A Chat with Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC Part 3: On Self Image, Depression, and the Good Coming from the Bad (and Michael Jackson?!!!)

DMC - In Forbidden Planet

Part 3 of my interview with Darryl McDaniels. If you haven’t already you can read Part 1 here or Part 2 here.

When I was first planning a series of casual interviews with creators I had a mind – in keeping with the thought behind this website – to covering something of the fantastical, of the musical and of the ethical-slash-charitable. In Darryl McDaniels of Run-DMC I could hardly have a better person to sit down with on all scores. We’d talked music of course and his comic’s enterprise, but I was aware also of his charitable work and was keen to find out more.

A bit of context first though, and partly we’ve already covered this in Darryl’s early love of superhero comics. Much of the rest is perhaps best explained by Darryl’s autobiography which he’s promoting while over: Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide, his memoir from the 80’s to the present day.

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In his early 30’s / the late 90’s after the boom of the group’s success, Darryl found himself spiralling into depression and excessive alcohol use and it’s not a huge leap to understand how one feeds the other, even if each alone is significantly misunderstood, even today. Run-DMC had a resurgence of popularity after House DJ Jason Nevins remixed their debut single ‘It’s Like That’ in 1997. But as far as new material went, as Darryl relates, Run and Jay wanted more of the same: not being unoriginal of course but producing more of the kind of material they were known for. They liked what they’d been doing, they liked what Darryl had done, and what they were doing had worked.

Darryl however had had thoughts of taking the band in another direction. But, around this time, he’d stopped expressing his feelings.

He reflects on how this can be difficult to do, and become more so. And that can be even harder in the first place in the killer music biz in which he’d found himself: he talks of the lying and cheating that was happening around him, if not necessarily or always in his presence. He also talks of how, later in therapy, he came to understand the words he would have wanted to use, words along the lines of, simply, ‘I’m not okay with you doing that around me’.

Before then it was the three of them making decisions on music together. Now Darryl found himself agreeing to what he was being told to do. Somewhere on their journey Darryl had ended up trying to please other people.

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Expressing one’s feelings can be difficult to do, especially with something you’re so personally involved in – and the more potentially dangerous not to. Depression, as we discuss, something we both have no little experience of, develops from  some combination of physical (chemical) and environmental predisposition and current personal circumstances, some more immediate cause. Not expressing himself and becoming a follower added a third strand to Darryl’s downward spiral.

“You don’t want to upset yourself,” Darryl tells me, “or those around you.”

In the moral confusion of the cut-throat music industry, in the confusion of public super(star) identity, in the confusion of creative direction DMC came first: the needs of Darryl McDaniel went by the wayside.

 

I share my feeling that there’s an all too common feature of the superstar celebrity existence, where the greater public persona contrasts the more strongly with, actually contributes greatly to, a problematic private identity. There are numerous examples of course and I’m thinking about people like Robbie Williams, the sadly missed David Bowie – but all the more of Michael Jackson… And it’s this that prompts a natural interlude in what is of course a fairly heavy subject, but also a pretty extraordinary revelation.

“We were going to make a record with Michael Jackson!”

DMC - Twitter profile Because he wanted to: Michael Jackson wanted to. He’d liked what they did with Walk This Way and approached them regarding a collaboration. He wanted to rhyme with them. Not Run-DMC and Michael Jackson, more Michael being one of four. So they actually met a few times and Darryl & co witnessed Michael beatboxing which must have been something to behold. DMC - Michael Jackson Smooth Criminal

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“He wanted to do some straight up Hip Hop,” Darryl tells me and conveys something of how it would have been from their discussion. Like:

“Run go!” <Run raps, hands over>

“D go!” <likewise, then>

“Michael go!”

That’s exactly how Darryl puts it. And you have to say, whether or not you’re a fan of MJ, that really would have been something. But any time Run-DMC weren’t touring and had time to focus Michael was away on tour himself – and vice versa.

“We joke that we were too busy to make a record with Michael Jackson.”

 

It’s a rather more upbeat diversion, though, thankfully with the dark times now being in Darryl’s past, it’s far from a difficult subject to continue with. Quite how his own experience relates to those other musicians mentioned is another subject but the depression, the drinking and the lack of self-expression led to him feeling and being less creative. The whole combination led to him sinking into acute depression and becoming prone to suicidal thoughts. What happened then and after is the subject of Darryl’s autobiography, something he says perhaps best summarises what he feels he learned from the experience:

“It’s important to focus on your truth. Your truth can help the other person.”

And there’s something here, a common thread in our conversation and actually in what I’d read ahead of what motivates Darryl, and that’s a genuine desire and commitment to do something positive – which is why he made sure his autobiography includes information and contact details of support for depression. Brilliant stuff. All too often the intent is there without the presence of mind to see the opportunities to help any situation might offer.

In fact a big revelation that came to Darryl, something that came about during his worst times and something that would contribute to his climb from them, is that he was adopted, and he tells the story of how he found his birth mother in his biography. He later joined the campaign to restore adopted adult’s access to their birth certificates and testified to the New Jersey State Legislature. The campaign was successful and access was restored on the 1st January of this year.

