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Public Enemy Pioneer Chuck D

Born Carlton Ridenhour, Chuck D was the founder of Public Enemy. Formed in 1987, the rap group was a pioneering act that created explosive, politically conscious rap that focused on an urban world of limited opportunity, drugs and violence.

07:50

Other segments from the episode on August 30, 2005

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, August 30, 2005: Interview with Russell Simmons; Interview with Darryl McDaniels; Interview with L.L.Cool J; Interview with Chuck D.

Transcript

DATE August 30, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
NETWORK NPR
PROGRAM Fresh Air

Interview: Russell Simmons talks about his career as a record and
movie producer and his views on the positives of rap music
TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

It's hip-hop week on FRESH AIR. Throughout the week we're featuring
interviews with some of the most important rappers and deejays of the past 30
years. All the rappers you'll hear from today, Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC,
Chuck D of Public Enemy and L.L. Cool J, launched their careers with the help
of my first guest, Russell Simmons. He's probably the most famous and
successful hip-hop entrepreneur and helped bring rap to the mainstream. In
the mid-1980s he co-founded Def Jam Records with music producer Rick Rubin.
Here's just a few of Def Jam's hits.

(Soundbite of "Going Back to Cali")

L.L. COOL J: (Rapping) I'm going back to Cali, Cali, Cali. I'm going back
to Cali. I don't think so. Going back to Cali, styling, profiling, just
smiling, while in the sun. The top is down on the black Corvette and his
black horse is sitting on ...(unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of "Brass Monkey")

BEASTIE BOYS: (Rapping) Brass monkey, death monkey, monkey. Brass monkey
junkie, bad monkey, monkey. Brass monkey, got it bad. That's what it means.
Drink brass monkey, it's how you feel. You put your left leg down, your right
leg up, tilt your head back, let's finish the cop. ...(Unintelligible) with
the bottle and rock it nice with Charlie Chan. We're ...(unintelligible). We
don't mind Chivas wherever we go. We bring the monkey with us...

(Soundbite of "Mona Lisa")

SLICK RICK: (Rapping) Well, it was one of those days, not much to do. I was
chilling downtown, with my old school crew. I went into a store, to buy a
slice of pizza, and bumped into a girl. Her name was Mona what? Mona Lisa.
Mona? What? Mona Lisa, some men name...

(Soundbite of "Pop Goes the Weasel")

3RD BASS: (Rapping) Some day you let 'er rip and be-bo legally licked. You
go the ways of the weasel. The weasel. Pop, pop goes the weasel, the weasel.
Pop, pop goes the weasel, the weasel. Pop, pop goes the weasel, the weasel.
Pop goes the weasel 'cause the weasel goes pop.

(Soundbite of "Don't Believe the Hype")

PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) The minute they see me, fear me. I'm the epitome of
Public Enemy. Use, abuse, without use. I refuse to blow a fuse. They even
had it on the news. Don't believe the hype. Don't, don't, don't, don't
believe the hype. Don't, don't, don't believe the hype.

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Group: (Rapping) M-E-T-H-O-D man. M-E-T-H-O-D man. M-E-T-H-O-D
man.

(Soundbite of "Regulate")

Mr. NATE DOGG: (Singing) Just hit the east side of the LBC on a mission
trying to find Mr. Warren G. Seen a car full of girls, ain't no need to
tweak. Are you searching for something two on three?

(Soundbite of "This Is How We Do It")

Mr. MONTELL JORDAN: (Singing) This is how we do it. It's Friday night and I
feel all right, and the party's here on the West side. So I reach for my
(unintelligible) and I turn it up.

GROSS: Before starting Def Jam, Russell Simmoins produced rap concerts and
managed performers, including Kurtis Blow and Run-DMC. Simmons' younger
brother, known as Run, co-founded the group. In 1999, Simmons sold his stake
in Def Jam to the Universal Music Group for $100 million. He remains CEO of
Rush Communications. When I spoke with Simmons in 2001, I asked what his
reaction was in 1979 when he heard the first commercial rap record "Rapper's
Delight," by the Sugarhill Gang.

