aid
All the people gave and the poor got paid
And I'm the sneaker I did speak
I wore my sneakers, but I'm not a sneak.

My Addidas (Unintelligible) the stamp of a foreign land
With mike in hand I cold took command
My Addidas and me close as can be
We make a mean team my Addidas and me.

We get around together, we're down forever
And we won't be mad when caught in bad weather,

My Addida. My Addida.

Yo, what's up.

My Addida, standing on two fifth street
Funky fresh and yes cold on my feet
With no shoe string in 'em
I did not win them
I bought them off the ave with the back beat in them.

I like to sport 'em
That's why I brought 'em
A sucker tried to steal them so I
Caught 'em and I fought 'em
And I walk down the street and bop to the beat
With Lee on my leg and Addida on my feet.

And so now I'm just standing here shooting the gip
Me and D and my Addidas standing on two fifth.

My Addida. My Addida...


GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

Back with Darryl McDaniels, co-founder of Run DMC, rap's longest running group. They've been recording a new record, their first in three years, which is supposed to come out later this year.

When we left off we were talking about Run DMC's impact on how their fans dressed with their gold chains and Addidas sneakers.

Now, how did it feel to see so many of your fans copying you?

I mean on the one hand it could make you feel really, you know proud and big and everything on the other hand it can really make you wonder about the independent thinking...


... of people...

MCDANIELS: Yeah, well, actually, you know my partner Run, he was more excited about that, like wow! D yo look we the big, you know what I'm saying and you know from a record selling tip it's, you know, it signified that oh, wow! We're doing really great...

GROSS: Right...

MCDANIELS: ... but, then on another tip, you know, I was like kinda bug, I liked it when rap was more -- everybody was more themselves but we all could relate to the music, you know what I'm saying?

And now, I mean the same way the people did that when we had Addidas out, is the same way people are doing -- the fans are treating, you know, Tupac records and Biggie records and Snoop Dog records, they're taking a lot of stuff these rappers are saying seriously.

Like back then if you had a pair of Addidas and you had an Addidas suit and a big gold chain and a hat or maybe the glasses, you know the Gazelle (ph) glasses like I used to wear, you was down with rap and hip-hop.

Now, you got to have a gat, which is a gun and you got to smack your, you know, your hoe or your bitch, excuse my language, but you got to smack her and you got to have all these women and you got to have a car and you got to have this rough image, you know what I'm saying, you got to drink champagne, and smoke blunts and spend all this money.

So, the same thing -- the same effect that we had on the fans back then is the same way rap is affecting the fans now, but it's not in a positive way, and you know, a lot of the groups that's out now like -- it surprised me and it made me feel good when Martin Lawrence, who's a comedian and Chris Rock who's a comedian, you know at the two times that I met them they came up to me and said D, because of Run DMC I am what I am today.

So, that's good, because they didn't want to be a rapper like DMC and dress like me, but we aspired them to be what they wanted to be. They looked at us and said, I can do what I want to be and it really hit me when Boyz to Men, at the Grammys, Boyz to Men came up to me and say, we're doing this because of ya'll, you know what I'm saying, I'm like wow! You know that's the type of effect I want to have, I don't want everybody trying to be Run DMC, you know and it's bad that every bodies trying to be Tupac or every bodies trying to be Biggie.

What these guys do represent is out of the hood out of poverty or out of crime or out of a single parent home or coming out of jail you can be something and that's what good to represent, but you don't got to be the same gun-toting, refer smoking, champagne drinking person as this rapper is and that was -- that was -- that's confusing to the parents cause the parents get scared OK, my son likes Tupac, but this is what Tupac did last week, I don't want my son to do that.

GROSS: Was there ever any pressure on you from producers or record companies to harden your image, to make it more hard-core?

MCDANIELS: No, but we felt a pressure on ourselves in 1990 we made a album called "Back From Hell," and on this "Back From Hell" album, it was like the first album we ever used profanity and it was like the first album where we ever really came at everybody else in the industry.

It was, you know, the first album where we kind of degraded women, you know, we didn't really talk bad like most records did, but we started talking -- we started, you know straying that way, and that was like one of our worst albums, so we learned a big lesson from that, I mean that album was like a flop for Run DMC, it only sold maybe 250,000 copies, that was the year everybody was saying Run DMC was over, you know what I'm saying, because we strayed from what we was really about.

