Darryl Matthews McDaniels grew up in Queens, New York. Along the way, he met Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, who was known as a DJ in the neighborhood. And around the eighth grade, DMC was introduced to Joseph “Run” Simmons. The trio would later form a group called Run-DMC and skyrocket to fame in the 1980s.
As a unit, they hold many firsts, such as the first to have a rap album go gold (Run-DMC), the first hip hop group to go platinum (King of Rock), the first rappers to have a multiplatinum-selling album (Raising Hell), the first to have their music videos played on MTV and, on top of many more notable feats, they became the first MCs to sign an endorsement deal with a sports company (Adidas).
Their legacy is far too dense to stuff into one sit-down, but DMC, an icon and now comic book creator, does a great job at talking through the highlights of it all throughout this “Drink Champs” discussion. To summarize, below are nine major takeaways. Watch the full interview here.
1. On the success of Run-DMC
Run-DMC emerged as one of the biggest acts in music during the 1980s. According to DMC, that was intentional. “Our thing was to be the best DJs and MCs that people would ever see forever,” he said.
DMC also revealed the key to the group’s success: “We took the beat from the street and put it on TV, as it is, in its form, no explanations to the s**t.” He added, “When we was doing that, we knew d**n, we representing the f**king culture. And Jay was like, ‘We always gotta watch what we say.’ And we would never go for any fake s**t.”
While talking about the new heights that they were able to reach, DMC voiced, “Nobody had ever seen what we did in hip hop because the people before us that created it didn’t do it. [Melle] Mel, and [Grandmaster] Caz and all of them was mad at us when we first came out.”
2. On the greatest period in hip hop
This past summer, hip hop celebrated its 50th anniversary. As a pioneer of the genre and on the note of making “beat jams” like “Sucker MCs,” DMC chimed in on the momentous landmark with his thoughts on the best era.
“The greatest period in hip hop is the history before recorded rap,” he said. “Think about it — the 50th celebration of hip hop only celebrated record-making muthaf**kas. It wasn’t the 50th anniversary of hip hop; it was the 50th anniversary of recorded rap… It wasn’t about DJing, MCing, breakdancing, graffiti and the whole s**t.”
3. On creating Jam Master Jay’s stage name
After the trio made “Hard Times,” they grew more popular on a national scale and naturally, fans became eager to know who the DJ was in the back. With that in mind, they began to brand Jam Master Jay, who originally wanted to be called Jazzy Jay. DMC brainstormed another fresh moniker to avoid biting the name of DJ Jazzy Jeff.
He thought about how the word “jam” referred to a smash record and a party, which set off a light bulb in his head. “I’m sitting here [like], ‘Oh my God, Jay’s the master of it all.’ And it just so happened that his name was Jay.” When the suggestion was presented, Jay chanted the title to himself and the rest was history. “Muthaf**ka went out and got a JMJ belt, a JMJ chain. So all of the pieces were just falling into place,” DMC remembered.
4. On his love for comic books
DMC’s love for comics dates to when he was a young kid. “I had every Marvel comic book in existence,” he recalled. “Stan Lee blew my f**king mind… He put the superheroes really in New York. So that s**t is real to me.”
Growing up, the budding star was convinced by his older brother to sell some of his comic books for turntables, which sparked the start of DMC’s career in hip hop as he learned how to DJ. Additionally, he became infatuated with rap once he heard Big Bank Hank rhyme about Superman on “Rapper’s Delight.”
Lastly, DMC dove into what he learned from Lee. “Stan Lee taught me, ‘Before you tell the world who you are, find an adjective that’s powerful, productive and positive. And put it before it,’” DMC remarked. He now does that in his own comic book series as well as in his children’s book, “Darryl’s Dream,” in collaboration with Nickelodeon.
5. On Pete Rock reviving Run-DMC’s career in the 1990s
Pete Rock had a very significant impact on Run-DMC’s revival in the 1990s. “We wasn’t participating as much. We wasn’t on the radio, we wasn’t on the charts and we didn’t have a video,” DMC recalled. Noting that, Rock told the group, “I got y’all. Come over [to] my house.”
They went out to Mount Vernon and started listening through beats on the MPC that Rock possessed. The producer creatively cut DMC’s “down with the king” lyrics from “Run’s House” and after fleshing it out into a full record, the group had another hit on their hands with the gold-selling single and album of the same name. “What Run-DMC did for Aerosmith, Pete Rock did for us. He brought us back,” DMC asserted. “Pete Rock saved our careers.”
6. On Run-DMC being linked to the night Tupac was fatally shot
DMC revealed that all three members of Run-DMC were supposed to be riding with Tupac when the rapper was fatally shot in 1996. The legendary triplet was hired by Death Row Records to perform at the after-party following the Mike Tyson and Bruce Seldon fight in Las Vegas. Suge Knight went to pick them up at the beginning of the night, but things fell through.
“Me, Run and Jay were supposed to be in that back seat,” DMC revealed. “The only reason we didn’t ride to the fight with Pac was because Jay was getting dressed.” Their performance got canceled for obvious reasons, but Run-DMC didn’t find out why until they heard that Tupac got shot the next morning.
7. On finding out that he was adopted
In 1990, DMC was diagnosed with acute pancreatitis due to a bout with alcoholism. Feeling like he no longer wanted to live, despite “Down with the King” taking off, DMC decided to write a book to let the world know who he was personally. During its creation, he called his parents to gather facts and came across some life-altering news.
“I found out I was adopted at age 35. Then I found out that I was in foster care,” he said. Elsewhere, DMC added that his entire adoptive family kept the secret from him for decades because they were scared that he would go back to his biological family.
DMC’s adoptive parents also told him they thought he was Dominican. He ran with it, did his research, and began charting a new path to embrace his assumed Latino history. After five years, the lyricist found his birth mother and figured out that in reality, he had no Dominican relations. “I’m getting ready to do a movie about that situation,” he confirmed.
8. On being endorsed by Adidas
Run-DMC, who became widely known for their streetwear, would constantly opt to don the Three Stripes (specifically, the Superstars with no laces) on their come-up, even releasing a dedication to the company with “My Adidas” in 1986. The movement of the record led to a fruitful partnership, as Adidas became the first sportswear company to endorse hip hop artists.
When asked about their close affiliation to the brand, DMC said, “We gave them [promotional marketing] and we solidified them. We took them to lifestyle in fashion.” DMC also revealed why they wore Shell Toes in the first place. “It was an economic decision to select Adidas,” he said in reference to the durability of the shoe.
9. On what he wants to accomplish next
DMC and his group members have shifted the culture in a number of ways. But he still has a strong desire to make more history. The icon noted that he wants to “change” Hollywood.
N.O.R.E. suggested that DMC recruit other rappers to bring into his comic book universe, to which he responded, “Well, when I get my network on Cartoon Network, that’s what I’m going for.” He even took it a step further and spoke about his end goal in the entertainment space: “I even want to do DMC TV, [like] what MTV used to be,” the icon said while referencing his desire to fully showcase the layers of hip hop and what it can do/has done for the world.