"I'm a straight A student. I'm obedient. I'm not doing anything crazy. That was looked down upon. That wasn't cool. The only time I saw somebody that was smart, educated, geeky, nerdy, and awkward that was badass, was in the comic books."
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Theme from “Mighty Thor” (1966)
Kool DJ Red Alert Live on KISS FM in NYC (1984)
“King of Rock” Live at Live Aid- RUN DMC (1985)
“Walk this Way” – RUN DMC (1986)
“Angel” – Sarah McLachlan (1997)
“Son of Byford” – RUN DMC (1986)
Original Composition: Sterling Steffen
Illustrations: Nick Gregg
Darryl McDaniels, Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide: A Memoir
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Part 52, Leaves of Grass (1855)
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
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.
- 2 DARRYL “DMC” MCDANIELS, PART 2 – HOLLIS, QUEENS
FEBRUARY, 16, 2021
Intro: Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration): This episode’s 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: Just in my young neighborhood, I had 11 gangs to worry about: The Savage Skulls, the Black Skulls, the Savage Nomads, the Seven Crowns, the Seven Immortals, the Black Spades, the Young Spades. It was crazy. My world to me was playing on the block, but then you got Warren, Glenn and Gregory going to jail. It seems like okay here’s happiness, but you got all of this evil around us. So, imagine being a kid: I’m not in a gang, I don’t sell drugs, I don’t do [nothing], I’m not deejaying yet. I don’t do none of that. I don’t play ball. I like to draw and I like ice cream and safe stuff. I’m a straight A student. I’m obedient. I’m not doing anything crazy. That was looked down upon. That wasn’t cool. You know what I’m saying? The only time I saw somebody that was smart, educated, geeky, nerdy, and awkward that was badass, was in the comic books.
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration): “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.
This episode is what you might think of as #2 in a double-album on Darryl “DMC” McDaniels, one of the three founding members of the Hall of Fame hip hop group, Run-DMC. But actually, you don’t have to hear the other one at all to enjoy this one. Think of this as an entirely different portrait of the same guy who grew up in a neighborhood of New York City called Hollis, Queens. While the first episode was more about that neighborhood, this one is about what went on his very busy, very fantastical brain. Now as he just said, when he was growing up, there were places he could go and couldn’t go in Hollis, and his parents were strict about him being home at night. So that meant he had to look inside the walls of his room for a portal to another world that could compete with what the other kids were doing out in the street.
To begin, Darryl’s household was all about work – hard work – and it started early in the morning.
Darryl McDaniels: My mother would wake me up at 5:30 to give me breakfast before she left to go to work. I would eat breakfast and go back to bed before I would walk to Catholic School, St. Pascal Baylon.
Kevin Burke: And both your parents had come from the South?
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah.
Kevin Burke: Jacksonville, your father. And your mother, South Carolina?
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah. Olar. O-L-A-R. Olar, South Carolina, which is about two stop lights long.
Kevin Burke: So, they are part of the Great Migration, essentially.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah. My father came here when he was 14. And my mother came up here when she was 16.
Kevin Burke: I know your father, Byford, worked for the MTA and he was a Korean War vet, too, right?
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah. Yeah. He was in the Korean War and he was a boy. He didn’t drive the bus, he was a boiler man at the bus depots. He mowed his own lawn. He cut his own hedges. He painted his own house. So, my life was always school. It’s watching my mother and father work to have this house with a fence around it with a beautiful lawn, paneling and little things like that — garden hose. My father put it on in the backyard so that when they had the little cookouts and stuff like that, they had a whole bunch of outside furniture, you know, the chairs, tables, and umbrellas. Fourth of July, Christmas, New Year’s, and birthdays. They put on one hell of a celebration. That’s why on the “Christmas in Hollis” record, I write about “It’s Christmas time in Hollis Queens/Mom’s cooking chicken and collard greens/Rice and stuffing, macaroni and cheese.”
That happened every holiday [and] every birthday. What they couldn’t give me daily, they gave me in an abundance on special occasions. So, when I look at them and look at everything they accomplished, they had this attitude that if you have an opportunity to make your situation better, you can’t just go 100 percent, you’ve got to go 200 percent. And the way things are, sometimes you won’t get — your cup won’t overflow. But there will be something in your cup every day. So, my home wasn’t the Brady Bunch, but it was lovely.
We had a basement. First floor was the living room, kitchen, dining room and porch. My room was on the second floor of the house right next to my mother and father’s room. I was in between my mother and father’s room and the bathroom. They always had traffic coming back and forth. I don’t know if they put meaning or purpose when they would use the bathroom, they could look in and see what me and my brother were doing. Me and my brother shared a room. We shared a room up until he went to high school. I guess when he got to high school, he didn’t want to be with me. But all through elementary school, we shared a room and then we had an attic. A wide-open attic.
[00:06:08] [Music break]
Darryl McDaniels: Since I was in kindergarten and my brother was in third grade, we amassed this huge collection of Marvel comic books. We had all the number ones: Spider-Man, Iron Man. We had a huge — my attic, which is about a little smaller, no probably about this size. My attic was probably a little smaller than this room, wall to wall filled [with]: Iron Man, Avengers, Defenders, Luke Cage. I mean we had every Marvel comic book.
So, when I was in kindergarten, when I was able to walk with my brother — Make sure you hold his hand! — I was able to walk to the candy store with Alfred. Before they had the rack of the magazines, papers, and books, they had the turning thing where the comic books were on, the revolving comic book stand thing — the drugstores had it too. You knew the lady, you knew the man and the lady who ran the drugstore. I remember the drugstore was originally owned by an older white man. And the assistant was a young Black lady. When the older white men retired, the lady took it over and I mean, she took it over. I remember she owned it for like 15 years — my whole childhood. I’m in kindergarten, I can’t even read, but I saw a Batman comic book and I used my nickel to get — I couldn’t even read it, but I loved looking at the pictures.