Even though we was still doing live shows, we made this album, which was trying to go with the flow of the times, when "keeping it real" is being real to yourself and staying who you are.

GROSS: Now, I know that you're Christian, were -- was there like a change in your life where you were born again, or...

MCDANIELS: Yeah, right around that time, I mean, you know, the records wasn't selling everybody was saying we was over, you know Run was smoking a lot of refer. I was drinking a lot of beer, things wasn't well within the group, you know people was like saying, yo, Run DMC is over, yeah you know their time is over and that was like really a down time.

And you know with anybody when it's time to -- well not time -- when you are down and out or on your death bed, every -- I don't care who you are, you're going to scream out to God, you know and he's going to answer and it's up for your to answer his calling.

And you know basically, it was nowhere else we could turn but to God, you know God help us, you know and we was like, yo, we're very thankful for everything that happened and this and that and if only we could, you know, just kick butt, you know. Get back to what we was all about, but we had to make that adjustment in our minds ourselves, you know what I'm saying? But, it was like really a down time, I mean the women, it was like the worst time for Run DMC of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll.

You know all that stuff that you think, I'm not going to go that way, I'm not going to happen to us, and it was like really a bad time for us.

GROSS: And so, when you -- when you were born again how did that change your music and your lifestyle?

MCDANIELS: Well, you know, it cleaned up our lives, we stopped smoking refer, stopped drinking beers, stopped sleeping with every, you know, every groupie that you know and stop running around with the drug dealers and the wrong crowd and you know, that's why we named the record "Down with the King," because we say wow! we're the only rap group that's been here for -- you know at the time we was out for 10 years.

We was the only rap group that's been together for 10 years, everybody else in the business broke up and we realized that we had a marriage here and we was like, yo, this is really like a marriage, because we're still here, even though our popularity was down people still gave us respect.

So, we was like, all right we going to dedicate one of these records on this album to God and that was -- that record became the single and that single became the name of the album.

GROSS: Down with the King.

MCDANIELS: Down with the King.

GROSS: Why don't we hear that.



MCDANIELS SINGING: I'm taking the tours
I'm wrecking the land
I keep it hardcore cause it's dope man
These are the roughest, toughest words I ever wrote down
Not meant for a whole like a slow jam, check it

Sucker MC's could never swing with D
Because of all the things that I bring with me
Only G-O-D could be a king to me
And if the G-O-D be in me then a king I'll be.

The microphone is branded when it's handed to me
I was planted on this planet and I plan to MC's
The MC fiends always seem to agree
That I rock a the world and the society

Outrageous on the stages with a tune of verse
I give praises from these stages just to the universe
My voice is raw, my lyrics is long
I keep it hardcore like you never saw, you wanna be.

Down with the king, you wanna be
Down with the king.

You know you wanna be, wanna be, you wanna be...

GROSS: That's Run DMC, we'll talk more with co-founder Darryl McDaniels after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

GROSS: Back with Darryl McDaniels, co-founder of Run DMC.

The group has been together -- well, you've been recording since what, 1982?


GROSS: ... and started performing even before that.


GROSS: Extraordinarily long, I mean for any group, but -- but particularly, I think in the world of rap.

MCDANIELS: Yeah, it's ridiculous.

GROSS: How do you think you managed to stay together that long?

MCDANIELS: Umh, umh, umh, wow! That's really a good question.

The reason why we stayed together that long because we never let the fortune and fame take away from the true art form of what rapping and MCing means to us.

Meaning that, if we never made it as Run DMC and Run when he was going to college he was studying mortuary science, I was studying business management, but then I would have had to change because I wanted to go into architecture and J was studying business management.

So, even if we had wife and kids working nine to fives with families, on the weekends on holidays on days off, we going to get together in the park, at J's birthday party, at our son's birthday party, and we gonna DJ and rap and scratch.

So, we never lost that desire of -- we never let the rap become a thing as we got to get money with this thing, we always liked really doing it, we always liked really doing the live show, and we always liked, you know making fun lyrics or making lyrics that mean something, we never let the fortune take away from the art form or the meaning of, you know, the culture of hip-hop, what hip-hop really stands for.

