"Get me a piece of paper! Alfred, get me! I ran to my school books, got my black and white notebook and just started writing. I got to do that."
In the first of a two-part interview, Kevin Burke speaks with Darryl McDaniels, the legendary hip-hop artist from Hollis, Queens, where he and his two friends formed one of the truly pioneering groups in American music: Run-DMC. Darryl was the “DMC” in that equation and together with Joseph “Run” Simmons and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, he put Hollis on the map for an entire generation. Before then, Hollis was the neighborhood where they were kids growing up in homes and on streets where the gaps between blocks sometimes felt like the borders between different kingdoms.
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“Good Times” – Chic (1979)
“Rapper’s Delight” – Sugar Hill Gang (1979)
“Superrappin’” – GrandMaster Flash & the Furious Five (1s979)
“It’s Like That” – Run-D.M.C. (1984)
“Sucker M.C.’s”- Run-D.M.C. (1984)
“Jam Master Jay” – Run-D.M.C. (1984)
L’Estro Amronico: Concerto Grosso D Minor Sicilianna – composed by Antonio Vivaldi
Original Composition: Sterling Steffen
Illustrations – Nick Gregg
Darryl McDaniels, Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide: A Memoir
Eyewitness News ABC 7 archival clip of Diana Williams and Bill Ritter reporting on Jay Master Jay’s murder (October 30, 2002)
Darryl McDaniels, Richard Barone, and Stephen Petrus.
We are also grateful to the Museum of the City of New York, our co-presenter on this New York City feature series, and especially want to thank Whitney Donhauser, Sheryl Victor Levy, Fran Rosenfeld, Keith Butler, Jerry Gallagher, Jennifer Hernandez, Lillian Lesser, Danny Curtin, Corin Infantino, Lizzy Marmon, Brittney Benham, Meryl Cooper, Robin Carol, Chie Miyajima, and Tara Dawson.
DARRYL “DMC” MCDANIELS, PART 1 – HOLLIS, QUEENS
FEBRUARY, 2, 2021
Intro: Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration): This episode is part of a special feature series on New York City and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York, with generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Find us at yourhometown.org or on your favorite podcast app.
Darryl McDaniels: He put the needle on the record. This thing said, “It was a party night/Everybody was breakin’/The highs were screamin’ and the bass was shakin’/And it won’t be long ’til everybody knowin’/that Flash was on the beatbox goin’….And” — and I’m sitting here like this, what the hell is this? — “Sha-na-na.” Get me a piece of paper! Alfred, get me–! I ran to my school books, got my black and white notebook and just started writing. I got to do that.
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [00:52]: “Where did you grow up” is a question we’re all asked a lot. But the answer is never as simple as a place on a map, is it? It’s about the kid inside of us and what happened to them there, before we met the world and the world met us. I’m Kevin Burke and this is “Your Hometown.”
My guest is Darryl McDaniels, a legendary rapper who grew up in a neighborhood in Queens called Hollis, where he and his two friends formed one of the truly pioneering groups in American music: Run-DMC. Darryl was the DMC in that equation, and together with Joseph Simmons and Jason Mizell, they helped put Hollis on the map for an entire generation — me included. But before then, Hollis was just the neighborhood where they were kids growing up in homes and on streets, where the gaps between blocks sometimes felt like the borders between different kingdoms.
Darryl: I lived in a suburban, lower middle-class neighborhood of Hollis, Queens, New York. What was considered Hollis is that little strip from 191st to 205th street. I lived on 197th street. After 199th street and below, it’s more peaceful. From 199th to 205th street, that’s where all the supermarkets, the fish market, the cleaners, all the candy stores, the game room [were]. So, where I lived was very quiet. When I was growing up, the kids from 196th would come play on our block and the kids from 198th and 199th and 200th street would come on our block because our block had it going on.
We were the block you came to play football, we were the block you came to play tag and manhunt. We were the block [that] when you come, you get in a sprinkler. We were the block where everybody [would] come to ride their bikes, to ride the big wheels. Our block was that block.
Kevin: And were there places that your parents told you not to go when you were a little kid?
Darryl: Yes. They said stay off Hollis Avenue.
Kevin: And what did that mean?
Darryl: Well, that’s where you had the drugs. The ghetto was 203rd street to 205th street. What do I mean by that? The pimps, the pushers, the drugs, the gang bangers. So, 205th street was the corner, where everything that was in every so-called ghetto was at. I couldn’t leave the block until I was probably 10.
Kevin: Wow. That’s pretty old. When you think about a neighborhood being limited.
Darryl: Oh, for sure. “Don’t leave this block, because if you leave the block, you can get in trouble,” and it always bugged me out. The kids that were 5 and 6 were leaving the block and you’re always jealous of those kids. When I was 6, 7 and 8, it was like, “you have your butt in this house when the street light comes on.” Because in summertime, the street light don’t come on until really late.
Kevin: I remember.
Darryl: I used to be mad when other kids would stay outside and I would hear kids outside 11pm and 12 midnight playing. I was a straight-A Catholic school kid who had both parents — hard working — but my friends, young friends between the ages of 14 and 17, were going to jail and that bugged me out. I come from a safe little house, so jail to me is Batman arresting the Penguin. You know what I’m saying? The comic books, the villains — grown people only go to jail.
Kevin: These are kids. These were your friends.
Darryl: Yeah, they were friends — Warren, Glen and Gregory. They could come and play in the backyard, but my mom’d say don’t let them in the house. Then we started noticing, Oh, they went to Spofford [Juvenile] Detention Center. [The Center] was for the younger kids, but then I noticed all the kids that went to Spofford would go to Rikers. It was like a process. “Yo, Charlie, where’s your dad at?” “He’s in jail.” See, I can understand that. Then it took me a long time to realize that, Oh, that’s why Charlie’s in jail, because his father’s in jail and his father from before is in jail. A lot of these kids were going to jail for robbing houses and stealing — going into Jamaica Avenue where there were the sneaker stores. The Chinaman, Mr. Lee [would] sell the Adidas, the Pumas, the Pro-Keds, and the hats — everything that we wore, everything you wanted from clothing to the record store, to the boom boxes. It wasn’t until I got old I understood what was going on. They didn’t have the family structure.
Darryl: And I started to understand that even the kid with nothing is still a kid. He’s going to come play and jump in a sprinkler and do all of that stuff, but when my ass went in the house at 8:30pm when the sun was going down, he went and broke in something. He went and robbed the local supermarket. He went and stole the candy store to eat. I didn’t know that he didn’t have everything that I had. So, they would come back from Spofford for a little, but still playing and smiling with you, but as soon as their time with us was over, I would always see, as soon as that 7:30, 8 o’clock night time came on, this hardness would come over them.
Kevin [07:32]: 1976-77. The bicentennial has passed and New York’s in hard times. It’s a fiscal crisis, you’ve got the blackout, you’ve got Son of Sam.
Darryl: All of that’s going on.