Kevin Burke: The pictures, yeah.
Darryl McDaniels: So that was the thing that got me into the comic books. And then the reason why I was a good student is because I was always reading. So, Sister Nazaire was mean, meaner than the nun in The Blues Brothers (1980) movie. Sister Nazaire would beat you with an axe. But here’s why the Sister was there with me. She would — now I know I’m not supposed to be reading my comic book during school time, but the only reason I’m reading my comic book during school time, I got it in the middle of my history book [or] of my penmanship book so you don’t see it. But she knew. The only reason I’m doing that is because I just finished my work, this is easy.
Kevin Burke: And you’re acing everything. Straight As.
Darryl McDaniels: That’s right and because I’m reading. Right. So, Sister Nazaire would take my comic book and not give it back at the end of the day, or not even give it back at the end of the year.
But Mrs. Green, Sister Mary, Miss Florentino, and Miss Regina would take my book during school time, and at the end of the day, Darryl here’s your book back. Why? Because they put two and two together. This kid is reading all day, I’m not going to deprive him of that. He’s not going to read the textbook —
Kevin Burke: This is his gateway.
Darryl McDaniels: Let him read his comic books so he could ace the textbook. I remember running home from Catholic school to take off my school uniform so I could put on my play clothes and fit in. My mother said, “Put your play clothes on” because she doesn’t want me to ruin the uniform that she — “I’m paying for your ass to go to school. I’m paying for that uniform. I’m paying for” — So she was like, “Don’t play in your school clothes.” My uniform. But I remember running home not afraid of my mother. I would play. When I took out the garbage can lid, the tin garbage can lid, it would always get crushed and [I] put it on my arm and said, “I’m Captain America.” Or I would take my favorite blanket, put it on me, and say, “I’m Superman.” I would take my father’s regular day hardware store hammer, and “I’m Thor.” I thought it was me making believe. I can’t beat these guys. So let me make believe. I’m running to the house. I’m Batman. Superman. My mother was like, “Oh no, not in my house you ain’t. You jump like that again, I’ll beat your ass.” You know? So Superman goes cowers in his bedroom and then jumps again and drives his mom crazy.
Kevin Burke: Was the fantasy you had, Darryl, that you wanted to live in the world of comic books?
Darryl McDaniels: The comic books made my reality safe, actually became the mighty Thor.
[10:18 We hear a 10 second clip of the Mighty Thor theme song (1966)]
Kevin Burke: Why did that collection mean so much to you, why was it so important to you?
Darryl McDaniels: The comic books — it was the only place where I saw smart people educated [people], who were powerful. Spider-Man, living in Queens. Peter Parker, awkward, nerdy, trying to figure life out. But he’s Spider-Man. He’s smart. Tony Stark. Smart.
Kevin Burke: Iron Man
Darryl McDaniels: Smart. Bruce Wayne. Smart. Reed Richards. Only time I saw smart people who were looked upon as cool was in the comic books, because in my world they didn’t exist.
But I started with second grade, I started with tracing paper. Tracing is just rehearsal.
Kevin Burke: Yeah.
Darryl McDaniels: I’m tracing 100 times and about [the] 101st time, I don’t need it. I could just look at the — I’m talking about in second grade — I could look at a cover. That’s how Darryl got a reputation for being — that made me cool as a nerd and a geek because now —
Kevin Burke: You could draw
Darryl McDaniels: The bullies would say, “Yo, D, could you do the cover for my school report?” So now, Oh, he’s not picking on me, he likes me. But as soon as I give it to him, he smacks me in my hand and takes my money. Stan Lee, rest in peace, he was brilliant because he really put his superheroes in New York City. New York was a character in those Marvel comic books. Brilliant, brilliant things, Stan Lee. So, when I read a Marvel comic book, it wasn’t make-believe to me, it was real. Because now I’m seeing Hell’s Kitchen, I’m seeing Harlem, I’m seeing the Lower East Side —
Kevin Burke: Where Peter Parker was living.
Darryl McDaniels: Exactly. So, every time I looked in a Marvel comic book, I was getting a geography lesson and an actual real time of what was going on in New York.
Kevin Burke: And were you often meeting those places for the first time in the comic books —
Darryl McDaniels: Yes! I
Kevin Burke: — versus going there yourself?
Darryl McDaniels: Yes! I couldn’t leave the block.
Kevin Burke: You were imagining?
Darryl McDaniels: Right. The first time I saw the Roosevelt Island tram was in Spider-Man.
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [12:33] Comic books were Darryl’s eyes and ears – his looking glass to other worlds but also to his own city of New York. They also were his prize possessions; and in making a ritual out of going to the local drugstore to buy the latest issues week after week, he amassed a crazily good collection that had all the big titles and was one of the biggest in the neighborhood. It also had real value, making him and his brother kings of comic books, but in the late ’70s, his brother said it was time for a different plan. There was a new sound coming to the neighborhood from the Bronx, and all their friends wanted to be DJs and so they better learn how to spin records, too. But how to get a set of turntables? To Darryl’s brother, the answer seemed obvious.
Darryl McDaniels: So, we had this huge collection of comic books. My brothers like, “Yo, we got to get equipment too so here’s what we’re going to do.” And I remember when he said that I kind of felt — I was sitting there like, No, don’t say what I think you’re about to say. “We’re going to do a comic book sale and we’re going to sell some of our comic books so we could get equipment.” So those comic books — it broke my heart because you’re selling the only thing that I could connect myself to, this so-called real world. So for me, when I sold my comic books, I sold my existence.