GROSS: One of the things that you've done on some of your records is take -- sample things from rock and heavy metal, one of your most famous records "Walk this Way," uses the famous Aerosmith recording on it.

And I'm wondering if you feel like that exposed you to audiences that rap records might not have otherwise reached?

MCDANIELS: Most definitely, most definitely it exposed us -- you know although at the same time we was already on MTV, but the reason why we made a lot of rock records is because before rap records was made we use to have to find things to rap over, and rock 'n roll had a lot of drum breaks and a lot of drum beats, and rock 'n roll had a lot of loud guitars and rap was like a -- an aggressive art form and it was hard, so we had to find rock records, we couldn't rap over violins and flutes and soft stuff, we needed something hard.

And we wanted to make a record using the Aerosmith beat, but Rick Ruben (ph), who was our producer at the time, he was a Aerosmith fan back when it was large, he was like oh, do you know who -- who's record that is ya'll rapping over and their Aerosmith and they was big when I was younger and this and that, hey, you know what ya'll should do, ya'll should do that record over.

Now me and Run was real mad, cause all we wanted to do is say our rhymes over that beat, Rick Ruben wanted us to learn Steven Tyler's lyrics, and we was like oh, Rick you're going to ruing our career and this...


... and that, that's not going to work, you know, we're barely getting over by rapping, you know doing our own lyrics over rock, now you want us to do a cover of a rock song, but we did it and it worked and it opened up us to a whole wider audience.

GROSS: A lot of rap groups really brag about their neighborhood, often bragging about how tough it is.


GROSS: What was your neighborhood like? Hollis Queens.

MCDANIELS: Hollis Queens was, you know it's a middle class, hard working neighborhood, it had a lot of educated people there, but you also had you know violence and drugs and prostitution and murder and rape and robbery right on the corner.

You know, it's just good that we came from good families who made sure we went to school didn't play hooky or run with them wrong crowds. So, you had good and bad going on at the same time.

Which is true for every neighborhood, but some places have more poverty than other places and people tend to let the -- their surrounding suppress them. It was like we always, regardless of what going on, if we didn't have a dollar in our pocket or if we did had the dollar in our pocket we was still happy. You know what I'm saying?

GROSS: Mm-hmm. Now, did you ever feel like you had to cover up the fact that your neighborhood was pretty middle class and that you -- your parents wouldn't let you play hooky?

MCDANIELS: Naw, it was no way we could hide it because that was something the reporters made known to everybody. You know cause they thought it was a big thing, all right here you got this rap group making all this money, running around talking about their cars and you know, how good they are and you know they're selling a lot of records and you know it was a thing where rap was supposed to be only done by, you know, people from the ghetto.

You know what I'm saying, cause you know, Grand Master Flash and them, they came from the heart of the Bronx and Afraka Bambata (ph) they was from Bronx and Manhattan, they was from the ghetto, you know what I'm saying, apartment buildings and broken glass everywhere, people's at subway, we came from Hollis Queens where you got separate houses, grass, backyards, cookout, Catholic school and all this other stuff -- something going on.

But, you know we wanted people to know, you know my mother and father, J's mother and father and Run's mom, hard working educated people, but then you had the people that, you know, lived in the middle of the block, you know they had to rob and steal for the next meal.

But, a lot of the press wanted to emphasize -- I guess they wanted to let the world know that these guys are frontin, they might look tough and they might talk tough on their record, but they middle class Catholic school nice guys.

GROSS: "Keeping it real" is a big expression...



GROSS: ... in the rap world, and I wonder what that means to you given that so much of rap music has -- has just kind of hardened into formula?

MCDANIELS: Yeah, it did...

GROSS: And that there's so much -- there's so much copying and mimicry...

MCDANIELS: Yes, oh wow!. I mean and it's ridiculous, but Y-Cleft (ph) -- Y-Cleft John from the Fugees said the most interesting thing about that, he said he went over to Japan and a Japanese guy greeted him.