Kevin: The city is, as I mentioned, was in a fiscal crisis, but your brother had a different fiscal problem on his hands, which is he wanted to buy a turntable. He saw a friend had it — it was starting to kind of be in the neighborhood and he really wanted it, but it was going to come at a very steep price. He came to you and he said, “Here’s what we got to do.” I want you to pick up the story from there.
Darryl: So ‘76, the bicentennial. I remember it like it was yesterday. Like you said, New York was hell. It was death, destruction, despair, and darkness everywhere. But if you turn the TV on, you see Studio 54 and you wouldn’t think that. They get to have fun and play music for a couple of hours and every kid in the world goes out the door. What we did as young people, we said, “We want to do that, we’re going to do that.”
We went and took our mothers’ and fathers’ HiFi stereos — and if we didn’t have a HiFi stereo in the house, we would go to the junkyard and get the speakers and the HiFis that people threw away — and we would set up a DJ thing that plays music so we can have “feel good” for a minute. We started doing Studio 54 in the streets of New York City, that’s all it was in the beginning. When the  blackout came, Grandmaster Caz said hip-hop really started because when the lights went out, the stores got looted. Everybody that wanted to play music in a beautiful way went and robbed the local stereo stores. My brother’s friends — because I was still 12 — Boobie, Anthony Wallace, and my brother were older like ages 15-18 — were the older kids.
Kevin: High school kids.
Kevin: You’re still in school, junior high.
Darryl: Exactly, and so I remember Anthony Wallace was the first one to get his own DJ equipment because he worked. He didn’t sell drugs.
Kevin: He had a paycheck.
Darryl: Anthony had a job. His father owned a gas station so he worked at his gas station. He would come home with — not Exxon — Esso. Remember it used to be Esso?
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Darryl: Yeah, he worked there, and he would wear the gas station oily, dirty gas hats. At the little side, with the oily rag hanging out. He was young. Anthony got real equipment first, so we would all go over to Anthony’s house. I was still young. I didn’t sit there the whole time. I’d watch him and then go back outside and ride my skateboard and stuff like that. Boobie also worked. They had real jobs, I’m talking about 9-5 jobs. Boobie was the first to get the Technics. Boobie was the first to get the equipment that they had at Studio 54 because he had a job. At that time, I was probably getting $5 a week, and my brother was getting $10 because he’s a little older.
That wasn’t going to get us any equipment. From when I was in kindergarten and my brother was in third grade, we amassed this huge collection of Marvel comic books and I remember him doing that. We took loose leaf paper and with our magic markers — we didn’t have Sharpies back then, we had magic markers, remember those packs of cheap little magic markers?
Kevin: I do, yeah.
Darryl: “The McDaniels brothers are doing a comic book sale,” and we thumbtacked it up on the telephone poles and the trees all in our little neighborhood and the doorbell just started ringing off the hook. Ding dong, ding dong. We bring them in the attic, people would buy the books, and then leave. Buy the books, leave. About the third day in — this makes sense later — about the third day into the comic book sale, I think it was a Sunday. The guy from the other class — didn’t know him, didn’t care about him — Joseph Simmons, he and his friend Howard ring my doorbell. “Hey, Joey.” “Hey, Darryl.” “Come on in.” And “Run,” Joseph Simmons, comes in, buys comic books, and goes home. Didn’t know what was about to happen four years from now, but it was simple as that.
Kevin: And that was it?
Darryl: Yeah, that was that first interaction.
Darryl: And then me and my brother, we got enough money to get a turntable and a mixer and some records, because all we did was take my mother and father’s HiFi stereo. We just needed to get a turntable and a mixer. We got a turntable, a mixer, and some records and we moved my mother’s HiFi stereo from the living room to the basement. My mother and father come home pissed like, “What the hell are you doing, you’re ruining” — we’re scratching and all that so they’re like we’re ruining — “Nah ma, this is the new thing that we’re going to do.” The beautiful thing about it is that they let us do it because it kept us in the house. It kept us from being up on Hollis Avenue.
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [12:45]: When Darryl was growing up, his parents said he had to be in the house when the streetlights “go on”, so most nights he was stuck in his room. He couldn’t be with the kids who were playing music out on the street; he could only hear about it second-hand. But now that he and his big brother had sold off their comic books for a brand-new set of turntables, Darryl took his world to the inside. More specifically, to the family basement.
Darryl: Yeah, we took it to the underground.
Kevin: You took it down–
Darryl: We took it to the lab.
Kevin: And tell me about that and how it changed your life and your world.
Darryl: We take it downstairs and at first it was more of me watching them, but then it’s — this is the big brother thing, everybody from all generations can relate. — “Yo’ when I’m not home, don’t touch my turntables.” Did I just hear this guy right? “Yo, when I’m not home,” defiantly, “don’t touch my turntables.”
Kevin: After you’ve sold your heart.
Darryl: Yeah, because I’m young and stupid and I could break in and might mess it up. He thought I would listen, but no, every time he left, I went in the basement myself. Most of the time I had to wait my turn [after] Boobie and Anthony, and then right before they left, I got 10 minutes. “Now, Darryl, you could go.” And I’m doing it but there’s no time for me to get better. And then when they would leave the house. Now it’s all me.
[We hear a brief sampling of Chic’s “Good Times” (1979).]
And DJ Flash is taking the “Good Times” record that plays on the radio, in its fullness, “Good times/These are the good times.” On the radio it gets to that break, “Good times,” and the bass plays and the record goes off. DJ Flash on his tape is making it go “Good times/Boom boom, buddum, bum, bum.” Now, I can’t see anything, but I’m sitting there listening to it: “Good times/Boom boom, buddum, bum, bum/Good times” and does it again and it keeps going “good times.” What the hell is he doing? And Bernard’s saying, “He’s spinning the record back” and I’m just like, “How does he spin the record back,” I’m trying to figure it out.
“Well, you have to put something on to make the record slip,” he explains to me. So my brother leaves, I go in the basement, I put on “Good Times.” I take the white paper that the record used to come in that goes into the album cover thing. I take that and I put the record on it, and then I cut with scissors around the paper and then I put the paper on. Now I’m like, okay, now it slides back. So then I just spend three hours in the basement trying to do what [DJ] Flash did on a turntable. How do I make “Good Times” keep going? And I did it. “Good times/Bum bum.” It would jump, it would jump, it would jump. But then on the seventh try: “Good Times/Boom boom/Buddum bum bum/Good times.” Oh, shoot, I did it. And after that first time, then it just became easy to me.
It was about two or three weeks later, 7th grade at St. Pascal Baylon Elementary School. Billy Morris was in the eighth grade. He was about to graduate and go to high school. Me, David Sinclair, and — I forgot the other kid that was with me — were playing ball in the school yard after school. Billy Morris, who was in the 8th grade, he comes with one of those duffle bags, typical St. Pascal Baylon. It was a blue bag with the yellow writing and with the handle and the school emblem on it and stuff like that. And he says, “Yo, y’all come here.”