(Soundbite of "Rapper's Delight")

SUGARHILL GANG: Hip, hop, da-hibby, da-hibby-dibby, hip, hip, hop. You don't
stop. Rug it out to the boogie band, babe. Now boogie to the boogedy beat.
Now what you hear is not a test. I'm rappin' to the beat. And me, the groove
and my friends are going to try to move your feet. You see, I am...

Mr. RUSSELL SIMMONS (Def Jam Records): 1979, that record came out, and I was
very distraught because I didn't know any better. And I had a record on the
shelf by the name of "Christmas Rappin'", which was the first release that I
was involved with by Kurtis Blow. And so, you know, I didn't have the vision
to know that this was an eye-opener for America or open the door for me. I
just thought that these guys had stolen my--you know, not my idea, but I had a
record on the shelf and I wanted it to be the first rap record.

So when I heard it I kind of--not only was I upset, but so was the whole
hip-hop community, because there was a group of artists--DJ Hollywood,
Eddie Cheba, the great Grandmaster Flash, Kurtis Blow, Lovebug Starski. These
guys were the stars of that genre, and they were performing artists. Now
here's a recording artist record by people who were not popular, who borrowed
ideas and rhymes from this community and put it on a record. So we were all,
like, bummed out because we thought these guys had stolen our music, our ideas
and, you know, our culture. And they were selling it, and we weren't. So I
didn't realize that "Rapper's Delight" was the greatest thing that could have
happened to me.

GROSS: How was it the greatest thing?

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, because it allowed people to understand that there was
profit in rap music. And then it gave Kurtis Blow an opportunity to put out
his record. I had a Kurtis Blow record on the shelf. Again, that record was
named "Christmas Rappin'." It plays every Christmas right now.

GROSS: Why don't we play it now? Introduce it for us. Tell us something
about what you think made this record special.

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, it was probably the second rap record to come out and it
was, you know, a very, very commercial version of hip-hop, but it
certainly--it was honest. It was a hip-hopper who was from Harlem, who was
the real thing and had built a legitimate following on his own as a performing
artist. And whenever I hear it, I get goose bumps because that was my first
experience of being in the record business, which was something, of course, I
aspired to and, you know, only dreamed about.

GROSS: OK. So this is "Christmas Rappin'." It's Russell Simmons' first
record production, and Kurtis Blow's first recording.

(Soundbite of "Christmas Rappin'")

Unidentified Man #1: 'Twas the night before Christmas and all through the
house...

Mr. KURTIS BLOW: Hold it now. Wait, hold it. That's played out. Hit it.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. BLOW: (Rapping) Don't you give me all that jive about things you wrote
before I was alive. 'Cause this ain't 1823, ain't even 1970. Now I'm the guy
named Kurtis Blow, and Christmas is one thing I know. So every year, just
about this time, I celebrate it with a rhyme.

Gonna shake it, gonna bake it, gonna make it good. Gonna rock, shock, knock
it through your neighborhood. Gonna ring it, gonna sing it till it's
understood, my rappin' 'bout to happen like a knee you been slappin' or a toe
you been tappin' on a hunk of wood.

About a red-suited dude with a belly attitude and sleigh full of goodies for
the people on the block. Got a long, white beard, maybe looks kind of weird.
And if you ever see him, he can give you quite a shock.

GROSS: That's Kurtis Blow's "Christmas Rappin'," produced by my guest,
Russell Simmons, who has a new memoir, which is called "Life and Def."

Now when you started getting successful and when some of the performers you
were producing, like Kurtis Blow, started getting successful--Run-DMC--it
meant money. Making money quickly at a young age can be a very good thing.
It can also be a very destructive thing, because sometimes people aren't
prepared to deal with that kind of money and it gets them into more trouble
than it has benefits. Looking back, what are some of the things you think you
did right and wrong when you started coming into money?

