A Chat with Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC Part 1: On the many meanings of DMC, Hip Hop, and the appeal of Marvel Comics…

Darryl McDaniels by shoutoutny (Instagram) At about the time I launched this site Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC was making his entrance into the world of comics and, given the idea for Carabas was to cover music and comics along with other aspects of alternative culture, I kept a special eye out for what was happening with Darryl’s DMC. In November Darryl was over promoting his memoir Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide along with his comic work and I dropped by to his signing at Forbidden Planet. The next afternoon I had the pleasure of meeting him for a casual interview at The Grosvenor, on his comic, his music, depression, his charitable work and much more besides. DMC #1

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Here’s that very interview in three parts.

Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five. The Cold Crush Brothers / Four. The Fearless Four. You could quite imagine the early Hip Hop acts as comic books with ‘Marvel’ stamped in the top left-hand corner in the 70s. Darryl was growing up in Queens, “strictly a Marvel head” and reading those classic Marvel characters – drawing them as well – while dabbling with a bit of poetry on the side.

DMC - New York Why Marvel particularly? “Marvel were all about New York. Spider-Man lived in Queens just like me.” Also: “I knew the Lower East Side well” – where Ben Grimm, The Thing, grew up on Yancy Street (and one Jack Kirby lived).
Darryl has no problem describing his young self as a nerd. A straight-A student Darryl was writing poetry (later rapping) unseen in his basement.

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“I was always reading,” he says, not just comic books though of course that’s mainly what we’re talking.

But he tells me how he learned from them: Captain America gave him a road in to World War 2 history, the Silver Surfer into science. I mention Neil Gibson’s work with his TPub imprint who, alongside publishing comics, teaches the educational virtues of comic books in schools, how they promote literacy and act as a segue into reading books. It sounds very much like Darryl’s experience. DMC - Marvel Heroes
He and his brother, he tells me, had a huge Marvel collection. “I was really into them – until Hip Hop stole my brain.”
He’d draw comics back then in the 70s, but found he could express himself better through rhymes. One day his friend Joseph “Run” Simmons found his rhymes of him “pretending to be the Cold Crush” as I heard in a certain more recently released documentary which features Darryl. He taught himself to DJ in his basement with equipment given to him by his older brother though later, encouraged by Run, would move away from the turntablism side of Hip Hop and focus his poetic talents into rapping for the group that became.

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But names.

Darryl had worked through a number of Hip Hop aliases before settling on DMC, an abbreviation of his name, though before long it would stand for such things as ‘Devastating Mic Control’ – all good.

And when in ’83 Darryl and his friend Joseph “DJ Run” Simmons began moving toward getting themselves and a first record out there they needed two things, management and a name. They approached Simmons older brother Russell for the former to which he agreed on condition that he also supplied the latter.

DMC - Run-DMC 1 Well they must have figured they’d be getting some variation on the Hip Hop tradition, especially in the mind of an avid comic reader: Further: “Marvel taught me you introduce yourself with an adjective, and then who you are.” The Incredible Hulk. The Invincible Iron Man. The Amazing Spider-Man. “There’s fantasy within rapping,” Darryl observes.
The Devastating Two seems to have been the foremost possibility in his mind. However:
“Run-DMC”.

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We might quite imagine the pangs of angst of a younger Darryl, doubtless that comic fan still there within his new passion, quite aside from that of Joseph, on hearing this. In fact it seemed so bad a name to them that they saw their Hip Hop career disappearing round the u-bend in those four syllables. Metaphorically or literally “We were two grown men crying out loud” Darryl tells me.

But whether their own talent eclipsed and redefined a poor choice of name, whether Russell had some kind of industry spider-sense to know when differentiation is the smart thing, or whether it simply didn’t matter, they – of course – became one of the most influential Hip Hop acts in its history to date. DMC - Run-DMC 3
On an entirely positive point of naming it was Darryl who came to provide the pseudonym for the later joining Jason Mizell who Darryl styled “Jam-Master Jay”; Jay in his turn, admittedly on Russell Simmons insistence, contributed the band’s identity in terms of style which, in itself, propelled the group on an even higher trajectory, changed the Hip Hop scene, and actually represents a turning point in its evolution.

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Because those hip hop trailblazers who were heroes to Run-DMC were now hitting the stages wearing the kind of avant-garde flamboyant outfits that can only be pulled off by acts of the size they were. Making a conscious choice to genuinely ‘keep it real’ Run-DMC instead took on Jay’s street-wear image that, as happened, majored on the Adidas brand. Their raw, backing track-less tunes sounded to people like something you’d hear on the street; their outfits were what people on the street were wearing.

I love the fact, having now done more than a little homework myself, that they were rapping about things like being at university and not doing drugs (when people just assumed they did); yet, with musical and fashion stylings all the more familiar to residents of ‘the hood’ any difference of class or outlook was absolutely flattened.

People loved it. People loved them.

DMC - Elektra Assassin We talk more generally about the overlap of comics and music. Bill Sienkiewicz comes up whose controversial expressionistic art notably graced the pages of X-Men spin off The New Mutants, though is perhaps better known for the gorgeous watercolour abstractions in Elektra: Assassin based on a Frank Miller script; What I hadn’t realised was that he’d also done album covers, as Darryl tells me, for the Wu Tang Clan and EPMD. CA - DMC - EMPD - Business as Usual

It turns out that Darryl’s not the only fan of comics on the Hip Hop scene. He reminisces about a Comic Con he attended with other DJs and rappers (he mentions Pete Rock for one) where these ice-cool Rappers and DJs entered fan mode, eagerly chasing writers and artists around the Con and reconvening with the manic enthusiasm of the regular fan having had their comics signed.

That was then. Now DMC has a whole new meaning: Darryl Makes Comics, the comic in particular that he’s making also being DMC, the name of his alternate self as superhero…

 

Read Part 2 of A Chat with Darryl McDaniels here: On DMC the Comic, Commercialisation and Creator responsibility…

 

(NB. Title information and buy links for all of Darryl’s books can be found at the end of part 3)