He’s in 8th grade. Billy was famous because his father was the custodian at all the public schools in our little community in Hollis. His father was the head janitor at [Public Schools] 134, 118, 136, and all the schools in our little area. So Billy was famous and worked with his father. Billy was in 8th grade with the Adidas and Pumas and Gazelles and all that. Also, because his father worked at all the public schools, Billy also knew all the public school kids, the gangbangers, the troublemakers, and the drug dealing kids.
Kevin: Because you’re in Catholic school, which is a totally different world.
Darryl: Billy is only there because his father works at the public school. He runs all the schools so he got money to pay for his son.
Kevin: For a private school.
Darryl: Remember before the boom box, before the big two speakers, there were the flat tape recorders?
Kevin: Oh, yeah.
Darryl: You had the Panasonic — and so [Billy] had one of those in a bag and he said, “Come here.” Well, we didn’t know, right. So, he’s standing over the fence with his hand in a bag like this and he said, “Yo, come here.” We act like we don’t hear him, because we were like, Yo that’s Billy Morris, he rolls with all the bad kids — and this is how naive we were — I’m not going over there, he probably wants us to smoke reefer or something. And then he says, “Yo, come here.”
So we “oh, oh” — we act like we don’t hear him, and he says, “Yo, I’m not going to say it again.” We walk over to him and he pulls a flat Panasonic tape recorder out — everybody who’s an adult remember those, you push the button and it would pop-up like that —
Kevin: Oh, I remember.
Darryl: And you slide to tape it. He pulls out one of those and he pushes play and we just hear, “Dum, da, dum, dum, da,” and then we hear a voice. “When you mess around in New York town/You go down with the disco Chiba clown/ You go down, go down, go down/ You just keep the pep in your step/Don’t stop till you get on the mountain top/And when you reach the top/You reach the peak/That’s when you hear Eddie Cheeba speak–” And it stopped. We said, “Do that again.” We sat there for three hours.
Kevin: No kidding.
Darryl: Listening to one minute and thirty seconds of whatever that was. I did not know what that was. So after three hours, I’m like, “Billy, can I hold that?” “Hell no, Darryl McDaniels, you can’t hold my tape.” And I’m like, “Please, please, Billy.” And now I’m ready to do anything to get it. I didn’t know what it was, because it made me feel a certain way, the music. The guy’s voice just took me. Whoa, I didn’t ever get anything like this, except from the comic books. So, I was like “Billy, Billy, I’ll give you the keys to my father’s car. You can marry my mother.” And he was like, “Eww”, but he saw that I really wanted it, so he said, “Okay, Darryl McDaniels.” It was Friday, the last day of school before the weekend. “You can hold my tape over the weekend.”
So, I took it home and my brother had a Panasonic upright little radio. No, my father — it wasn’t even my brother’s yet — had a Panasonic upright. So, I took the tape home from Friday night to Sunday, 7, 8 o’clock before I went to sleep to get up, to go to school the next day, all I did was listen to whatever that was.
Darryl: And it just made me feel good. Right around that time is when the song “Rapper’s Delight” drops. See now–
Kevin: The Sugarhill Gang, yeah.
Kevin: My brother’s in there. He’s in the habit of going to Jamaica Avenue — and they don’t have these anymore — the record store every weekend. 169th street bus terminals went from my house to 169th street bus terminal, Jamaica Avenue. It’s about a 20-minute bus ride. So that was the weekly routine for everybody in the neighborhood. So he went and he was getting Earth, Wind and Fire, Isley Brothers, Cool and The Gang, all of that beautiful music that was coming out back in the ‘70s. So he’s going there just to check. He’s also learning to listen to the tape and try to figure out what song that [DJ] Flash is using.
So you go to the record store with a box and push a button and you go, “What song is that?” The guy goes, “Oh, that’s Grover Washington. He’s over there in that section.” It was a process of researching and shopping to get the music and stuff like that. All of a sudden, I woke up one morning and somebody said, “Disco, sucks,” and all of a sudden disco died.
Where you would see the disco records at, all of a sudden you started seeing these hip-hop records. My brother goes in there and he comes home with this colorful, the Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight,” which was very colorful. Out of all of those singles in 33s and giant 45, the Rapper’s Delight was light blue with a rainbow on it.
Kevin: And that would appeal to you, because you’re visual with comic books.
Darryl: Exactly. I’m like, what is this? So he comes into the basement, he puts it on the turntable, and then I hear the Eddie Cheeba thing that Billy Morris had told me for one minute and thirty seconds. I hear almost nine minutes of that on the record.
[We hear the intro sound of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” (1979).]
Darryl: I listened to it like three times and I had the whole song down from start to end. What happened was, this record, this demonstration of the thing that I’m hearing in bits and pieces, this guy’s deejaying, but Eddie Cheeba’s rapping has now come together.
[We hear the first lines of Sugarhill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight”:] [22:37] “I said a hip-hop, the hippie the hippie/To the hip hip-hop-a you don’t stop the rock/It to the bang-bang boogie, say up jump the boogie/To the rhythm of the boogie, the beat.”
Darryl: So now, it’s at everybody’s disposal. What happened to me, me being a smart guy, guys like Warren, Greg, and Gregory — the guys in the gangs and the guys robbing houses and stuff — it created a problem for me, it’s a good problem, but it’s not a good problem, because after they get what they want from me, they’re going to pick, tease and bully me. So guys like Warren, Greg, and Gregory found out Darryl, he knows the whole record from start to end. “Yo Daryl, get over here, motherfucker, sing ‘Rapper’s Delight.’”
And I would have to sit there for everybody on the block, and they would sit there for a minute, and hear me recite it all the way from start to end. And when I was done, “Alright get the fuck out of here, motherfucker.” I’m singing it, but I’m not singing it no more. But then — this was crazy — a couple of weeks later my brother goes down Jamaica Avenue [to the] record store. It was a white covering, not attractive like the Sugarhill record’s one and it was just a red label record that said ENJOY RECORDS on it. It said Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. I’m like okay, this is the Grandmaster Flash DJ guy, that they said.
So, he put the needle on the record. This thing said, “It was a party night, everybody was breakin’/The highs were screamin’ and the bass was shakin’/And it won’t be long ’til everybody knowin’ that/Flash was on the beat box goin’….And. boom boom boom.” — and I’m sitting here like this, ‘What the hell is this?’ — “Sha-na-na.” And then five different voices. And the description “it was a party night.” As they were speaking it was visual.
[We hear a brief clip of Grandmaster Flash & The Furious Five’s “Superrappin’” [1979:]
“It was a party night/Everybody was breakin’/The highs were screamin’ and the bass was shakin’/And it won’t be long ’til everybody knowin’ that/Flash was on the beat box goin.’”
Darryl [24:45]: “Alfred, get me a piece of paper!” I ran to my school books, got my black and white notebook and just started writing. I got to do that. In my basement that day I became Easy D, MC Easy D, because my name is Darryl, starts with a D and it’s easy for me to write. “Rapper’s Delight” was a hip-hop, hippity to — “it was a party night” it was descriptive, it was like a comic book came to life form of it.