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, I think that I already was, like, a big, old druggy. Like
whatever drug came my way, I took. I was already running the street. The
success, or the money, the results of the success--I don't think it damaged me
too much, you know. I mean, it gave me opportunity and access. Some of the
access was a little bit of a problem, but I don't think--I think that, mostly,
I had a good time. And I think that the money, for me, was, you know--just
gave me more incentive, in a way. It was kind of a measure of success.

But I did see many artists who got addicted to drugs and whose careers
suffered because of their--this quick access and this amount of money that
was, you know, for them, an unreasonable amount of money for the work that
they did. People did their work for the love of it, and when they started to
get a lot of money for it, it made it--they lost focus, many of us. And at
some point, you know, I just straightened up and it was kind of an evolution,
but it was--I don't think that the money, for me, was a problem. I mean, it
gave me the opportunity to get an apartment.

I remember when "Christmas Rappin'" was a hit, for instance, the greatest
success that I can remember to date is that I got a record out. I got a
chance to get on a plane and go to Amsterdam, which, for me, was an amazing
experience. I had never been on a plane at all. I went to Amsterdam in 1979
with Kurtis Blow and we were treated like--well, we thought we were kings. We
got to go to Amsterdam and perform and we saw people, you know, from other
countries. Not only Amsterdam, but we went to France--Paris, France,
specifically--and these people watched us perform, and here we were in this
big world with our own music.

And when I moved--when I came back to New York, I was moving into my own
apartment. That apartment is probably no bigger than the studios I'm here
recording from, but I was in the record business, which was what I wanted to
be, and that was a tremendous success, just the ability to go to work every
day in an industry that I loved.

GROSS: As a teen-ager, you were dealing drugs and making money that way. Did
you learn anything in the business of dealing drugs that you were able to
apply when you became a real businessman?

Mr. SIMMONS: Well, I can tell you that it inspired me to buy for one and sell
for two. And that's something that--in the black community, we didn't have
very many role models who were entrepreneurs. It's just now that hip-hop is
inspiring so many young people, many of whom are not so educated or
sophisticated, but driven by incentive and--I mean, by love of music and art
and who own their own. And there are big margins in some of these businesses,
and they just go to work every day without, you know, a business school
background, without a degree from Harvard or wherever. They just go to work
from heart.

It's something that was not instilled in kids in the black community. Their
job was to be a doctor, maybe, but be a teacher probably. Just to go to
school was the goal. You know, rappers rap now about being CEOs. They'll
even rap sometimes about how good a rapper they are. They rap a lot more
about how much they can stack money and how they do it, you know, and how they
run their businesses.

GROSS: And do you think of yourself as having done business any differently
with Def Jam than you saw business being done in the major record labels that
you had tried to deal with?

Mr. SIMMONS: Absolutely. We had this vision that these artists were long
term, that they had images that had to be protected, that they were not going
to be exploitative in terms of the kind of music they put out. We weren't
going to change their music so it would sell more. We weren't going to sell
them out or allow them to sell themselves out. We wanted to remind them to
keep their integrity and promote that. We wanted to make sure that their
images, their visual images, were out in the street, not just their music.

And there was a lot of work that we did that was different from what major
labels would have done, and it gave us an edge over them because even now L.L.
Cool J, who was our first act when we recorded his record in '84, is recording
a new record, and his last record was a platinum-selling record. Even now
there's a new Run-DMC record being recorded, and their first record was
recorded in 1982. Beastie Boys are still recording, there's a new Public
Enemy record, Slick Rick is still coming out, there's a new EPMD record.
These are the bands we started with. You can always fool people one time or a
few times, but to really have a long-standing career, you have to connect with
them in some real place.

GROSS: Have you ever been concerned about the promotion of a gangster
lifestyle through rap, making it cool to think of women as bitches, making it
cool to think of, you know, shooting people in drive-bys and the gang life?

