Darryl "DMC" McDaniels
Forbidden Comics, New York City
Originally aired September 2015 on BBOX Radio from Brooklyn, NY.
Interview edited for length and clarity. All rights reserved.
So, comic books aren't an obvious project for an artist who helped bring hip-hop to the masses. Usually, it's a clothing line, or a fragrance, or being a professional ass hat.
But, as most artists, most people really, say - childhood influences you more than you know. And you spend the rest of your life trying to figure out what the hell happened to you between the ages of like five and ten.
DMC was shy kid who was afraid of performing. He focused the energies of different comic book characters to rev himself him. He'd be The Hulk to come alive on stage, for instance.
Comics were also the place he first saw the New York City he would come to love.
When he was reading this stuff he was a kid trapped in Hollis, Queens – nowhere near Manhattan. You know where Hollis, Queens is? It's East of Jamaica, Queens. It's practically Long Island. Portugal, even. Ain't noone who don't live in Hollis, Queens going to Hollis, Queens. It's too damn far.
Remember, this was pre-Internet. If you wanted to see what a place looked like you had to go find a picture of it.
It's why so many boys first saw a pair of boobs in a Playboy they found under their dad's bed, and not on something ending in dot-com.
So, in short, comics opened up a whole new world to DMC. It influenced his self-confidence, his style, his hip-hop. In short, the way he processed the world around him.
We're at Forbidden Comics just off Union Square.
Jesse Regis: First things first – have you ever been interviewed by a guy in a pink shirt?
DMC: Wow, that's a great question. I think not.
JR: This is the part where you compliment my nice shirt.
DMC: No, the shirt is nice! I was just getting ready to say that it was a nice shirt. There are good pink shirts, there are bad pink shirts. Yours is a cool pink shirt.
JR: Thank you so much. I love talking to people who are pursuing their passion projects. From when you had your first pair of turntables back in 1978, did you ever imagine being at Forbidden Planet Comics?
DMC: Never! Never. It was inconceivable. Not unconceivable. Inconceivable is the right way to pronounce it. We got a record on the Tougher Than Never album that starts, “Unconceivable, unbelievable...” and after the record was out in the stores our publicist comes and says hey don't you know you're pronouncing the word wrong? So, now we look like dummies for the last 25 years because the word is "inconceivable".
But, it was inconceivable, my first love and passion, was comic books. Comic books made me the superior, greatest MC and hip-hop king of rock. It was because my confidence, my imagination, my power, my strength, and my delivery was all from the comic books. So, I wouldn't be DMC of Run-DMC if it wasn't for the first love of comics. Now, to be here at Forbidden Planet with [a comic] is inconceivable.
JR: I was doing some research - you love the Marvel comic books – Avengers, Iron Man, Captain America, The Hulk. These things were an escape for you growing up, right?
DMC: Right, and it was New York. Batman, Green Lantern, Justice League, Flash, I loved all of that. Gotham was cool, Metropolis was cool, but Marvel was really New York so the reason why it was so appealing to me – I was a kid living in lower suburban middle class Queens, but I couldn't go nowhere. So, in Marvel I would see Park Avenue, I would see Central Park. The first time I saw the Roosevelt Island Tram was in Spider-Man. Then, the day that I went to the city and really saw it, I was shook. Oh my God, it does exist! So, the beautiful thing about Marvel is that it showed me the place where I was from without me having to go nowhere. It took me there. It put me on the streets of 42nd street or the Bowery. Reading Captain America and Luke Cage, Hell's Kitchen. I always wondered what that place was and the I found out it was a real place.
JR: Hey, I'm a Jersey boy, we're born to run, I get it.
DMC. Yeah, exactly!
JR: In a previous interview you called Superman “wishy-washy.” You must have gotten yourself into some fights.
DMC: No, no, no, no, no. Batman is dark, he's complicated. Superman didn't really become cool to me until the Christopher Reeve movie scene when he got drunk. Other than that he was always [mockingly] The Great American Hero, this and that. It wasn't until recently that Ken Lashley, who I'm working on issue two of the DMC universe with, he drew Doomsday getting ripped in two by Superman. That was the first time I really saw Superman get ill, and kill someone. I hope I'm right, but that's the first time Superman killed someone, I believe.