Darryl: And that’s the thing that now changed my life of what was going to come out of me, but I wasn’t thinking of it as a career. It took what I was doing in the basement, make-believing, to a whole other level.
Kevin [25:48]: How did the soundtrack of your childhood change with this arrival of hip-hop from the Bronx and Upper Manhattan? Up to that point, what were you listening to?
Darryl: Oh, that’s a great question. I was born in ‘64, and comprehended radio in ‘69. 77 WABC was New York radio. I grew up from the late ’60s all through the ’70s, up until ‘79 with “Rapper’s Delight,” listening to that station, because the soundtrack of my life was what’s called classic rock now and folk rock. So for me, it was the Beatles, Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Crosby Stills, Young and Nash, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, John Denver, Jim Croce, Harry Chapon, Janice Joplin, Neil Young. And 77 WABC, what was good about it was that it wasn’t segregated. They would play Sly & Family Stone. They would play Johnny Cash. They would play John Denver. They would play Led Zeppelin. They would play the Beatles. They would play the Stones. So, remember, I was a kid, so most of the Black R&B songs, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, and Al Green for instance, were about relationships.
Kevin: Yeah, they were.
Darryl: They were about sex, they were sexual. That’s when my mother and father were cool. My mother and father were still in their 30’s at that time, so that was their music. That’s the music they played in Hollis during Christmastime. That’s the music they played at the cookouts. That’s the music they played on Thanksgiving. As a kid, I didn’t have a music that was mine. Even the Jackson Five was my mother and father’s music. All the girls in elementary school loved Michael because he was so cute, but R&B, soul music, and James Brown, all of that music was my mother and father’s. That’s when my mother and father were still cool.
So for me, listening to the ’70s rock and the ’70s folk rock in New York city, [Bob] Dylan and all these guys coming to New York to play the soul scene and all of that. What attracted me to that music was — outside of Marvin Gaye doing “What’s Going On,” and a couple of Grover Washington, Stevie Wonder, and stuff like that — the rock stars and the folk stars always said words like government, presidents, mayor. The rock songs, even their love songs, would address social issues.
Kevin: Their messaging.
Darryl: John Fogerty. “Fortunate Son.”
Kevin: “Fortunate Son.”
Darryl [28:36]: Neil Young’s “Ohio.” It was the rock and the folk guys. It was like history and social studies for me. I can’t relate to Al Green, Marvin Gaye, and Michael Jackson, “Never going to say goodbye.” I wasn’t thinking about girls. It was John Fogerty saying words that I experienced every day. All of that was in me.
I could never participate in what was going on in the streets of Queens. I was never able to participate, so I just created my own. I would go down in the basement. I would put the instrumental of “Rapper’s Delight” on and write my own rhymes.
Kevin: So, it didn’t start out as social, as much as it was personal.
Kevin: So then take me from that, as kind of this stew is kind of starting to heat up–
Kevin: To the origin story of your collaboration with — you mentioned that one of the customers at your comic book sale was — Joseph Simmons, who became Run.
Kevin: How did your collaboration work, being that you were starting out in this kind of a personal basement, trying things out. How did you two come to forge this dynamic?
Darryl: So, it’s the perfect setup. So ’78, this is what happened: we were in the school yard playing and we had one basketball court in our school yard at St. Pascal Baylon, where we would play after school. You couldn’t go to the public park and play with your uniform on, because the public school kids would see you and take your money. David McEachen comes and he dunks on the one ramp that the Catholic school kids had that allowed them to play basketball after school. He dunks and he breaks the rim and it falls to the ground and immediately we all start crying because there’s nowhere to play basketball. But hold up, I got the best parents in the world. Last summer, my father put up a basketball rim in my backyard, so McDaniels’s saving [the day] again.
“Fret not young friends of mine, my dad’s the greatest. I have a rim in my backyard. So for the rest of the year, we’re going to get out of school at 2:15 and we’re going to go play basketball in my backyard until 3:30.” Yes. So that’s what we did for the rest of the year. All the kids would come to my backyard — it was about a 10-minute walk from my house to St. Pascal Baylon — and play. One day, Joseph Simmons just comes alone, so we just play basketball one-on-one and whatever. There was a rule growing up for everybody in my neighborhood, especially that when there’s no adults home, I can’t have any company. Remember Dixie cups?
Darryl: I would go get all the Dixie cups and I would come to the back door, give all my friends, Dixie cups.
Kevin: Because they can’t come in.
Darryl: One by one they would come and I would fill it up with water.
Kevin: So you respected the rule. You didn’t break it.
Kevin: You couldn’t come in.
Darryl: I was like okay. Yeah, I was very obedient, but I broke the rule this day. So it’s just Joe. Usually I would go get the pitcher and give everybody, but [today] it’s just Joe. My parents don’t get home until 4. It’s 3:30. “Come on in, Joe, and get the water.” He comes in and I say, “Go wait downstairs.” He goes downstairs and he went down — so when you come in my back door, immediately to the left you go down in the basement. I come downstairs with the water. He sees me and my brother’s equipment. So he goes, “Yo, you do this?” I go, “No.” This is my secret. I go, “Nah, nah, my brother does that.”
So he goes, “Yo, you ever see these flyers on a telephone pole or these posters talking about the DJs shows at Olympia Palace?” — Fantasia, they had these little hip-hop clubs and the promoters would put up flyers and posters. — I was like, “Yeah.” He said, “You ever seen one that says Russel Productions presents.” And I was like, “Yeah I’m familiar with that.” “Well that’s my brother, my brother’s Russell Simmons. He manages Curtis Blow, he does shows with Eddie Cheeba, Grandmaster Flash.” He starts naming all the people that I’ve only been hearing by tapes. He was like, “Yo, my brother is a manager, a party promoter, this and that.” And I’m like, “Oh wow.” So I’m hearing that and just to get my little invite, “Yeah, I dabble a little bit.” I admit it and he’s like, “You do? Let me see what you can do.”
So I go over there and I do the Flash thing, and Joe, he’s like highly impressed. From that day on what we would do is we would get out of school, he would come over — we get out of school 2:15, but 2:30 we’re at my house — we played basketball from 2:30 to like 3:15, and then from 3:15 to 3:55 —
Kevin: Because your parents are going to be home at 4.
Darryl: We would go into the basement and DJ. One fateful day, we were in the basement doing what we was doing, I’ll never forget — and at this point, the block parties and the park parties are everywhere — so, I never forget, we were sitting there, and I would always feed people that came to my house, because we always had food. So we were sitting there and we had peanut butter and jelly and potato chips. It’s my turn to DJ, so Run looks over and he sees my black and white notebooks, and he picks them up, and he starts reading, and he sees my rhymes, and he goes, “Yo Darryl, you wrote these?” And I was like, “Yeah, it’s a hobby, it’s what I do.” And I’ll never forget, he looks at me and he goes — it was like slow motion — he goes, “When my brother Russel lets me make a record one day, I’m going to put you in my group.” Imagine me here. I looked at him, it went in one ear and I think, what the hell was he talking about, because I don’t do that, you do that? I said, “Yeah, whatever whatever.” So that was 8th grade, we graduated from St. Pascal Baylon Elementary School. Run Joseph Simmons went to Andrew Jackson [High School] in Queens on Francis Lewis Boulevard in Queens.