Mr. SIMMONS: You know, I'm often asked this question...

GROSS: I figured.

Mr. SIMMONS: ...and--no, but I mean--and people are always surprised to know
that I'm really proud of all of what rap stands for today. And I believe that
what people say in their closed doors, it's--they're shocked to hear it on the
radio. They're shocked to hear a reflection of this reality, you know,
broadcast. I heard a senator say at the hearings on the Marketing
Accountability Act--and Senator Thompson, a Republican senator, said he
thought that every 15-year-old boy should see "Saving Private Ryan" because he
thought that if that--they all saw that, they'd know a lot about the war and
about, you know, that lifestyle that you have to--or that attitude that you,
you know, have to have in order to live through war, and it was important.

And I said, `Well, in that case, every 15-year-old kid must hear a Snoop Dogg
record because that's a war going on down the block.' And that's not 50 years
ago; that's right now. And that's something that--it's very important, when
they say, `F the police,' or when they said it in Compton in 1985, that was
such an important record.

I remember signing a band in LA, and they were just nice kids, basically, but
lived in a horrible part of LA. And they came to visit me at the Beverly
Hills Hotel and they asked me how to get home. I said, `What do you mean how
do you get home? How'd you'--I said--they were afraid of the police. I said,
`Well, why are you afraid of the police? What are you carrying? Do you have
guns? Do you have drugs?' `No, we don't have anything. We're just afraid of
the police.' These are 20-year-old men scared to drive, you know, in Beverly
Hills.

Almost all the records that people perceive as gangster records are about
people frustrated, who don't perceive themselves as having any other
opportunity and it's a description of their lifestyle more than it is an
endorsement of it. And so that's something that, you know, people who listen
closely to the music can tell. And people from the outside, all they can hear
is the language. Well, real language is OK by me, and descriptions of real
situations and a real reflection of our society, a part of our society, is
important by me.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.

Mr. SIMMONS: Thank you so much for having me.

GROSS: Russell Simmons co-founded Def Jam Records, and is the CEO of Rush
Communications. Our interview was recorded in 2001.

Coming up, we hear from Darryl McDaniels, co-founder of Run-DMC.

This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Darryl McDaniels discusses being part of Run-DMC
TERRY GROSS, host:

Russell Simmons co-founded Def Jam Records after the success he had managing
Run-DMC. Run was Simmons' younger brother; DMC, Darryl McDaniels, is our next
guest. Run-DMC had its first hit, "It's Like That," in 1983. By 1985, they'd
become the first rap group to earn a gold or a platinum album. They were also
the first rap group to have their videos played on MTV, and the first to
appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. In 2002, Run-DMC lost member Jam Master
Jay when he was shot and killed in a recording studio in Queens. McDaniels
now performs solo. I spoke to him in 1997. Here's one of Run-DMC's hits.

(Soundbite of "You Be Illin'")

RUN-DMC: (Singing) Yo, Jay. Wait. What?

(Soundbite of music)

RUN-DMC: Wait. One, two, three, four.

(Soundbite of music; scratching)

RUN-DMC: (Singing) What? One day when I was chilling in Kentucky Fried
Chicken, just minding my business, eating food and finger-licking, this dude
walks in, looking strange and kind of funny, went up to the front with a menu
and his money. He didn't walk straight, kind of side to side, he asked this
old lady, `Yo, yo, is this Kentucky Fried?' The lady said, `Yeah,' smiled,
and he smiled back. He gave a quarter and his order, `Small fry, Big Mac!'
You be illin', illin'.

(Soundbite of 1997 interview)

GROSS: How did you first hear rap?

Mr. DARRYL McDANIELS (Run-DMC): 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 Cheeba. 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 mess around in New York town, you go down with the disco Cheeba
clown. 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
on WFUV, DJ Eddie Cheeba.

GROSS: And what were your very early rhymes like?