But there’s a whole lot more that Darryl’s involved with. For one he’s on the Board of Director’s of Children’s Rights which has oversight on child welfare systems; he’s also on that of the Garden of Dreams Foundation (with Whoopi Goldberg and more) which works with the Madison Square Garden Company to positively impact the lives of children in the tri-state area living with or in homelessness, extreme poverty, illness and foster care.

More than this, the latter – foster care – being a particular concern of Darryl’s, he set up the Felix Organisation with Sheila Jaffe who was also adopted.

DMC - The Felix Organisation - Sheila and Darryl

As its website relates:

“For youth who age out of the foster care system, approximately:

  • 20% struggle with homelessness
  • 50% do not complete high school
  • 40% are unemployed
  • 36% are arrested
  • 22% are incarcerated
  • 50% of girls are pregnant within 12-18 months of leaving foster care.
Darryl McDaniels by fostering_scholars (Instagram) The organisation’s goal – called Felix I’m sure for the luck its founders feel deeply for being “taken home”, adopted – is to provide facilities through which disadvantaged children can enjoy education, recreation and learn life skills. They want to give a chance to people who didn’t have their luck, sponsoring and running summer camps, providing training, textbooks and tutoring, and paying for sports, film and other events for disadvantaged foster children. They’re focused on the key urban areas of New York City and Los Angeles but Darryl would understandably like to see something of this nature in every state. He’s received much deserved recognition for all this, having been presented with the Congressional Angels in Adoption Award for his work with children in foster care, and also for his promotion of adoption.

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We’re still chatting away some 45 minutes after the half hour we were meant to have and, knowing we’ll have to finish soon, I just had to ask Darryl about his feelings on Baz Luhrmann and Stephen Adly Guirgis’s The Get Down. It debuted on Netflix last year and, I have to say, it just blew me away. As happens he’s actually yet to see it but is certainly intrigued even if – and especially because – his Hip Hop contemporaries have been less impressed.

“Everyone prior to 1979 doesn’t like it,” he tells me.

Whether or not Darryl ultimately approves of Luhrmann and Guirgis’s fictionalised Hip Hop drama there’s another Netflix original on that very matter of a factual nature. It’s called Hip Hop Evolution which features, amongst many others, one Darryl McDaniels, and a damn fine documentary it is too. Neither are at all bad places to explore more of what you’ve read here and witness the scene that Darryl and co saw developing around them in their youths, and in which they made their names.

It’s a world of egos and alter egos, in which music can be used as a power to speak out against injustice, where success can change people or bring them low, but ultimately – to borrow the words of a great man, the fictional Uncle Ben and the very real Stan Lee – where good people can use great power with great responsibility.

DMC - The Get Down
DMC - Hip Hop Evolution

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The same goes whether you’re a spiritually empowered martial arts superhero or an non-superpowered person who champions child welfare, adoptees rights, comment on social concerns through creating fantastical worlds and characters, and giving deserving, aspiring creators the opportunity to show what they can do.

 

It was an absolute pleasure to have the opportunity to chat on all this with Darryl. You might well find some more developments on what he’s working on on this very site in the not too distant future, but I’d thoroughly recommend checking out DMC the comic of which there’s more on and links below.

Thanks for reading and a big thanks to Darryl and his manager for sparing the time to talk.

Tim Bayley

@timbayley1

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Scroll down for details of Darryl’s books with Forbidden Planet buy links. You might also like to check out my casual interview with 2000 AD Creator, Editor and Writer Pat Mills here… CA - LBF 16 - PM2

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Darryl’s Books: DMC and Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide

Signed copies (at time of writing) available from Forbidden Planet:

DMC #1 DMC #1 King Size DMC #2
DMC #1 (£17.99) DMC #1 King Size (£35.99 – £6 off to £29.99) DMC #2

 

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TEN WAYS NOT TO COMMIT SUICIDE
Aug
Darryl McDaniels
9780062368775
Harpercollins
HB
£16.99
In this surprising and moving memoir, the legendary rap star and cofounder of Run D.M.C. keeps it a hundred percent, speaking out about his battle with depression and overcoming suicidal thoughts—one of the most devastating yet little known health issues plaguing the black community today.
As one third of the legendary rap group Run D.M.C., Darryl “DMC” McDaniels—aka Legendary MC, The Devastating Mic Controller, and the King of Rock—had it all: talent, money, fame, prestige. While hitting #1 on the Billboard charts was exhilarating, the group’s success soon became overwhelming. A creative guy who enjoyed being at home alone or with his family, DMC turned to alcohol to numb himself, a retreat that became an addiction. For years, he went through the motions. But in 1997, when intoxication could no longer keep the pain at bay, he plunged into severe depression and became suicidal. He wasn’t alone. During the same period, suicide became the number three leading cause of death among black people—a health crisis that continues to this day.
In this riveting memoir, DMC speaks openly about his emotional and psychological struggles and the impact on his life, and addresses the many reasons that led him—and thousands of others—to consider suicide. Some of the factors include not being true to who you are, feelings of loneliness, isolation, and alienation, and a lack of understanding and support from friends and family when it’s needed most. He also provides essential information on resources for getting help. Revealing how even the most successful people can suffer from depression, DMC offers inspiration for everyone in pain—information and insight that he hopes can help save other lives.
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