And you know he was dressed like, you know your basic -- American hip-hopper hat, you know baggy pants, sneakers, you know, Tommy Hilfiger or some Gap stuff or you know whatevers the hip clothes to wear for that month, and he came up to Y-Cleft and he said, Y-Cleft Fugee, keep it real, and Y-Cleft said he looked at this Japanese guy and said he hasn't the slightest idea what this phrase means, he's just saying it because he see a lot of other rappers say it.

So, that told Y-Cleft that if you're sitting home and you're from the South and you -- you know you got Master Pimp, I'm just making up a name, Master Pimp is his new record, it's hot and he just sold 3 million records and you got the hottest video and a kid is looking at that to him that's keeping it real.

Being a pimp, rapping about violence and sex and drugs and rapping about girls and money and cars. Keeping it real is keeping reality alive, you know what I'm saying?

Keeping it -- keeping it real means dealing with the positive and the negative, not trying to capitalize off the negative. Keeping it real is doing what you want to do, you know what I'm saying, a lot of rappers now want to copy and emulate everybody, you know what I'm saying, do what you made up in your shower, do what you had a dream about last night, 'cause that's the only way it's going to change, right now rap is so monotonous, I can't even look at rap...


... I don't even listen to rap radio now.

GROSS: Really, what do you listen to?

MCDANIELS: Whoa, I listen Joan Osborne (ph) and Cheryl Crow, (ph) and Jewel (ph), and Counting Crows, because when I listen to their music and -- you know they're dealing with their people, they're dealing with humanity, problems ranging from politics to love relationships, and that's what rap started out as, you know what I'm saying?

To give you an example, I was talking to somebody who works at one of the major rap labels and she was all hyped about this new artist coming out, and they're going to do this and the record going to big and I said, what are they talking about, and it look like she got so sad cause she looked at me and said, guns and drugs.


And it was like, again.


MCDANIELS: You know what I'm saying, back in the '80s you had Run DMC doing our thing, you had LL Cool J talking about "I need Love," and then you had Big Daddy Cane, you had Erik B and Rakhim, you had the Fat Boys, who like comic relief, you know what I'm saying, it was so versatile, then you had Dala Sol, come out Tribe Call Quest, now all you got is Rough Crew Killer, Pimp daddy big, drug dealer Sam, murder rapist...


... and it's ridiculous, you know what I'm saying and so now for a positive brother or somebody with just some political insight or somebody that just want to be creative and talk about sunshine and the beach and good things, when they go to these record companies, oh well, you're not what we're looking for at this time, cause they only want what sells, and right now the violence and the negative stuff is selling.

GROSS: I don't know if you or any of the other members of Run DMC have children?

MCDANIELS: Yes, we do. I have a two-year-old son, Run has five kids, ranging from six months to 12, and Jam Master J has three kids ranging from one-year to 10, I think.

GROSS: So, what do you all tell the children who are old enough to care about gansta rap?

MCDANIELS: Wow!, it's like really scary cause we can't hide it from them, because...

GROSS: That's right...


MCDANIELS: ... when they go to school and when they go out in the street they going to hear it anyway.

GROSS: Well, if they follow your careers they're going to notice it too.

MCDANIELS: Right, that's true too.

So, I mean, I guess, you know, most of our kids respect us because we're still doing it, so they know that the thing that we're doing is the thing that's it because we get so much props from everybody else in the business.

Although, you know, I could -- even my two-year-old son, when he hears Wutang Clang, and it's the guy that rap the Oh, Dirty Bastard, he start bobbing his head and doing his lyrics, you know what I'm saying...


MCDANIELS: ... so you know there's a lot of kids our there, you know, most of -- most of the kids, you know 14 and 15 know everything Tupac ever said...

GROSS: Yeah.

MCDANIELS: ... you know what I'm saying, F the police and bitch give me my money and they know these lyrics and they saying these lyrics, you know what I'm saying.

And it's just bad because the hypnotic thing about it is, you know, most of the kids think in order to be a rapper now these are things you got to talk about, when back in the '80s you could talk about anything and not be scared of being called a sucker, a soft, or a sell out or you ain't keeping it real, it's got to be about the hood, you know MC it's got to be about the hood, and that's the mentality the kids have now.

But, a lot of the kids all actually, you know, are really looking for something different it's just that nobody's -- the record companies is not taking that step and the rappers themselves are not taking that step to do that next thing.