Mr. McDANIELS: Oh, well, my very early rhymes were, you know, basically
simple, talking about, `I had the best rhymes, nobody had more rhymes than me.
My deejay was the best deejay. We had the loudest sound system.' You know,
it was simple stuff like, (Rapping) `Seed to an apple, apple to a core. I am
the man with the rhymes galore. Rock around for me, rock around for you, and
everybody catch the boogaloo flu. Hollis, Queens is where I'm from. Don't be
stupid, don't be so dumb.' So it was 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...

Mr. McDANIELS: Yes.

GROSS: ...in New York, and the two other members of Run-DMC are from the same
neighborhood, I think...

Mr. McDANIELS: Yes.

GROSS: ...and you went to school together. Right?

Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: You knew each other before you were a group.

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

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

Mr. McDANIELS: Well, me and Run first started rhyming and deejaying together
in my basement. I actually taught Run how to deejay. He was rapping first,
and I taught him how to deejay, how to do the quick mix and how to spin
records back and how to blend two of the same records together. So Run and
DMC was, like, formed back in 19--I think it was around 1980. We started
deejaying in my basement, and then when he got better equipment than me for
Christmas, so we started deejaying 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" is "Sucker MCs," which was our first single. And then
we needed a deejay, and that's when we got Jam Master Jay, who was the
neighborhood deejay. He was, like, the best deejay in the neighborhood. Jay
would set up his equipment in a park and he'd plug it into the light post, and
then 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?

Mr. McDANIELS: We was all in college. We was all in our first semester of
college.

GROSS: Did you leave college once you started performing?

Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah, we took a leave of absence and been absent ever since.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: No, they was mad. They was, like, `Are you crazy? And what
are you doing?' And, you know, even when they 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'd better stay in school. And we're not paying all this
money for you to go to St. John's 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?

Mr. McDANIELS: Well, I had to come tell them where I was at for the last 15
hours, you know, because I just left the house. It was a Sunday afternoon. I
left the house about 1:00 and I didn't come home in the morning till the next
morning, like 5 AM in the morning.

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

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

GROSS: Now was that "It's Like That"?

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

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC. Our interview was recorded in 1997.
We'll hear more in the second half of the show.

I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR. And here's that first Run-DMC hit.

(Soundbite of "It's Like That")

RUN-DMC: (Rapping) Unemployment at a record high. People coming, people
going, people born to die. Don't ask me because I don't know why, but it's
like that.

(Announcements)

(Soundbite of song)

Unidentified Man #2: Too black, too strong. Too black, too strong. What's
up?

PUBLIC ENEMY: (Rapping) Yo, Chuck...

GROSS: Coming up, Chuck D talks about creating Public Enemy's layered sound
and politically charged lyrics. Also, we hear from L.L. Cool J, who made Def
Jam's first record and had nine consecutive platinum albums, and we continue
our conversation with Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC as our hip-hop week
continues.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with more of our 1997
interview with Darryl McDaniels, co-founder of Run-DMC, the first rap group to
earn a gold or a platinum album and the first to have their video played on
MTV.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: Right. You know, actually we started that 'cause Russell...

GROSS: Yeah, there's some great pictures of you with giant, big, gold chains.

Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah, well...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. McDANIELS: Like when we was saying Russell was a big part of that, Jay
was always dressing like that. The way Run-DMC dressed, Jay always dressed
like that. So when Russell seen Jay he said, `That's how you're gonna dress.'
And that's when the gold chains came into play. Jay had a gold chain before
he even thought of being Run-DMC. Jay wore chains like that when he was in
high school, you know.

GROSS: Well, what do you think it did for your image back then?

Mr. McDANIELS: What it actually did, showed 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...

GROSS: Well...

Mr. McDANIELS: ...you know, 'cause if you got a big chain and the other guy
don't, you know, 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 an album
come out thought we was just drug dealers because most of the drug dealers was
wearing chains like that and driving in big cars even before the rappers made
it big.