Kevin: Public school.
Darryl: Few schools back then, too, known for basketball. Public School Andrew Jackson, 10-minute walk from Hollis, if that, and five minutes [from Joe.] Joe lived on 205th street. It was five minutes from his house to Andrew Jackson. [It was] the neighborhood high school that everybody went to. You either went to Andrew Jackson, Bayside High [School], you went to Forest Hills [High School], went to Hillcrest [High School], you even went to August Martin [High School], or you went to Flushing [High School]. All the neighborhood Queens schools. Joe went to Andrew Jackson. On the other hand, when I graduated 8th grade St. Pascal Baylon, a lot of the kids who had good grades, there was this other school called Rice High School in Harlem. 124th street and Lenox Avenue, right around the corner from the Apollo [Theater in Manhattan].
Every year, about 6 to 11 kids who left St. Pascal Baylon — because they try to keep you in the Catholic school system — if you got good grades, you could go to Rice High School. I decided to take 3 trains and 2 buses that go to Rice High School, from 9th grade to [12th grade].
Kevin: And how long would that take you, door to door?
Darryl: If I catch the 7:30am F train, it would probably take 55 minutes.
Kevin: A round trip 2 hours a day of just commuting for school.
Darryl: If you were late, they’d give you detention, where you’d have to stand in detention for an hour, and the bad things about that is, if you lived in Queens, you had to come home alone, so that was always scary to me. It was good when it was 5 or 6 of us travelling all the way from–
Kevin: And you miss that–
Darryl: You miss that, that was the scariest thing, coming home by yourself. I had, 8 or 9 times I had to do that. But the kids there, their cassette tapes were everything hip-hop before Rapper’s Delight, meaning they had tapes all the way back to ’74, up to the point of ’79 before hip-hop even made it to Queens. I was hearing [DJ] Flash at 21, 20, 21. When I got to Rice High School, the kids that lived in this neighborhood had — it’s like hearing Miles Davis before he even played the Bottom Line.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Darryl: I’m hearing all of that and it changed my perception of what to write. Every day, I’m going to school, there was this guy named Terrace Washington. Every week, at the end of the school week, he would come with a briefcase full of cassette tapes and he would open it up and it’d be this tape from ’73, this from ’76, this group from here, Curtis Blow in 1975.
Darryl: And he would make a lot of money because kids would buy these live performances. So in 12th grade, Terrace Washington has this section and it says Cold Crush Four versus the Fantastic Five at Harlem World, and I was like, “Yo Terrace, how much is that one?” “You can’t have that one, that one’s $12.” I only had six and I’m like, “Yo, what’s that about?”
Well that’s the infamous battle, there was a place in Harlem named Harlem World, it was a world famous club. You had Harlem World, you had the Disco Fever. Terrence was like, “Yo that one is $12.” I only had six. I was like, “Terrace man, I’ll give you six and I’ll owe you the rest.” And he’s like, “Yeah, you better make sure you give me my money.” So the rest of the year, I kept ducking him. I only get $8, I’m not giving up my allowance, so the rest of it was me ducking Terrence Washington. But what was significant about that was, on that tape, the Cold Crush Four was doing a performance where they took the melody of Harry Chapin’s “Cats in the Cradle.” So that thing was like, “The initials of my name are G-M-C/You can search all your life and you’ll never see/A higher-powered body rocket in a galaxy/I’m the first and never last/What’s your name? I’m the Grandmaster Caz.”
“Well, the initials of my name are J-D-L/I want to go to heaven before I go to hell/and I’ll be pushing more power than a Duracell.” It was very catchy and I was like, why is this so familiar? “Child is born just the other day/Came into the world in the usual way/But there were planes to catch and bills to pay/And the cats in the cradle in a silver spoon/Little boy blue and the man in the moon.” Ohh, it was an immediate connection. So they were connected. Grandmaster Caz was GMC. Jerry D. Lewis named Jerry Lee Lewis, the rock guy was JDL. When I heard that it was a Harry Chaplin melody that I heard on the radio my whole childhood, they talked about them and it’s not like a political record, it’s like a folk song. “Looking out my back door” made me change Easy D to DMC. Oh, I’m going to use my initials and I’m going to start doing that. So, I started writing all these DMC rhymes in 12th grade.
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [40:28]: Darryl graduated from Rice High School in 1982 and that spring and summer would be huge for him. His music was about to take a really important creative turn, and he was on the precipice of getting into college, which wouldn’t be too far away at St. John’s University. It started with a trip to the mailbox.
Darryl: I come home one day and there’s a letter there. “We’re happy to say that you’ve been accepted.” My mother and father aren’t home yet. Remember, they worked. My whole life they worked and got home at 4 o’clock. I got this letter, Oh my god, I’m at St. John’s University. You know what I did? I ran to the basement and wrote a rhyme about going to St. John’s. “I’m DMC and the place to be/I’m going to St. John’s University/And since kindergarten I acquired the knowledge/And after 12th grade, I’m going straight to college/I’m light skinned and I live in Queens and I love eating chicken [and collard greens]” — and so, I wrote that rhyme.
Kevin: Before you had a song to insert into?
Darryl: So, I wrote that rhyme and that was in June of ‘82 — probably like July of ‘82. In August of ‘82, the phone rang and it was Joe. Now we’ve been seeing each other on and off, but we weren’t as close because he went to Andrew Jackson. I went to Rice [High School].
Kevin: Different high school — is like different planets.
Darryl: Right. In August of ’82, the phone rings and it’s Joe. “Yo Darryl, what’s up man? Yo, my brother’s going to let me make a record. I want you to make a song with me. We’re going to make a song called ‘It’s Like That and That’s The Way It Is.’ So, I know you smart, motherfucker” — he was really funny — “I just want you to write about how the world is.” “Oh, I’ve got that down pat.” “All right. Cool, just do that. We’re going to go to the studio next Sunday, all right?” “Cool.” So I go in and I write all of these rhymes about how the world is.
Kevin: See. You must’ve made some impression on him that he had remembered that. He had found a way. He made his promise.
Darryl: He remembered, yeah. Four years later.
Kevin: Four years later, which is forever when you’re a kid.
Darryl: For sure.
Kevin: So, he had found a way. This was the call he was going to make.
Kevin: When the chance came for him.
Darryl: He goes, “Remember four years ago? Yeah, yeah. I’m finally going to make this record.”
Darryl: “I’m going to call this record ‘It’s Like That.” Just go write about how the world and what the world is like now.”