GROSS: Are you still wearing Addidas?

MCDANIELS: Yes, I'm sitting here with Addidas on from head to toe.


And will always wear Addidas.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us, we're out of time, I wish we weren't but, we - we got to go.


MCDANIELS: Well, thanks for having me.

GROSS: Yeah, thanks a lot for -- for talking with us, I really appreciate it.

MCDANIELS: It was my pleasure.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels is the co-founder of Run DMC. They're recording their first album in three years. Here's their first record "Walk this Way." No...


MCDANIELS SINGING: Now there's a back seat lover
That's always under cover
And I talk to my daddy say
Said you ain't seen nothing till you down on the muffin
And sure to be a change in ways.

Now, there's a cheerleader
That's the real big pleaser
Sounds like a reminisce
It's best big lover
Was your sister and your cousin
And it started with a little kiss, like this.

See saw swinging with the boys in school
And her feet was flying up in the air
Singing hey diddle, diddle
With the kitty in the middle and your swinging
Like you just don't care.

So, I took a big chance at the high school dance
With a lady who was ready to play
It wasn't me she was foolin
Cause she knew what she was doin
When she told me how to walk this way.

She told me to...

CHORUS: Walk this way, talk this way
Walk this way, talk this way,

She told me to

CHORUS: Walk this way, talk this way
Walk this way, talk this way
Just give me a kiss...

GROSS: That's Run DMC and that was not their first record, that's Walk this Way.

Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Darryl McDaniels
High: Rap vocalist Darryl McDaniels of Run DMC talks about the group's success. McDaniels is the "DMC" of the group. Run DMC was the first rap group to earn gold, platinum and multi-platinum albums. The group's most recent album is "Down with The King" released in 1994. But Run-DMC is expected to release their next album later this year. The group is credited with bringing new fashions, new dances, and new language to popular culture.
Spec: Music Industry; Run DMC; Rap Music; Fashion

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: Darryl McDaniels
Date: MAY 19, 1997
Time: 12:00
Tran: 051902NP.217
Head: W.B. Yeats a Life
Sect: News; International
Time: 12:51

TERRY GROSS, HOST: For many literary scholars, as well as readers, W.B. Yeats is the greatest poet of the century. And for more than 50 years, Richard Ellman's "W.B. Yeats: The Man and the Masks" has been the definitive biography of the poet.

Now there's a contender for that honor. Book critic Maureen Corrigan says that for initiatiates, who don't know much about Yeats, Ellman's biography is still the ticket. But for devotees who want to know how Yeats became Yeats, R.F. Foster's "W.B. Yeats, a Life" is the new standard.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN, FRESH AIR COMMENTATOR: R.F. Foster begins his biography of W.B. Yeats with a product differentiation claim. "Most biographical studies of Yeats," says Foster, "are principally about what he wrote. This one is principally about what he did."

A historian, rather than a literary critic, Foster commits himself to recording the day-by-dayness of Yeats's first 49 years. What his magnificent but dauntingly detailed biography chiefly reveals to us is that day by day Yeats was wallowing in mystical mumbo jumbo.

From the time he left school at 19, Yeats immersed himself in the study of the occult. He belonged to secret organizations and believed in fairies, reincarnation, automatic writing, seances, and a coming Celtic millennium.

True, during his formative years Yeats was also reading Blake and Nietzsche, but the work of those eccentric geniuses was outweighed by that of the merely eccentric.

That some of the most miraculous poems of the 20th century emerged from this intellectual sludge gives the lie to the "you are what you read" nutritional model of learning.

Foster has rightly dubbed his biography a "fic-history" (ph) of Yeats's life. It's also a smoothly written one that's politically as well as psychologically astute.

Foster's authoritative grasp of Irish history illuminates the wobbly foundations upon which the House of Yeats rested.

Yeats, who was born in 1865 into a Bohemian artist household, was descended form Irish Protestant gentry whose world was threatened by the late 19th century home rule movement.

The adult Yeats embraced moderate nationalism. But, says Foster, Yeats would always emend his presentation of Irish politics depending on the sympathy of his audience.

Indeed, when that audience included the radical separatist Maude Gonne, Yeats spouted off like a Gaelic Che Guevara to try to win her heart.