GROSS: You were teen-agers when you started performing. How did you handle
fame when it first hit you and you were still in your teens?

Mr. 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
and we call it dazing. It was just like we 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, like, really a precedent because the only black star they was actually
playing on MTV was Michael Jackson. Then we got on there. 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, `You're all on MTV.' And me and Run and Jay was like, `What is MTV?
Why are you guys so happy about this?' And then the big tour, the Fresh
Fish tour(ph) and we was going around selling out Madison Square Garden and
all the big venues, it all happened so fast that, you know, it's like--it
smacked us upside the head. You know, the money, the fame and fortune, it
didn't go to our heads, but it smacked us upside our heads.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: What was your neighborhood like, Hollis, Queens?

Mr. McDANIELS: Oh, Hollis, Queens, was--you know, it was a middle-class,
hardworking 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 the
wrong crowd. So you had good and bad going on at the same time.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: No, there 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 that, you know, how good
they are and, you know, they're selling a lot of records. And, you know, it
was the thing that rap was supposed to be only done by, you know, people from
the ghetto. You know what I'm saying? You know, 'cause Grandmaster Flash and
them, they came from the heart of the Bronx. And Afrika Bambaataa, they was
from Bronx and Manhattan. They was from the ghetto--You know what I'm
saying?--apartment buildings and broken glass everywhere. People used the
subway. We came from Hollis, Queens. We got separate houses, grass, back
yards, cookout, Catholic school and all. There's always something going on.
But, you know, we wanted people to know--you know, my mother and father, Jay's
mother and father, Run's mother, hardworking, 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 their next meal.

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

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

Mr. McDANIELS: No, but we felt a pressure on ourselves. In 1990 we made an
album called "Back From Hell." And on this "Back From Hell" album, it was
like the first time we ever really used profanity and it was like the first
time 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 were 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 saying who you are.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...kind of--uh-huh.

Mr. McDANIELS: 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 reefer. 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. You know,
their time is over.' And that was like really a downtime. And, you know,
with anybody when it's time to--well, not time--when you are down and out or
on your deathbed, every--I don't care who you are, you're going to scream out
to God, you know, and he's gonna answer and it's up for you to answer his
calling. And, you know, basically there was nowhere else we could turn but to
God. You know, `God help us.' You know, we was like, `You know, we're very
thankful for everything that happened and this and that. And if only we
could, you know, just get, 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 downtime. I mean, some 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--it
happened to us and it was, like, really a bad time for us.

GROSS: One of the things that you've done in some of your records is take--is
sample things from rock and heavy metal. One of your most famous records,
"Walk This Way," uses...

Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...the famous Aerosmith recording on it.

Mr. McDANIELS: Yeah.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: Oh, 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 used to
have to find things to rap over. And rock 'n' roll had a lot of drum breaks
and a lot of drumbeats and rock 'n' roll had a lot of loud guitars. And rap
was like 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 Rubin, who was our producer at the time, he was a Aerosmith fan back when
he was ...(unintelligible). He was, like, `Oh, do you know whose record that
is you're all rapping over? And they're Aerosmith and they was big when I was
younger and this and that. Hey, you know what you all should do? You all
should do their record over.'

Now me and Run was real mad 'cause all we wanted to do was say our rhymes over
that beat. Rick Rubin wanted us to learn Steven Tyler's lyrics and we was
like, `Oh, Rick, you're going to ruin 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: Are you still wearing Adidas?

Mr. McDANIELS: Yes. I'm sitting here with Adidas on from head to toe. And
we're always wearing Adidas.

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've gotta go. So...

Mr. McDANIELS: Well, thanks for having me.

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

Mr. McDANIELS: It was my pleasure.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels co-founded Run-DMC. He now performs solo. Our
interview was recorded in 1997.