Darryl: For me, it was still make-believe, because my first time in a recording studio, I’ll never forget walking downstairs into Greene St. Recording Studio. When I first saw the control room, I’m still playing. I go, I have shrunken down like Ant-Man and I am inside of the boom box. The writing, creating was just like homework.
Darryl: So, I’m in this scene and I’m pretending I’m Ant-Man inside of the boom box. We go in and we record “It’s Like That.” After we had recorded “It’s Like That,” I just noticed that something’s missing, because originally it was “It’s like that.” When I was like, okay, this is missing something — “‘It’s like that. And that’s the way it–,’ Joe we got to put this down.” So, that’s where the whole Run-DMC feeding off of each other came from.
Kevin: Lennon and McCartney–
Darryl: Because he had “It’s Like That” already and I was like, something’s missing. So we would go, “It’s like that” — “Joe, we need to go — ‘/and that’s the way.’” “Yo, that’s a brilliant beat.” You know what I’m saying?
[We hear a brief clip of Run-DMC’s “It’s Like That” (1984):]
“And it’s like that/ that’s the way it is.”
Darryl: And even though Russell didn’t want me, he didn’t see me as a performer, he wouldn’t let me write and stuff. He didn’t see me as he saw Joe and Curtis Blow.
Kevin: As MCs.
Darryl: Right, he didn’t see me as a professional. “[You’re] such a knucklehead friend Darryl, you don’t do this.” The B-side was “Sucker M.C.’s,” that’s why if you listen to “Sucker M.C.’s”, Run rhymes three times.
Kevin: Yeah, you come in later.
Darryl: I wasn’t even supposed to be on the record. After he [Joe] did his verses, he said, “D go in there” and I’m like, “No, you didn’t tell me nothing about this.” He was like, “Don’t worry about it just say your newest rhyme. You have to be on his record and now that you’re on it’s like that, you have to be on this, too.” Russell didn’t want me on “Sucker M.C.’s,” so he sends me in a booth, and he says, “D, just say your new rhyme, just say your newest rhyme.” So my newest rhyme was about getting accepted to St. John’s University.
Kevin: You’ve just written it.
Darryl: So, I’m like okay, “I’m DMC and if you’re ready/The people rockin steady/You’re drivin’ big cars get your gas from Getti.” I hit my verse, that little verse at the end. He got it all in a booth, it starts when the beat commences. And so, when I came out of the room, the whole studio erupted because they had never heard of a guy talking about college and chicken and collard greens.
Darryl: Like it was new, and that was the day Run DMC was formed.
[We hear a brief clip of Run-DMC’s “Sucker M.C.’s” (1984:]
“I’m DMC, in the place to be/I go to St. John’s 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 eating chicken and collard greens.”
Darryl: So people started calling Russell’s management. Nobody knew what we looked like, because remember, there was no video album cover, but the record was so hot in the streets. “Yo, we want a book Run DMC.” So Russell calls, “Yo, I’m going to get you some shows. You all need a DJ.” Run goes, “Huh? Me and Darryl can DJ.” Russell was like, “No, you need a DJ.”
Kevin: You’re front men, yeah.
Darryl: “No, you need a DJ to be up on.” “Oh, shoot, yeah.” Run was like, “I didn’t think about that.” Joe went to Darnell Smith. “Yo, you know that guy Darryl McDaniels that lives down on 197th” — like Smith didn’t know, because I’m not known.
Darryl: He’s like, “Yeah yeah, that’s Butter’s friend.” Butter was Douglas. “Yeah, me and Daryl McDaniels we got this record, we need you to be our DJ.” “What? Yo cool, cool, yeah I’m down.” He was DJ Nelly Dee. And a week later, Nelly Dee comes later to me and Joe: “I can’t be your DJ guys.” And he was like, “Yo, what happened, why not?” Smith goes, “Yo I can’t be your DJ because I got a job. I’m working at the post office.”
Kevin: He’s like the Pete Best of Run DMC.
Darryl: But it wasn’t that big to us. It wasn’t a career.
Kevin: Right. Did he later on say? —
Darryl: Having a job in New York City, as a young black man at the post office.
Kevin: Post office is a good job.
Darryl: You’re not bagging at the supermarket.
Kevin: No, he had benefits.
Darryl: “I got a job.” That’s grown man stuff. So, Run’s like, “Shucks. What are we going to do? I’m going to ask Jason.” So Run went to Jason [Mizell], “Yo Jason, Nelly Dee can’t do it because he got a job.” “Yo, Nelly got a job? Whoa, that’s big.” Everybody [was] talking about it. Everybody in Hollis: “Yo, Nelly got a job at the post office.” You work for real, you work for the government, like you’re a real person. That’s a huge accomplishment and Nelly looks back and laughs and says it’s so funny.
Kevin: He must. Oh my god.
Darryl: So Joe says, “Yo, you want to be the DJ?” And Jay was like this, “Hold up, you’re going to pay me to do what I do in a park for free?”
Kevin: And building on that. When you think about it, the three pivotal members of the group, Joseph Simmons, DMC which is you, and Jason Mizell, becomes Jam Master Jay, thanks to your naming. You each come from Hollis, right?
Kevin: Which is a small section of Queens, which is a borough of New York.
Kevin: But you each represent different parts of Hollis.
Kevin: So I’m going to ask you, how did each of you bring your own version of Hollis?
Darryl: That’s really great
Kevin: And who you were into the group?
Darryl: Me, I had both parents, smart kid. I lived down on the quiet end. My whole demeanor was a little different. I lived on 197th. You go further up and once you get past 199th, that’s when it starts getting weird. Jam Master Jay, Jason Mizell, lived on 203rd, so he lived in the middle of Hollis. You walk to his corner; it was crazy there. Jason came from a bigger family. His father died early, so his mother, who was a schoolteacher in Brooklyn, supported him, his brother, Marvin and Anita, and all their kids.
Jason had the typical, Jason’s house was “Good Times” on steroids. But Jason was like Warren, Glen and Gregory. He was in that house-robbing-stick-up-kid-world, but he also had this characteristic. He also, remember I said, I didn’t play ball? Jason was Warren, Glen, and Gregory: he was the ballplayer and he was the DJ. So, for being in the middle, this is really ironic, being in the middle — and it’s not a coincidence — being in the middle of Hollis, he had all the characteristics of all the kids in the neighborhood. That means Jason was the guy who would stop the bully from teasing the nerd because Jason would go play with the nerd. Jason had the characteristics of every kid in the neighborhood and was able to participate in all extracurricular activities.
Most of Jason’s friends are either dead or in jail. Jason was the kid that was lucky enough not to go to jail. Jason played ball, he was on the U.B.A. [United Block Association] basketball team, but he ran his crew, his crew was John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd. Those were Jason’s best friends and they looked at Jay as the god who brought that into them.