Yeats met the redheaded amazon who would inspire some of his greatest poetry in January of 1889, the same month his first book of poetry, "The Wanderings of Oisin," was published to rave reviews.

Gonne was 18 months younger than Yeats, but as Foster shows, much more sexually experienced. For many years, the virginal Yeats knew nothing about Gonne's erotic entanglements and tirelessly proposed marriage to her.

Though he was putty in Gonne's hands, Yeats could be quite obstreperous with other folks. Foster quotes hordes of people who found the poet arrogant, pedantic, and a wee bit of a bore.

One friend, Thomas Sturge Moore (ph), destroys the fantasy that it would have been heavenly to hear Yeats read aloud. Describing an evening spent listening to Yeats recite poems, Moore wrote, "Yeats read them abominably as usual so that it was very difficult to hear the last word of each wretch of his parson's caw."

It was in the arena of the theater, however, that Yeats incurred his most impassioned critics. In the opinion of one wag, Mr. Yeats had done more than anybody else to create an Irish theater, and he had also done more than anybody else to prevent anyone from going there.

Foster chronicles the feuds and fundraising schemes that compose the history of what would become the Abbey Theater. He also brings to life Yeats's relationship with the other towering female figure in his life and his partner in the Abbey Theater, Lady Augusta (ph) Gregory. Their friendship spanned nearly 40 years and was the antidote to the black magic bond with Gonne.

Foster leaves Yeats in 1914, plagued by a sense of being prematurely washed up. In a forgivable plug for volume two of his biography, Foster notes that "ironically, the best was yet to come for Yeats. His finest poetry. Marriage. Fatherhood. Political revolution. Even greater fame. And yes, still more spectacular supernatural revelations."

Foster's relentless rendering of Yeats will doubtless result in another splendid book. But all of Foster's heroic labors cannot quite clarify the relationship between this peculiarly busy man and his surpassing genius.

Still, the yoke and the white of the one shell inseparable, the dancer and the dance unknowable.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She reviewed "W.B. Yeats, a Life" by R.F. Foster.

Dateline: Maureen Corrigan; Terry Gross
High: Book Critic Maureen Corrigan reviews R.F Foster's biography "W.B. Yeats a Life: The Apprentice Mage 1865-1914 Vol. 1." It is published by Oxford. This first volume covers the years 1865 through 1914, a time during which Yeats met his great love and the subject of some of his finest poems, Maude Gonne. This is also the period in which the poet, along with Lady Gregory and John Millington Synge, created the famous Abbey Theater and wrote some of his finest poems.
Spec: Books; Poetry; History; Europe; Ireland; People; W.B. Yeats; Abbey Theater

Please note, this is not the final feed of record
Copy: Content and programming copyright (c) 1997 National Public Radio, Inc. All rights reserved. Transcribed by Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. under license from National Public Radio, Inc. Formatting copyright (c) 1997 Federal Document Clearing House, Inc. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to National Public Radio, Inc. This transcript may not be reproduced in whole or in part without prior written permission. For further information please contact NPR's Business Affairs at (202) 414-2954
End-Story: W.B. Yeats a Life
Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

You May Also like

Did you know you can create a shareable playlist?


Recently on Fresh Air Available to Play on NPR


Daughter of Warhol star looks back on a bohemian childhood in the Chelsea Hotel

Alexandra Auder's mother, Viva, was one of Andy Warhol's muses. Growing up in Warhol's orbit meant Auder's childhood was an unusual one. For several years, Viva, Auder and Auder's younger half-sister, Gaby Hoffmann, lived in the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan. It was was famous for having been home to Leonard Cohen, Dylan Thomas, Virgil Thomson, and Bob Dylan, among others.


This fake 'Jury Duty' really put James Marsden's improv chops on trial

In the series Jury Duty, a solar contractor named Ronald Gladden has agreed to participate in what he believes is a documentary about the experience of being a juror--but what Ronald doesn't know is that the whole thing is fake.

There are more than 22,000 Fresh Air segments.

Let us help you find exactly what you want to hear.
Just play me something
Your Queue

Would you like to make a playlist based on your queue?

Generate & Share View/Edit Your Queue