Kevin Burke: Do you remember what the hardest issue was to part with you when you sold? That you really [went] Oh — when someone came and knocked on the door and bought this one it broke you.
Darryl McDaniels: Oh, it was all my Captain Americas, all my Captain Americas. There was something about Steve Rogers. It was something about Captain America that attracted me. And I didn’t know I would become this when I found my career — because even at this stage of my career, I have nothing against this generation. But using negativity as a force for success, being ignorant, ignorant is a worse word than saying the F word or the B word because it’s ignorant — So Captain America was frozen in ice. Then he woke up 50 years later in this whole new world of America where people were doing just crazy stuff. He had to fight for what was in his heart, that’s why I always respected him. You know what I’m saying?
I remember one time my brother teased me and said, “You will never have blond hair like Steve Rogers because you’re not white.” And he said that — I’ll never forget, my mother had to keep — I tried to get a kitchen knife and stab him, because you disrespected — I thought he was disrespecting Steve Rogers, but deep down, he was disrespecting me. I’ll never forget that he said that.
So, there’s a lot of things to these superheroes that I didn’t know that was connected. I mean, that’s why I was so emotionally connected to them.
Kevin Burke: And Darryl, did you ever try to buy back your collection?
Darryl McDaniels: No.
Kevin Burke: Once it was gone, it was gone.
Darryl McDaniels: Once it was gone, it was gone. And it hurt. But the distraction was, we got the turntables in, me and my brother.
[15:42 We hear turntable record scratching]
Darryl McDaniels: I hold on to the values that first brought me into hip hop when I was 15 years old. Stan Lee, it was brilliant because he taught me in life to find yourself with an adjective and tell the world who you are. For instance, the Amazing Spider-Man. Mild-Mannered Darryl McDaniels, when he gets on this mic, [he] is no longer a mild-mannered Catholic school kid. He transformed into the Devastating Mic Control — Run and Jay knew they were being famous. To me. All of this was make-believe.
Kevin Burke: Still play.
Darryl McDaniels: What happened was Run-DMC forms. Jason, Darryl — Jason Mizell, Jam Master Jay; Joseph Simmons, DJ Run; and Darryl McDaniels, DMC. Before we made our move, there was something that needed to be fixed because Jay was Jazzy Jay. Jazzy Jay is the DJ with Red Alert and Afrika Bambaataa and the [Universal] Zulu Nation and the Soulsonic Force. You cannot be a copycat. Like “copycat” is a word that everybody can relate to. You can’t be a copycat. And that was — like in the generation up to the 70s. And in the 80s,
Kevin Burke: Originality is what you want.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah, originality — In the 80s we created the word called “biting.” You bite my style. So it’s basically a copycat. One of the golden rules is you can’t copy. Look [or] sound, you cannot do — you can’t have the same name. Don’t worry, Jay. I have an imagination, I got this. So I went home, I was like, okay, you got Grandmaster Flash and Grandmaster Caz. Grand Wizzard Theodore. GrandMixer. You got two “Grands,” everything’s the same. I know what imma do.
The “jam” meant two things. And hip hop. The “jam” was the actual party. “Yo, that jam last night was amazing.” But the “jam” was also the record. “At that jam last night they played my favorite jam.” So I was like, He’s not going to be — He can’t be Jazzy Jay. He doesn’t need to be Grandmaster, he doesn’t need to be Grand Wizzard, he doesn’t need to be GrandMixer. He will be the Jam Master Jay.
First of all, the wordplay is jam master jam master — it’s powerful. But Jam Master Jay means he’s the master of the whole DJ thing. He masters the party. He’s like Doctor Strange. He controls the party, and he controls the most powerful records. So I run to Jay, “I got it Jay. You ready? Drumroll. You’re going to be the Jam Master Jay.” And I remember, Jam Master J-J-J. “Yo, that got a nice ring.”
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [18:29]: Within just a few years, Darryl had gone from a kid drawing superheroes on tracing paper to turning his band into comic book heroes. To Darryl, though, playing DMC in Run-DMC was something he did on the side – way outside of school. It was a pretend-thing; it wasn’t real. So, in making the transition from Catholic-school to St. John’s University, Darryl continued keeping music over here and his real life, being a student, over here. Meanwhile, his bandmate, Joseph Simmons, was racing ahead – he knew what he wanted out of the music business and how to get it and, when it came to Run-DMC, he was all in.
Darryl McDaniels: Prior to us putting the records out, Run was always calling me. “Yo, Russel went to this. Russel’s getting us lawyers.” Like all this music stuff. I’m listening, “Cool Joe, yeah okay but I got school tomorrow. I’m trying to figure life out.” I’m trying to be like this DJ guy saying what I was trying to be Captain America.
Kevin Burke: You’re putting a costume on.
Darryl McDaniels: Right. My thing was what I’m doing puts me in a room with Melle Mel. Like Run couldn’t understand, “Yo, D you killing in the whole world right now and you still loving Melle Mel? Well yes! He’s still.
Kevin Burke: You’re still talking to your superheroes.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah. Yeah, exactly. So I’m putting that suit on. Everybody said — because I took it further, I had the glasses — My outfits —
Kevin Burke: Leather coat.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah, gloves. Like I took it seriously because —
Kevin Burke: It does feel like a Peter Parker story because you’re going to St. John’s, you’re a college student by day, and then by night you’re grabbing these headlines in the city.
Darryl McDaniels: Alter ego.
Kevin Burke: Sort of like he was Spider-Man in the city. But in Queens, he was a high school student, you know.
Darryl McDaniels: “Mild-mannered.” I understand those words.