(Soundbite of "Walk This Way")

RUN-DMC: (Rapping) Now there's a backseat lover that's always undercover and
I talk till my daddy say, said you ain't seen nothing till you're down on her
muffin, and there's sure to be a change in ways. Now there's a cheerleader
that's a real big pleaser as far as I can reminisce. But the best thing, love
it, was her sister and her cousin, and it started with a little kiss, like
this.

GROSS: Coming up, L.L. Cool J. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: L.L. Cool J discusses his work and career
TERRY GROSS, host:

Def Jam Records' first release was the recording debut of a 16-year-old named
L.L. Cool J. He went on to make several consecutive platinum records. He
starred in the sitcom "In the House" and has appeared in several films. He's
in the film "Water," which will open the Toronto Film Festival next month. I
spoke with L.L. Cool J in 1997 after the publication of his memoir. When he
was a boy he and his mother moved in with his grandparents in Queens, New
York, after his mother left her violent husband. When L.L. Cool J was just
11, his grandparents bought him two turntables and a mixer so he could make
demo tapes at home. His first hit, "I Need a Beat," grew out of one of those
home tapes. Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of "I Need a Beat")

Unidentified Man #1: (From record being scratched) I need a beat. I need a
beat. I need a beat. I need a beat. I need a beat.

L.L. COOL J: (Rapping with reverb) It's a Malibu beat, subject of discussion.
Malibu beat, subject of discussion. You're motivated, aid of percussion.
There's no glory for this story. It rock in any territory. I syncopate it
and design it well. Beat elevates, the scratch excels. All techniques are a
combination of skills that I have for narration.

GROSS: Well, I think your grandmother gave you an ultimatum when you were in
high school: Either you stay in school or you get out of the house.

L.L. COOL J: She did, she did.

GROSS: So you ended up leaving the house and you say you were homeless for a
couple of weeks and you slept on the trains for a while until...

L.L. COOL J: Yeah, I did.

GROSS: Didn't you have any money yet?

L.L. COOL J: No, no, I didn't. Actually what happened was I recorded my
first song. It did OK and after I stopped doing the shows I didn't have any
income. So I had no money. I remember getting a room in Brooklyn that was
$40 a week and struggling to keep it, you know, because it was just so hard
to, you know, pay that $40 a week. And we had, you know, a bathroom that
everybody in the brownstone shared but it was real tough. So, no, the
finances didn't really come until the first album.

GROSS: OK.

L.L. COOL J: And even then I didn't know what to do with the money. So it
was--you know, it's kind of a strange paradox. You know, I started, you know,
doing different things and doing different shows, but because of the people
that I was involved with and the people that were involved with my financial
and economic life, I didn't--and myself, of course--I didn't benefit, you
know, greatly from, you know, the money that was generated.

GROSS: You had, like, the first big rap ballad, "I Need Love."

L.L. COOL J: Yes.

GROSS: What made you think of doing a rap ballad?

L.L. COOL J: I think that for me I always looked at rap music as a way to
express--a vehicle to express my feelings and my emotions. You know, coming
from an abusive childhood, rap music was the thing that helped me to feel
empowered. It helped me to kind of feel a sense of power and a sense of
self-worth that I wasn't feeling at home or wasn't feeling when I wasn't
involved with rap music. So this art was an escape for me. "I Need Love" was
just another expression of that. I was 17, 18 years old and I really felt
like I needed love. I felt like love was important. Being--you know, having
gone through all the things that I'd gone through--and I never looked at it as
an opportunity to humble myself. I never looked at it as a chance to do
something soft or sensitive. I just looked at it as a way to express my
emotions on an artistic level. So I did what I really felt.

GROSS: Well, this is L.L. Cool J, "I Need Love."