Anyway, me coming up with Superman on TV, Superman on lunch boxes, there was nothing Bruce Lee-ish about Superman. But, there was something Bruce Lee-ish about Spider-Man. Spider-Man had humor. The Hulk, Wolverine, all these guys had attitude. I would see Superman's real side come out in a scene with him as Clark Kent speaking to Jimmy Olsen. But, I've never seen Superman say, “I'm going to kick your motherfucking ass.” Like, Batman don't care. That's what I like about Batman.
JR: You said that The Hulk brought you out of your shell. Do you still consider The Hulk your spirit-Superhero?
DMC: Yeah! I'm a really nice guy, but you don't want to make me mad. I like that about him. As a kid, even The Hulk hated Bruce Banner. You make The Hulk mad if you mention the puny Bruce Banner. I related to The Hulk because as a kid living in New York City I wasn't in no gang, I wasn't selling drugs, I didn't want to rob houses, I didn't want to do stick-ups. I wanted to go home and read comic books and play with my army men. I got picked on. When I read The Hulk it just let me know that there's this other side of me that I shouldn't allow people to see. Most people say, “I like The Hulk because I like to go berserk on you. Hulk allowed me to control myself and not kill the bully. Imagine, let the bully take the 75 cents, whatever, whatever. Now every kid that bullied me turned on the TV in 1983 and saw me on MTV - “Rock Box,” what? Now, bully, what you got to say about that – bow down!
So, I'm lucky that I didn't just go Hulk on the bully, and kill him and have to go through juvenile detention. Comic books kind of made me see. I always tell people that comic books ain't really make believe. They give you personality, they educate you. In school, I was a good student because I would learn about WWII in history, but I couldn't wait to get home to read Captain America because he took me there. I would learn about Jupiter and Mars and the planets – Silver Surfer would take me there. So, when it came time to take the test on Friday, oh I know the planets I was just hanging with the Silver Surfer!
Someone once told me the word “imagination” is just image – in. You create this image. A thought is a thing. They say thoughts are things so I was a great student. That's why when Run came to my house and found my rhyme books, he was like what is the “microphone master?” The Devastating Mic Controller. Marvel comics was always the Amazing Spider-Man – a description of who you are. So, when I got on the microphone, my confidence – I'm not just going to be Easy-E. I'm not just going to be The Grandmaster Flash. I'm going to be the Devastating Mic Controlling DMC. I'm going to be the Microphone Master DMC. Me saying that I'm the King of Rock was me saying I'm the son of Odin, son of Byford, brother of Al, my mother...you know what I'm saying!? It was me declaring my divinity. Now people go back and listen to my rhymes and realize it was one comic book adventure.
JR: Whoa, don't want to make you angry! You decided to set the character in your comic in 1985. Why did you pick the 80's New York City to set your characters in?
DMC: That was a collective choice for me and my editors, but we wanted to use the 80's because of this. It's the truth. The 80's was one of the most visually, musically, artistic, fashion [eras]. The 80's was a powerful era of creativity. Keith Haring, Basquiat, Run-DMC, Grandmaster Flash, Beastie Boys, the Ramones, Lou Reed, Debbie Harry made a rap record! If you came to New York City, if you came to the area that we're in, and you went into Danceteria – there's Lou Reed over there, there's the Ramones over there, there's Run-DMC, there's the Beastie Boys over there, there's LL [Cool J], there's Rick Rubin standing over there, there's Basquiat! Basquiat died with a ticket to the Run-DMC show in his pocket. He saw a documentary. His boys said when you come back from France we'll take you to see them. Raheem Karim even he was going to see Run-DMC. It was a crazy time, but all the conditions that exist now – violence, gangs, guns – now you have the Crips and Bloods but back then you had the Black Skulls, Savage Skulls...I tell kids now you just got two big gangs to worry about. I had 50 to worry about as a kid trying to survive here!
All the economic and social conditions that plague every generation, with the 80's we solved it with our creativity and it was all inclusive. Some of the dudes were like, “I don't even know how to read or write, so I could never be a rapper.” But, you like that music so you could be a DJ. If you don't know nothing about music and electronics – when you hear that music - man get that box man we need a dance floor – spin on my head. Grandmaster Flash was like a real live superhero to me. To see Melle Mel, oh my God. That's Kool Moe Dee over there! You go Busy Bee. Hip-hop, the break dancers, the moves – they were like Kung-Fu. They were like real life superheroes.