Kevin Burke: And so you sort of have these compartmentalized lives. And I was going to ask about when you first started hearing the world of Run-DMC come into your other world.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah, for people [listening], St. John’s had a place called the Rathskeller, where it was like the lunchroom — in between classes, that’s where you would go. Pizza, burgers, chips, sit at the table, talk to your friends, get your soda, do your whatever, whatever. It was the hangout. So, I’m sitting there one day going like this, I gotta grow up. This college stuff is crazy because nobody helps. I’m on my own. And then I realized I went to school for business management because Douglas Hayes told me to. I started taking all these classes, bookkeeping [and] accounting, and realized, I don’t like business management. So, I’m sitting there going, “What am I going to do with my life?”
[I’m] in the Rathskeller going, I can draw. I can do anything that has to do with drawing. Architecture maybe, graphic design, or worse come to worst — true story, I’ll drop out of college and I’ll draw the funnies in the local newspaper. I thought this out, I can just create a character and draw the funnies —
Kevin Burke: Not thinking that rap is a real career right at this point.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah. So sitting there over the intercom, the speakers in the ceiling, in the Rathskeller where they would play the radio or the college DJ guy would play his little playlists or something. “Boom ta ta ta ta ta / Two years ago, a friend of/–.” Now I’m sitting in my row, man I got to go home and tell my mother and father I’m dropping out of school and I’m gonna do art, I’m gonna draw the funnies. I figure maybe I’ll just get a regular job. I look up and the whole lunchroom is dancing. And the people like right over there, it’s going — because everybody knew who Afrika Bambaataa was, Planet Rock was huge. Kurtis Blow, the Breaks was huge. The Message was huge. Spoonie Gee was huge. Everybody knew. “Who are these guys?” “Yeah I heard these guys are from Queens.” So, I’m here. “Yo, this is the best hip hop song we have ever heard. Best rap song we ever heard.” So, you would think I would get up, “Yo, yo, that’s my record. Ooh that’s me.” I didn’t do that.
I looked and I was like — I said this — “That ain’t gonna last.” So I went home dejectedly.
“Mom, dad, there’s something that I need to tell y’all. I don’t think I want to do business manage –.” “Huh?” Now it gets interesting. “Come here, sit down” and this and that.
“Well, I don’t like bookkeeping and this and that. And I’m thinking about changing my major to something like, you know, architecture or graphic design or whatever. And, you know, if that don’t work out, I think I’ll just go get a job at the local newspaper and draw in the funny papers.” My father I loved him, rest in peace. My mother, “Oh, hell no. You get your ass back upstairs and you get it –. ” I look at my father. “Woman, calm down.” I just saw my father say, “Look, as long as the boy is doing what makes him happy.” I was like yes. She said “Hell no, we ain’t paying all this money for whatever, whatever.”
So now I’m going to St. John’s and I’m depressed. I started drinking. I would hang out on Hollis Avenue. Some days, I had class on Wednesday that I would cut and had class on Friday that I just would not go to. And I remember a couple of days I’m standing — because I would have to wait — Damn it’s 11 I can’t go home till 1:30. Because I got to act like I’m going to class — And I remember it happened like two times. I was standing in front of the game room on Hollis Avenue, 200th Street on Hollis Avenue. I would stand in front of the game room trying to waste time so I could go home and act like I went to school. And twice it happened. I saw Run because he was going to LaGuardia Community College at the time. And I would see Run on the back of the bus and I would wave and he would wave and stuff like that. So, he’s looking at me probably thinking, I got a day off or I don’t have a class. He didn’t know what I was doing. So, I’m standing there and I’m drinking and I’m drinking — and then this is funny, too — so I’m doing that and then Joe calls my house one day, “Yo, Russell got us a record deal. We’re on Profile Records.” This and that boom bang. “Red alerts going to play our record.”
Red Alert was on 98.7 Kiss [FM]. [It] had started a hip hop show Friday and Saturday night in New York City in the early 80s. — I tell kids this, they can’t believe that hip hop was only on the radio two nights a week for three hours. “What?” Like they can’t believe it. – So, Run is like, “Yo, they’re going to play our record.” “Yeah, Joe, whatever, whatever. Cool” Because I’m depressed. I’m cutting school, my mother is going to think I’m wasting their money. I just didn’t know what to do. So sure enough, Friday night, I remember Friday night, it was like 8:30. DJ Red Alert. Joe calls my house. “D, go turn the radio on, they’re gonna play the record.” And I’m like “Okay, cool.”
So, I remember sitting on my bed in Hollis in my bedroom, my brother had a two speaker boombox. So, I turn it to Kiss and the record comes on here in the class like that.
[25:46 Music break]
Darryl McDaniels: And the record comes on. And I hear it. They play “It’s Like That.” I hated it. Because I hate the way, I hated the way that — I want to listen to Melle Mel. I want to listen to Bambaataa and Kool Moe Dee. I just — it just sounded weird to me on the radio.
It was about two or three weeks later Joe calls, “D pack your bags. We’re going on the road. We got a show.” I hung up the phone and I realized something. I never told my parents I made a record.
[26:26 Music break]
When I went to the Greene St. Recording studio that Sunday that Joe came and got me — “Yo, we’re going to pick you up at 2:30,” — we made the side of Sucker MCs.I didn’t get home until like 1:00 in the morning. On a Sunday. My mother and father were like, “Boy where was you at?” I didn’t say I went to the studio, I said I was at Joe’s attic, because after me and Joe would go in my basement when he got turntables, you could find me and Joe even in my basement doing a DJ rap thing or at Joe’s attic — And I’m like, “Oh I was at Joe’s attic.”
So now I got this record that’s out. St. Johns is just getting confirmation. Now Red Alert just played it. Now Joe is saying we’re going on the road to perform in North Carolina. My mother’s going to kill me. So, I had to go downstairs and say, “Mom, there’s something I need to tell y’all. Remember that night I came home 1:00 in the morning in August of ‘82? Yeah, well, I actually was in a studio. We got this record.” I said, “You know, “Planet Rock” and “The Message?” “Yeah.” “I have one of those.”