(Soundbite of "I Need Love")

L.L. COOL J: (Singing) When I'm alone in my room sometimes I stare at the
wall and in the back of my mind I hear my conscience call telling me I need a
girl who's as sweet as a dove. For the first in my life I see I need love.
There I was giggling about the games that I had played with many hearts and
I'm not saying no names. Then the thought occurred. Teardrops made my eyes
burn 'cause I said to myself look what you've done to her. I can feel it
inside. I can't explain how it feels. All I know is that I'm never dish
another raw deal playing make believe, pretending that I'm true. Holding in
my laugh as I say that I love you. Saying amor, kissing you on the ear,
whispering I love you and I'll always be here. Although I often reminsce I
can't believe that I've found a desire for true love floating around inside my
soul because my soul is cold. One half of me deserves to the this way till
I'm old, but the other half needs affection and joy and the love that is
created by a girl and a boy. I need love.

GROSS: L.L. Cool J, recorded in 1987, "I Need Love" and he's my guest. And
he also has a new book, which is called "I Make My Own Rules."

You know, it's interesting, you say in your book that there was a period of
your career that when you were on tour, the tours were more like whoring, you
know, that there was just, like, so much sex you were having with, you know...

L.L. COOL J: Whoring. A lot of whoring.

GROSS: Yeah, women waiting for you backstage and everybody wanted you.
And...

L.L. COOL J: Oh, yeah.

GROSS: ...I think, you know, that some of the rappers--and you're probably in
this category--became so famous so quick so young and were so unused to having
money and fame and admiration and all of that that they just went wild.

L.L. COOL J: You know what I really think?

GROSS: Yeah?

L.L. COOL J: I think it goes above and beyond. I don't think that this is a
cultural issue or an economic issue because I think that whether you're white,
black, Asian, Latin, all musicians go through this. I think that especially
ones that come in young--whether you're a rock musician or, you know, a reggae
musician or a soul singer--I think it's just one of those things that comes
with the territory unless you had someone to kind of steer you in a different
direction.

GROSS: And I guess you didn't have that.

L.L. COOL J: Not at that point, I didn't.

GROSS: Did you expect in several years to hear from women who say that you're
the father of their children? You know, to have those kind of celebrated
lawsuits?

L.L. COOL J: You're not going to send me one, are you?

GROSS: Me? No.

L.L. COOL J: I'm just kidding. All right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: That was not the motivation behind the question.

L.L. COOL J: I know, I know, I'm just teasing with you. No, I tried to be as
responsible as I could in terms of things like that, and I hope that that
never happens. And, you know, what else can I say? You know, I've thought
about it, though. It's definitely went across my mind a few times. Like,
`Man, I wonder if somebody's going to come up to me with, like, 10-year-old
triplets talking about...

GROSS: Right.

L.L. COOL J: ..."yeah, this is Eeney, Meeney and Miney and they're your kids
and I want a check."'

GROSS: Eeney, Meeney and Miney J.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: L.L. Cool J recorded in 1997.

(Soundbite of "Mama Said Knock You Out")

L.L. COOL J: Come on, man.

Unidentified Man #2: And with the local DBT news. L.L. Cool J with a
triumphant comeback. ...(Unintelligible). But tonight...

L.L. COOL J: Don't call it a comeback. I been here for years. I'm rocking
my peers, putting suckers in fear. Making the tears rain down like a monsoon.
Listen to the bass go boom. Explosion, overpowering over the competition, I'm
towering wrecking shop, when I drop these lyrics that'll make you call the
cops. Don't you dare stare. You betta move. Don't ever compare me to the
rest that'll all get sliced and diced. Competition's paying the price. I'm
gonna knock you out.

Unidentified Man #3: Huuuh.

L.L. COOL J: Mama said knock you out.

Unidentified Man #3: Huuuh.

L.L. COOL J: I'm gonna knock you out.

Unidentified Man #3: Huuuh.

L.L. COOL J: Mama said knock you out.

Unidentified Man #3: Huuuh.

L.L. COOL J: I'm gonna knock you out.

GROSS: Coming up, Chuck D talks about Public Enemy. This is FRESH AIR.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Filler: By policy of WHYY, this information is restricted and has
been omitted from this transcript
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.

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