The 80's was a time where it was a desolate, dark, depressing universe, but each individual had some type of super power so we said we're going to use it. The 80's New York City in my book is a character. But, deeper than that, to make it really authentic for the comic book lovers, it looks like the 80's, but is it the future...? You notice when you look at Total Recall the remake, the way the city looks dark and polluted, okay it looks like the 80's, but is it the 80's back in the day, or is it the 80's that's coming? That's the question. It makes people go, “Yo! That's dope!” When they show a futuristic thing, it could be after the apocalypse.
JR: Speaking of the future versus the past, you put this character in your comic book in Adidas, put a rope chain on him, and a turtleneck. A lot of people run from their past but you're someone that seems to embrace it.
DMC: Because my past is eternal. Everything else comes and goes. My old-school is in a time period. It's a way of creatively and artistically presenting to the world who I am. Whether it's through my dance, whether it's through my writing, whether it's through my comic book, whether it's through my music, whether it's using rock and roll or using a James Brown break beat, whether it's I'm wearing glasses or not, where I shave my beard or not. Old-school is a consciousness that is eternal. Everything after old-school dies. It's almost like this – classic rock. Classic doesn't mean old. Classic means everything better than everything after it for eternity. There's records in hip-hop that four years ago were incredible and now nobody want to hear it. But, you can always throw on “Peter Piper” and “My Adidas” forever. So, what I am, what I experienced as a little kid, it wasn't a time/generation thing. It was a feeling and feelings never die.
JR: It must make you pretty happy that all this old-school hip-hop is ending up on the radio again and even inching out classic rock just a little bit.
DMC: Well, it's cool – it's the same thing. The beautiful thing about us is that when you think about all the great Beatles records, and you think about all the great [Rolling] Stones' records, and you think of all the great Led Zeppelin records, and you think about all the great Bob Dylan records, and you think about all the great blues records – when you sit down and speak to Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Steven Tyler, and Joe Perry, they don't talk about themselves. They talk about the great Blues artists that influenced them. All the rock gods – Eric Clapton. So when you sit down and talk to me, I'm not going to talk about Run-DMC. Run-DMC ain't really did nothing.
Grandmaster Flash, all the guys before me, allowed me to bring [this] to the world. All Run-DMC really did, I said it on Adidas – we took the beat from the street and put it on TV. We gave people an inside view of what the kids and the young people were already doing. Anyway, if I never would have never made a record, if hip-hop would have never got on TV, we would have still been in the park break dancing, and DJ-ing, and writing graffiti, and dressing the way we dress. That's eternal.
Kids now – I was in the mall one time – and the lady came over to me and said, “DMC I need to take your picture,” the young girl [she was with] was like, “No, you got to take my picture with him first.” Her mother was like, “What do you know about this.” She said, “Old-school is eternal!” I was like, “Woooooow.” See, most kids, even though it seems like an older thing their mother and father do, they know it means something.
Most kids who were 18-21 can't go listen to the artists that they liked five years ago, but we always had evolution. We always had constant representation. That will never change. My book represents the constant evolution of, not of some make believe superhero world, but it represents the evolution, the disillusion, the progress and the regression of society and civilization. That's what hip-hop always represented. Put it like this – in the 70's, before disco died, remember everyone was saying disco sucks. But, Run-DMC had “Walk This Way,” out, the Raising Hell album was out, and they still had doubts in us. “DMC, where you think you're going to be in five years?” I screamed at the journalist that asked me that question, “In ten years I'll be back here doing an interview with you!” Fifteen years go by [I see him] and he puts his hand up and says, “Fifteen years ago I asked you where you will be in five years and you damn near cursed me out.” It's eternal.
Little kids that hear “Tricky,” little kids that hear “My Adidas” they go, "I was two years old when my mother and father was playing that music." It wasn't about I'm going to be old like Run-DMC. They feel like I felt when they were 18. I think that's why I'm able to do this comic book. [Business associates] Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez and Riggs Morales who, by the way, was with Eminem through the whole journey of Shady Records, when we made this comic book they said DMC, don't do this comic book as DMC the Run-DMC guy. This didn't start just because you are a recording artist. Do it as Little Darryl, the kid who grew up reading comics. That's why it's authentic.
Everything we want to do, we do it with integrity. The old-school hip-hop, when we speak, it's no disrespect to the hip-hop now. They do what they do, but one thing that we have that no other generation of hip-hop will have is integrity. Audience first. Audience first. We care about the people listening, buying and coming to the shows, first. Then comes record sales and egos and all of that other fun stuff.