I mean, imagine trying to tell [your parents], “the thing we did in the basement when we were scratching with” — “Your mixing deejay?” My father [said], “Yeah. The deejay mixing thing on Red Alert.” Because my father worked with [NYC] transit so young people when he was at work on a Friday and Saturday night doing the 8 to 12 shift, what would the young workers be playing? The hip hop show.
So, he said, “Yeah, I know, Chuck Chillout. I know Red Alert and I know Mr. Magic. I’ve heard of them.” My mother, she was oblivious to that. She just started cursing me out. So, I’m like, Yo Run is going to kill me. Then I thought about it. Run had said, “Yo we’re going to do these shows. We’re going to be making $1200-$1500 a night.” So, a lot of money, fresh out of high school. 1500. That’s probably, what —
Kevin Burke: 18, 19 years old. I mean that’s amazing.
Darryl McDaniels: Come on that’s probably $300 when we split it. $300 a show. So, I went downstairs and said, “Mom, here’s a deal. Let me do this show. And whatever shows that I have this summer,” — see, I’m not even thinking — “whatever shows we do this summer, whatever money I’ll make, I’ll use to pay my tuition.” They had their little sidebar, “okay you could go.” Because they were paying my tuition at St. Johns.
Kevin Burke: You could make a deal.
Darryl McDaniels: Because they were paying my tuition at St. Johns.
Kevin Burke: It’s expensive, yeah.
Darryl McDaniels: So, my mother [and] father let me go do that first show. When we were doing that After Hours show in New York City, I never told my mother I had a record. Joe would just say, “Yo, be at my house at 4:30.” So, we would go to the show, do the After Hours show. I was back home by 8:00 so I never told them. I never told them [about the] studios, the records, the this, and that. I just did it in the basement and then did it and did it — and that was one of my bad habits too. Growing up, I would always get in trouble because I wouldn’t communicate with my parents. So, I had to say — the only reason they let me go is “I’ll use whatever money I make. Um, you know, $4000 this summer for my tuition.
Kevin Burke: So, when would you say you finally felt like an adult and that this was the path you were on?
Darryl McDaniels: Oh, it was a long time.
Kevin Burke: Took a long time till you really became this is who I am. This is what I’m doing versus this is a sidebar over here.
Darryl McDaniels: It was weird. Now that I think about it, it was weird. I never came home and talked about what we did on the road. I never invited my parents to it. For me, it was like I would come off — like we would go to North Carolina Friday, come home Saturday, Sunday we drive to Boston. We played the tri-state area. The majority of our shows in those years — North Carolina was like a package tour because you’re leaving the states. We played that, came back home. After that initial show, the majority of our shows were Connecticut, Jersey, DC and Philly. And I’m talking about Friday night, three shows, Connecticut, Jersey, Philly, Boston. Saturday night, three shows. We were in that Cadillac, we were getting in, the money was just coming in. I never — I would come home, unpack, and it was like —
Kevin Burke: It’s your parents’ house.
Darryl McDaniels: Yeah. I was still living in —
Kevin Burke: in that same room that you’re talking about. —
Darryl McDaniels: That same room. I would just give them the money and they would put it in a bank for me.
Kevin Burke: Wow.
Darryl McDaniels: And then you know, “where are you going next? “ But you know, I never sat down and they never asked me.
Kevin Burke: And when did you make the decision to leave St. John’s? Like this is it, I can’t do it anymore.
Darryl McDaniels: St. John’s? [It] was the third semester.
Kevin Burke: So, fall of ‘77?
Darryl McDaniels: I had to take a leave of absence, though.
Kevin Burke: Okay, so you could come [back] the door was open.
Darryl McDaniels: It was — look, timing was everything. I didn’t have to go, “Ma. I’ve been failing classes and I’ve been cutting [and] things just started happening. You know, the shows was happening, Connecticut, whatever this and that.” It’s weird now that I look back. It was just so weird. At that point, it was no different from when I was in high school. It was like I was going to do this and just coming home. And I never brought any of the elements of this new crazy thing that I’m doing. I would just come home and would just give them the money. But it was the third semester where we started getting booked during the regular school years. So, I’m like — and my parents was against it, but then again, I said, “Mom, whatever money –.” So, she said “take a leave of absence. That means you’re not dropping out, you’re taking a leave of absence.” And I took a leave of absence from St. John’s and have been absent ever since.
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [32:38]
That leave may have made Darryl absent at college, but it made him present as a participant in one of the true watersheds in music history: the hip hop revolution of the early 1980s, and, in particular, the marriage of rap and hard rock that gave Run-DMC a sound that sent them flying. I remember. I was in elementary school at the time, and their music was everywhere in my town. From the school bus to friends’ basements to the radio stations playing at the local mall. In the group, Darryl was known as DMC, which stood for Devasting-Mic-Control; he also was called the King of Rock. And, with Jam Master Jay at center stage manning the turntables, DMC and Joseph Run Simmons commanded our attention with their black leather jackets, godfather hats, and, in Darryl’s case, a pair of black-rimmed glasses that set him apart. When they performed, rock met rap and the sound was loud and proud. And within just a few years really, RUN-DMC went from a sideshow in Darryl’s life to the main event – earning him money and fame and a ride on a rocket-ship that would land the group an Adidas deal, VIP treatment on MTV, and eventually a place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Remember the re-birth of the Aerosmith song “Walk This Way” in 1986?
[33:54 We hear “Walk This Way” (1986) by Aerosmith & Run-DMC]
That was them.