Darryl: I’m on 197th, Jason’s 203rd, Joe’s on 205th — he’s on the end of Hollis Avenue. Joe saw the aftermath of what would happen with the pimps and pushers — I didn’t know what they were doing — and Jay was in the midst of it and Joe would get the aftermath. On Joe’s end is where Hollis, this is weird, most of the guys who got out of jail lived in Joe’s little section of Hollis. So, our characteristics were the thing that defined us to have that universal appeal. I actually met Jay before I knew Joe. I met Jay because my best friend Douglas who played basketball, played with Jay.
Kevin: I see.
Darryl: And I remember one quick meeting. I remember I was probably 16 or 17 years old, I didn’t play basketball, but Douglas played. So, I was sitting there one day and Douglas was there. “Come over here/ I want to introduce you to Jay and Wendell Fite, DJ Hurricane of the Beastie Boys. [He] was Jay’s best friend growing up in Queens and what was crazy about Hurricane and Jason in 9th, 10th and 11th grade, they both went to Andrew Jackson with Run. The way Run DMC dressed is how Jason and Hurricane went to school in high school.
The godfather hat, the gold chains, and the Adidas, that’s how they dressed, because they were that clique. They were the money-getting, athletic guys that get the girls and all of that. That’s so weird. So, I’m the quiet nerdy kid, Jay’s in the midst of that and Joe’s like the aftermath — because even for Joe’s sake, Joe was only known, because he was the son of Curtis Blow, but Russell had a reputation and the combination, the mixture was more appealing than everything that was already out. I think it was because we had everybody from the Bronx and Manhattan — and everybody’s mad at hip-hop now, because it all sounds the same, because everybody’s from Atlanta, everybody’s from the South. Everybody’s successful, but that becomes monotonous, becomes boring — so hip-hop started to get boring, because everybody was rhyming about what was going on in the Bronx and Manhattan. The combination of Run-DMC got us a record deal.
When we were on the road, we were still on two third [203rd] street, we were still on two fifth [205th], still in Jamaica Park. We were still hanging and going in the same stores and hanging on the street. Run-DMC, the biggest thing in music in ‘84, ‘85, ‘86 — Butter would tell me, “Yo that’s the hundredth time that car came around the corner, or you see that car over there? That license plate says Ohio.” People were driving from other states, too scared to get out to say something but they would come to see these mega stars.
Kevin: Yeah, yeah.
Darryl: My friends noticed that, we aren’t thinking anything of it. Run, he got a little sheltered, though, because the thing is, he knew he was famous. I had no idea I was famous. It wasn’t like fame to me. Like for me it was like, Wow, I get to stand next to Afrika Bambaataa. Joe — to Run, it was all competition. To Jay it was being fly. Jay wasn’t conceited, but to Jay it was like, I’m Stevie Wonder, motherfucker. For Run it was like he wanted the power, but he didn’t know how to handle the attention. I think it was easy for me. I would sit in the midst of the Crips and Bloods because I wasn’t — Run was conscious, “Oh, that’s the Crips. They’re gonna rob me.” To me, since I didn’t see myself as that, the vibes come off like that.
Kevin: Right, and how did the other MC’s who were your heroes react to this new group?
Darryl: Hated us. Hated us. In the beginning, they hated us. First of all, who in the hell are these dudes from Queens talking and folding their arms and grabbing themselves with all this attitude? It was disrespectful to them. Melle Mel said he thought Run was talking about him on “Sucker M.C.’s.” It wasn’t until they started reading our interviews where, “Yo, ‘cuz of Grandmaster Flash and the Cold Crush Four.” But prior to that, prior to the Rolling Stone interviews, the Spin Magazine interviews, and the MTV interviews —
Kevin: They just had your songs to go off on.
Darryl: And our reputation for having the best show ever. We came into this game like, Nobody does it better than us. And it worked.
[We hear a brief clip of Run-DMC’s “Jam Master Jay” (1984):]
“Kick off shoes, jump on the jock/ Listen to the Jam Master as he starts to rock/ His name is Jay and he’s on his way/ To be the best DJ in the US of A.”
Darryl: Yeah. It was crazy for them. They hated us.
Kevin: And also, your life experiences were different than theirs, I imagine. The story of hip-hop from that point —
Darryl: Right. We were from Queens.
Kevin: “The Message” versus Queens.
Darryl: We were soft. “What the hell do these guys?”
Kevin: Suburban kids.
Darryl: “They come from Queens, New York. I’m from Harlem. I’m from Manhattan. I’m from the Bronx. Fort Apache.”
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [55:40]: Ok, so Hollis wasn’t the Bronx, but somehow, Run-DMC made it almost as dramatic with their music. And from there, they took their sound revolution on the road. Remember, there were three of them: Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, Joseph “Run Simmons,” and Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell. And together, they circled the globe singing their songs about where they were from. That whole time, Hollis, the real Hollis, was going through its own changes. When Darryl came off the road in the late 80s, he may have lived there in the same house where he grew up, but now everything around it felt haunted.
Darryl: I came off the road and the stuff called crack had made it to Queens. When I left, it was no different than when I was little. I was just older now. We’re Run-DMC. In ’88, we left, came off of tour, came back from Europe. — I think we did two months going to Amsterdam, Germany, and everything — Came back home and I remember coming back home and one of my friend’s sister who was the most beautiful girl ever growing up — everybody wanted to date her, all the young kids fantasized about her — came up to me looking like the walking dead and I was like, what the hell?
And then I walked up on Hollis [Avenue] and up on Hollis I started hearing, such and such has shot up. Just to change names, Little B shot up Prince’s house. Prince wasn’t home, they’re beefing over who owns two third [203rd] street — and these are kids that grew up together. This crack thing not only destroyed people who were using it, it destroyed the people who were selling it, because there was so much money at stake.– So Little B shoots up Prince’s house, Prince wasn’t home, but Little B killed Prince’s mother, Prince’s mother died holding Prince’s daughter. She died with the baby in a gunshot. What the hell?
This person shot and took what’s his name to the Belt Parkway over there in Brooklyn, over by the swamps and then shot him up. I came off the road in ’88 and Hollis was the Bronx. The little apartment developments, all boarded up and closed up. My man’s sister looked like The Walking Dead. He’s in jail, he’s dead. He kidnapped him, this and that. So, I started hearing this. I come around, “Mom, go look for a house, we’re moving.” My mother and father found a house in Freeport, Long Island. Which was cool for me, because I was like Freeport, the next town over is Roosevelt, Long Island, where Public Enemy is from and I would see Chuck D and Flavor Flav every day. But at that time, I didn’t move out of my parents’ house until I got married because–
Kevin: You’re touring a lot.
Darryl: I was like, why should I get a house? I’m never — late ’84, my whole life on the road, ’84, ’85, ’86, ’87, ’88 — I was never home.
[We hear an Eyewitness News ABC 7 archival clip of Diana Williams and Bill Ritter reporting on Jay Master Jay’s murder (October 30, 2002):]
[59:11] “‘I’m Diana Williams.’ ‘And I’m Bill Ritter. We’ll begin with a fatal shooting of a rap music legend. The shooting tonight in a recording studio in Queens, taking the life of a man known as Jam Master Jay, his real name, Jason Mizell, of Run-DMC.’”