Darryl McDaniels: I didn’t know I was famous until after Raising Hell. After “Walk This Way” is when I knew what Mick Jagger felt like then. Prior to Raising Hell, I could drive in my Cadillac and get noticed. When Raising Hell came out, now I’m causing accidents on the parkway because now I’m famous. I’m a celebrity. Now, see, it was a difference. I never saw myself as famous and I damn sure did not see myself as a celebrity. But then when Raising Hell came out, people saw us on “Rock Box” but I could still go somewhere dressed like DMC and not everybody know, only the people that know. Only the people that got MTV would know because MTV wasn’t everywhere.
Kevin Burke: Right.
Darryl McDaniels: We didn’t even have MTV in Queens. It was only in Manhattan. So, I would go to Manhattan, now these Manhattan people know me. You know, what I’m saying? Unless you had the album, you wouldn’t know the cassette [and you wouldn’t know. When Raising Hell came out. Now, the lady who never heard my music saw my face on every news, on the cover —
Kevin Burke: Oh, it was everywhere.
Darryl McDaniels: Now I’m a celebrity. Yeah so that was the difference for me. And Joe, he already had three kids. So, we would tour and stuff like that, we would tour for two or three weeks and Joe would go home. He’s home with his wife and kids there at the time. M and Jay [would] come off the road — Jay didn’t have kids yet, but me and Jay [would] come off the road. We come off the road and we coming to Hollis. Us and the Hollis crew. We go on to Danceteria, we go into the world, we’re going to the Peppermint Lounge. We’re going to the Disco Fever. We’re going to the Roxy. So, for us, even in our fame — now we’re doing the Madonna scene now. What made it easy for us was me and Jay, we always had the same kids from the neighborhood with us. So, it wasn’t like I was coming to Manhattan and hanging out with people I never hang out [with] just because I was famous.
Kevin Burke: You weren’t alone, not like St. John’s. You had a crew with you, friends who trusted.
Darryl McDaniels: From ‘84 to ‘89, I was always on the road. Change the world, a deal to deal, to change the world. So, in ‘89, everybody –I’m talking about the whole world — like how we looked — we just had Flash’s “Rapper’s Delight”, Kurtis Blow and Bambaataa to look up [to], which gave birth to Run-DMC in those short couple of years. ‘79-’82.
So now from ‘84 to ‘89, Run-DMC got EPMD, Eminem. When the rap exploded in the 90’s —
Kevin Burke: The family tree expanded.
Darryl McDaniels: Right. So, in the ‘90s, what happened? We’re well respected. We’re the pioneers, we’re the OG’s, we are hip hop. When you say hip hop, they don’t even got to write about it, its Run-DMC. I’ll get it. Right. But in the ‘90s, ‘Pac, Biggie — all of these talented — Cypress Hill, Ice Cube. All of this comes out. So, we’re not the only ones anymore. So, from ‘90 to ’93, we were celebrated, but nobody cared anymore — but we were respected. In 1993 this producer a DJ named Pete Rock, who was in one of the hottest groups of the 90s, Pete Rock and C.L. Smooth produced a song called “Down with the King” for us. “Down with the King” did for Run-DMC what people say “Walk This Way” did for Aerosmith. It brought us back. In ‘93 “Down with the King” put us back on MTV, back on the road, back on the charts.
Kevin Burke: I remember
We were opening for Naughty by Nature. We were opening for A Tribe Called Quest. We were opening for De La Soul. We were opening ZZ Top. We were opening for Marilyn Manson. We were opening for Limp Bizkit. We were opening for everybody so now we could go on our own tour. “Down with the King” was a chart success. Right then that day, I felt like I felt when I was at St. Johns, I just got depressed.
[38:16 Music break]
Darryl McDaniels: ‘97, it just got to the point where I said I’m uncomfortable with this feeling I’m going to kill myself. And people know it. “D, how the hell” — the question from Eric, Run, and Jay was “How the hell can you be depressed? You’re DMC.” But none of that meant anything, it was just something in me until I got to that point where — it wasn’t until therapy when my therapist told me, “See, for your whole life. Throughout your music, you were trying to define who you were.” And she said, “even in your music. All of your major rhymes started with the great “I am.” “I am the king of rock.” “I am the son of Byford.” And now I am DMC, in the place to be” “I am the microphone.” And I was like what. And I was writing all of these little stories, you know, to be — then I thought about it. I want the world to know who Darryl is. I don’t want to die and they talk about what Run, D, and Hay did. I want the world to know Darryl. And I want the world —
Kevin Burke: Like Steve. You were saying before about Captain America. You want them to know Steve.
Darryl McDaniels: I want them to know me. “Hey, world, I’m DMC from the groundbreaking rap group Run-DMC” that’s how the first quote was going to open. “What’s Up World? I’m Darryl McDaniels, you know me DMC from the groundbreaking rap group Run-DMC. First to go gold, first to go platinum, first on the cover of Rolling Stone, first with the sneaker deal. Everything that hip hop is doing, they say it’s because of me, Run, and Jay. But I’m really just Darryl McDaniels from Hollis, Queens, New York. No different from any boy or girl on the face of the world. My birthday is May 31st, 1964.” Oh, I know my birthday, but I don’t know any details about it.
[40:34 Music break]
Darryl McDaniels: So innocently, I called my mom and said, “Mom, I’m writing this book, I know my birthday’s May 31st, 1964, just to make it more interesting for the reader, I want to know three things: How much did I weigh? What hospital? What time?” She tells me those three things. [Then] hangs up the phone. An hour later, the phone rings. It’s my mother and my father. “We have something else to tell you.” “Okay, what is it?” I thought it was going to be something like, “Well, when you were born, there was a power outage in the hospital and we gave birth to you by candlelight.” Something like that. I mean they were like, “we have something else to tell you.” “Okay, what is it?” “You were a month old when we brought you home and you’re adopted, but we love you. Bye.” Click. It was a traumatic, life changing, soul crushing, emotional, spiritual catastrophe.
Kevin Burke: What’s so interesting about what you’re talking about is you had kept a secret from them about recording, Run-DMC initially and you had to have this big conversation with them about, look, I’m coming clean. That night I was out, that day I was out, I was really recording.
Darryl McDaniels: That’s real funny.
Kevin Burke: They had a secret from you; that you both were keeping something from each other —
Darryl McDaniels: That’s crazy, it’s that little division of separation that just exists because of the situation. For me, it was exactly like, “Clark, there’s something me and your father — you came here on a spaceship.” “What?”
Kevin Burke: But also, did it cause you or has it caused you to look at all those memories that we’ve shared — do they feel mediated in some way by this truth? You have such clear memories of all of these.
Darryl McDaniels: Everything.
Kevin Burke: But then there are these other things, you could have grown up in Staten Island where your birth mother.
Darryl McDaniels: Exactly right. Right. That’s crazy. If what happened to me didn’t happen to me, I would have never met Run and Jay.
Kevin Burke: Definitely not
Darryl McDaniels: Hip hop would have happened, but it wouldn’t [have] happened the way that it did. This is what Busta Rhymes said that “if what happened to you didn’t happen, this hip hop shit wouldn’t have happened the way that — somebody else would have done it late.” But it was crazy.
Kevin Burke: Yeah, you’d be a Staten Island guy.
Darryl McDaniels: So, you know, for me, it was like I didn’t get mad at my mother and father until I met — I didn’t get mad at my mother and father until I met other adoptees. Prior to that time, it was a big shock. But then I calmed down and said, “Yo, but look at my life.” There’s a book called The Primal Wound that says when these babies are given up from their birth mothers, something happens. Something spiritual, something —
Kevin Burke: And being a parent yourself, you can relate to it. I’m a new parent myself. You can relate to it.
Darryl McDaniels: You can definitely relate. So, the book just basically says, we’re too young, we can’t go, “What are you doing? Why are you giving me to these people? What are you doing?” Something happens to us. So, you go into this protection mode. Let me be a good student. I’m OCD. I’m neat. Somewhere in the back of my mind — the book says I’m afraid of giving up again. So once this information came out — When I moved from Hollis, I moved to Freeport. When I met my wife, we got married, we moved to Bayside and then from Bayside, we moved to Jersey. So now I’m living in Jersey. The secret’s out. All my cousins are calling me. All my cousins younger than me, Derek, Samantha, Rob, Donny, Heath, Craig, Troy, and Antoine. Everybody’s calling me. “Oh, jeez, man. You don’t know no, man. We’ve been holding this secret. Every time we would come over your house for the Fourth of July, every time we came over your house for Christmas, every time we came up for your birthday, your mother’s aunt Catherine, Aunt Ainsley, our Uncle Griffin –.” Everybody [that] came to my house from the day I was brought to my house until we got old and moved out, every time something happened in my house, they would sit my cousins — my cousin Donny said [the adults would say] “Kids get dressed, go get your sneakers on. We’re going over to McDaniel’s family. Everybody come sit down. What’s the rule?” Little kids. “Nobody let Darryl know he’s adopted.” And they kept it.
So now all my cousins, my cousin Tim from Dallas, “Darryl I heard Aunt Banna just told you. Man, we held this in –.” So, they’re all calling me. So now I’m living with that, living with them, living with that.
So, it’s all feeding me up, and I come home and I’m in a car and I’m thinking of killing myself. And on the radio comes a Sarah McLachlan record. “Arms of the Angel.” When I heard that record, that was the only thing that made me say —
Kevin Burke: It’s called hang on.
Darryl McDaniels: Hang on.
[We hear “Arms of Angel” (1997) by Sarah McLachlan]
“Spend all your time waiting/ For that second chance/ For a break that would make it okay’ There’s always some reason/Let me be empty/Oh and weightless and maybe/I’ll find some peace tonight/In the arms of the angel.”
Kevin Burke: I was going to ask you, finding out at 35 that you were adopted — and we started out earlier talking about your love of comic books, did you even in those darkest days of being depressed and feeling like “What just happened?”– did you feel that your passion for those characters when you were a kid was prophetic because you had the same sort of origin story? Because I can’t think of a superhero that doesn’t have an extraordinary back story.
Darryl McDaniels: No idea at all. I didn’t see myself. I saw myself pretending to be them. There’s a lot of things to these superheroes that I didn’t know that was connected — I mean, that’s why I was so emotionally connected to them. Most superheroes are adopted.
Kevin Burke: I was going to say it was almost prophetic.
Darryl McDaniels: Right.
Kevin Burke: Your interest —
Darryl McDaniels: Superman, “Clark, there’s something we need to tell you. You’re not really one of us. You’re not from –.” “Huh?” Superman, Spider-Man and Batman, and Tony Starks. What’s common about them? They all lost their parents. My whole career was always “Son of Byford. Brother of Al/Bad as my motha; and Run’s my pal/ It’s McDaniels, not McDonald’s/These rhymes are Darryl’s, those burgers are Ronald’s.”
I ran down my family tree, my mother, my father, my brother and me. Those were the most important things to me ever. “Christmas time in Hollis, Queens.” It was always something about not being the DMC. DMC was great. I mean I have more rhymes about me but my most powerful statement was about the thing
Kevin Burke: your people
Darryl McDaniels: that I cherish right from Hollis. To find out — “What?” And that means, “What do you mean and why? Okay, why did my birth mother give me up. Why, why, why?” So, all of these questions came up which was crazy. So think about it like this: Everybody asks me, “Why do you think they never told you?” “Because they love me.” But I also never gave them a chance to tell me why. From kindergarten to eighth grade, I could see a scene where my father was sitting there reading the paper, my mother’s at the sink washing the dishes and she says “Honey, do you think we should tell Darryl now? He’s getting ready to go to high school.” “Nah don’t tell them this, it could ruin him and he’s doing so good.” Like a “No.”