Kevin: 2002. Halloween. Jam Master Jay is murdered at his studio. You tell the story in your book. You’re home. It’s on the news. You don’t believe at first. You roll up. You see Chuck D crying. You realize it’s real.
Kevin: I’ll ask you, not only was that a tragedy and all that comes with that, but how did that event and losing someone who was so close to you and part of your creative journey change the way you saw or see your hometown?
Darryl: Oh, wow, that’s a deep question. When Jam Master Jay got killed, it wasn’t a revelation. It was a confirmation of everything that my mother feared. “Don’t you leave this block. Don’t you go up on Hollis Avenue.” Everything that I saw with Warren, Glenn and Gregory and the kids that were going to jail; everything that we saw, with most of Jay’s friends getting killed and murdered; everything I heard about in the Superfly movies; everything that I heard about, all the evil that I saw in the comic books; it was confirmation that nobody’s immune from it. Queens isn’t the Bronx, but it is. Queens isn’t Compton, but it is.
It was confirmation that everything that we fear can touch anybody at any moment. And that’s a scary confirmation. It’s not a revelation. I saw it in other places, didn’t think it was going to hit here. The reason why I say it like that was — Jay’s studio was five minutes from where he grew up. He made it out. He didn’t have to stay in Queens. Even if he did stay in Queens, he could have put his studio in Manhattan, on 45th [Street] and 8th [Avenue] from around the corner from Diddy’s studio.
He could have been in a professional area of Manhattan and be established as a major player. He could have put his studio in LA down a block from Dr. Dre’s studio. His studio was five — you could walk from Jay’s house to where his studio was at. It was in front of the 169th street bus terminal that we have been going to since we could walk across the street from the Queens Public Library that we’ve been going to. Jay made it through the door and left the door open for others to follow. The very thing Jay escaped from that he was trying to get his whole neighborhood to escape from is the very thing that killed him. The dark side of your community. But Jay didn’t run from it. He stayed and he looked it in the face.
Kevin: Whereas you’d seen in ’88 when you came back, the changes in the neighborhood and you realized you have to move your parents out of here.
Darryl: Exactly, exactly. It’s crazy. Now Myspace was still out and I remember saying on Myspace — and I got cursed out, too — “I’m not mad at the guy that shot Jay.” “Motherfucker, motherfucker, you, D.” Yo, it was crazy and I was like, oh, let me reframe. I say, “Yo, my fight isn’t against the individual that shot Jay.” And it made me, that’s why I look up to Lennon and that’s why I look up to Fogerty and that’s why I look up to Dylan. That’s why I look up to James Brown for speaking up during the Civil Rights Movement. That’s why I look up to Marvin Gaye for defying Berry Gordy’s orders to write “What’s Going On.” “Marvin, this is going to ruin you. Sing about sex and love.” “Nah. I gotta sing for my people.’”
My fight isn’t with the individual that shot Jay, and this is what people understood. My fight is against the mindset that would cause that individual to do it. Jay literally showed me that. [Mimicking Jay:] “I’m not leaving these people, I’m staying right here.”
I see a lot of these new guys, because they’re making way more money than we did in our era, they’re saying “we can’t.” No, you don’t have to live there [your hometown], but you still should have a presence every day. Throughout whatever it is that you do, [what] you’re able to escape from is the very thing that will destroy you unless we all become responsible. That’s the difference. It’s only a chosen few. A lot of people will look at me and say, “Oh D.” — I think I’m street. Why does the guy that sells drugs have to be called street? I’m from the street and I read comic books.
I want a kid to look at me coming from the street as a straight-A student the same way they look at the guy that got a deal with a drug dealer. That’s what Jay represented. It’s funny for Jay. He had all the characteristics, and the very thing that took his friends away from him was the very thing that took him away from us.
Kevin: [01:04:36] Thank you for listening. When Darryl and I met up, we spoke for something like 4 hours, and, as you could hear, he’s completely absorbing. The words just flowed, and talking about growing up in Hollis brought him there and back again. It was music history, but personal in a way that I found very moving. And we weren’t even done, because in putting his episode together, we realized we had way more than one album of material here to work with. We really had a double-album. So for that ride through New York, please listen to our next episode coming in TWO WEEKS. It’ll present a totally different take on this very same guy – this time not so much about the place where he grew up. This one will be about the world inside his head, because it turns out he was haunted by a family secret that his parents knew, his brother knew, his cousins knew, his aunts and uncles knew, but nobody told him until he was 35 years old. And when he found out he says:
Darryl: It was a soul-crushing, emotional, spiritual catastrophe.
Outro [01:05:37]: Your Hometown is a Kevin Burke Production. For more, please visit our website at yourhometown.org, and when you’re there, don’t miss the art, including illustrated scenes and a hand-drawn map of the landmarks Darryl mentioned as key to his story. You can also follow us on your favorite podcast app and on social media on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
And, please check out the show’s New York City series page, including information on live events on the Museum of the City of New York’s website at MCNY.org/yourhometown.
Now I’d like to give it up to the amazing team that made this episode of Your Hometown with me, especially our executive producer Robert Krulwich, art director Nick Gregg, editor & sound designer Otis Streeter, composer/performer Sterling Steffen, and our brilliant researcher, Shakila Khan. I’d also like to thank our musical consultant Henry Pearson for his work throughout the development of the show.
Our branding and website design is by Tama Creative, and our social media team is led by CURE and Jessica Sain-Baird.
A special thanks, too, to our co-presenters on this special New York City feature series at the Museum of the City of New York, especially Whitney Donhauser, Sheryl Victor Levy, Fran Rosenfeld, Keith Butler, Jerry Gallagher, Jennifer Hernandez, Lillian Lesser, Danny Curtin, COR-in Infantino, Lizzy Marmon, Brittney Benham, Meryl Cooper, Robin Carol, Chie Miyajima, and Tara Dawson.
I’m also eternally grateful to our financial supporters, especially the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, which believed in this idea about New York and gave it a chance. Let me also thank those who were there for me from the beginning with their support: The J.M. Kaplan Fund, Lanegate Foundation, Lori and John Berisford, Claudette Mayer, Paul Sperry, Victoria Morris, Peter Wolf, Ken Halpern, the Newburgh Institute, David Hamar, and an anonymous donor.
Until next time, thanks so much for taking this ride with me, and remember, everyone’s from someplace, and everywhere is somewhere.
New York City
Local engagement is vital to the mission of Your Hometown, with the series aspiring to visit a variety of iconic cities and towns for a deeper dive on each place as a hometown. This model is being launched through a first-season focus on New York City, and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York. Many think of New York as a place where people move to in order to realize their dreams, but it is critical to remember that it is also a place where young people grow up – a series of hometowns within the larger metropolis that shape rising generations through the day-to-day texture and details of family, neighborhoods, schools, and boroughs that will become the origin stories of their lives, creativity, work, and contributions to society as a whole. That is the New York this series seeks to illuminate and reveal.