See, they want to treat you normal but they treat you abnormal so you can be normal. By doing that they’re not treating you normal. “He’s doing so well, nah this could kill –.” They didn’t want to give me my truth, not knowing I need my truth. So, my father goes, “Nah, let’s not tell him yet.” So, I go to high school, 9th grade to — St. John’s University. Same scene: “Honey, do you think we should tell him?” “I don’t think we should tell him yet.” Then it gets to [inaudible 49:39]. “Yeah, I think so. He’s a man, he’s going to school. I think we should tell him.” “But now he’s going on the road.” “Nah don’t tell him.”
Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration) [00:49:47]: It was never the right time for that conversation called you are adopted. But once they’d had it, Darryl found himself reliving moments from when he was that little boy growing up in Hollis and discovering New York City, his city, in the pages of Marvel Comics. In one case, he remembered discovering something from the backseat of his parents’ car that unlocked another memory that was even more momentous.
Darryl McDaniels: My mother and father officially adopted me at five years old. So I think I was five years old. I remember always going over the bridge into the city. And I would always be in rooms like this with books like those, but filled with them. When I look back at it, my adopted friend said “D, that was the lawyer’s office. That was probably your mother or father going to finalize –.” I just remember being in big leather chairs and in rooms filled with volumes of books.
Kevin Burke: That’s exactly the way it was.
Darryl McDaniels: It was the lawyer’s office. But I remember one of those trips, we were going over the 59th Street bridge and I was sitting in the back seat, I’m five years old. My father’s driving and my mother’s driving, I mean, my mother was in the passenger seat. And I remember, I got short of breath. My mother was a nurse. She heard me breathing and she turned around. “What’s the matter with you?” And I couldn’t get it out. “Well, speak, what’s the matter?” My father turns around, “I told you, the boy’s crazy.” I’m thinking, he’s thinking, Do I want to adopt this kid? I’ll never forget this day. This is a true story. “I told you” — he didn’t say it like that, but I could tell. “I told you the boy is crazy. He draws –.” Like I was just thinking that. So, I can’t get it [out]. “What’s the matter? Speak, speak, speak.” I remember my brother used to get carsick, but he wasn’t with us this day.
And I go, “Mommy it does exist.” And she says, “What?” And I remember being five years [old]. It was the first time I saw the Roosevelt Island tram in real life. And it just — My mother, she just laughed it off. I remember, so even to this day when I’m coming into the city — every time I see the Roosevelt Island tram, that experience comes to life to me.
I was pretending to be, and I speak to kids about that. I would always get teased except when I was needed. “You went to that corny make-believe bullshit.” But make believe is it — I was pretending to be the King of Rock, but now wherever I go, even to this day — I can leave and now and see Method Man, I can see Little Wayne, I can see Little Kim, I can see Red Alert. I could see anybody in the music business. I’m talking about not just rappers and they would go, “Yo what’s up King.” And I was pretending. I was just playing, but was I?
[53:48 Music break]
Darryl McDaniels: The secret to making me realize, now when I look back on it, I was already that, including the fact [of] where do I come from? Queens. Who’s my guy in Queens? Peter Parker, Spider-Man. What is he? A superhero. Where did superheroes that impact my life come from? Where was Avengers Mansion? New York City. So, I got a rhyme now where I sing, “My make believe is your reality/I’m everything I pretend to be/Everything I need is inside of me/And anything else is the enemy. That song is coming out very good.
Kevin Burke: Beautiful. Here’s my last question for you. The way I end every interview, Darryl — let me get this open — and so another great New York poet, Walt Whitman. Many, many years ago wrote this book, Leaves of Grass. “Song of Myself” in it. And my favorite passage from it is what I want to end on and ask you about. Walt Whitman says, “I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love/If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles//You will hardly know who I am or what I mean/But I shall be good health to you nevertheless/And filter and fibre your blood//Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged/Missing me one place search another/I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
And I want to end by asking you if we can project out 50, 100, 200 years from now and people come along and want to learn about Darryl McDaniels or the King of Rock and want to retrace your footsteps and want to commune with you and your spirit, where should they look for you in your hometown?
Darryl McDaniels: Wow. Where should they look for me in my hometown? That’s a crazy question. Where they should — like right, now? 100 years from where should they look for me
Kevin Burke: They want to know you. Who was this guy? Where can I go look for him and feel his spirit, his story?
Darryl McDaniels: You know what? Go look for — you don’t see this like you used to, but I know there will be one out there — go look for a little kid playing outside by himself or the little kid in the backyard playing by himself. That’s where you’ll find [me].
Kevin Burke: Beautiful. Let’s let it lie there. Darryl McDaniels, thank you so much for taking me to your hometown.
Darryl McDaniels: Thank you, your questions were amazing. Because you started therapy on me. “This is connected –” When you said the things that happened to me, I didn’t even look at it like that. I learned something about myself.
Kevin Burke: I just listened. I listened.
Outro, Kevin Burke: 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 really like to thank the amazing team that helped to make this episode of Your Hometown with me, especially our Executive Producer, Robert Krulwich; Art Director, Nick Gregg; Editor and Sound Designer, Otis Streeter; Composer, performer Sterling Stefan; 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 to our partners this season, the Museum of the City of New York.
I’m also deeply grateful to the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and our other financial supporters for their commitment to this series.
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.