Exclusive Interview: Hip Hop Legend DMC on His New Comic, Diversity, and Addiction Recovery

“The King of Rock” is about to “crash through” the walls of the comic industry.  While hip hop fans know DMC, AKA Darryl McDaniels, as one of the greatest MCs in history, he is also a total comic book head that can geek out with the best of us.  Earlier this year, McDaniels launched his own comic company, Darryl Makes Comics.  The first release of McDaniels’s new venture, appropriately titled DMC, is set to drop on October 29, 2014. McDaniels’s origin story is similar to many comic book heroes.  Like most of the Marvel U, he is NY-bred.  McDaniels grew up a shy comic book lover in Hollis, Queens. (In nearby Forrest Hills, another shy, bookish cat named Peter Parker grew up.)  While McDaniels has met great success in the rap game as a member of Run-DMC, like all great heroes, he has had to overcome his own personal struggles.  He has emerged triumphant, and is about to live his dream of becoming his own superhero! I was blessed with the opportunity to talk with McDaniels at this year’s NY Comic Con.  As you read this interview, I want you to understand how much passion he speaks with.  His comic will embody hip hop culture.  It takes place in a world filled with b-boys and b-girls, with graffiti painted throughout.  But he is quick to point out that he wants to create an entire universe that will represent people from all backgrounds and walks of life. Personally, this interview means so much to me because, like McDaniels, I am a recovering alcoholic.  Before getting sober, at a time when I felt isolated from family and humanity as a whole, it impacted me significantly to hear McDaniel’s talk openly about his own struggles with addiction. Below, McDaniels provides insight into what motivated his latest offering, geeks creating everything cool, diversity in comics, education, hip hop, and his recovery from alcoholism.

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UTF: Run-DMC broke down a lot of walls and your playing with Aerosmith crossed genres and exposed new demographics to hip hop.  How is your comic going to break down walls?

Hip hop is influenced by everything creative.  For me, before hip hop came over the bridge from the Bronx to change my life, I went to Catholic school my whole life, you know what I’m saying, so growing up it was school.  It was comic books. DMC_Issue0RegularCover It was Bruce Lee.  It was graffiti.  It was beats.  It was break dancing.  It was that whole culture of hip hop where comic books seems to be so separated  from all other art forms.  People don’t realize it’s a huge part.  Most of the producers, Pete Rock- big comic book head; Method Man, Ghostface, DMC, Just Blaze… The Editor in Chief of the New York Post, I was just meeting with him about something different.  I brought up comic books.  He’s a big comic book head. So I think the wall I’m breaking down is people being afraid to talk about their love for comic books.  It’s not a corny thing.  It’s one of the coolest things ever that is part of all creative people’s DNA.

UTF: What do you think about that geek stereotype, where in reality it’s a lot browner?

Right, right, right, right.  I think by me doing it it’s going to reverse the misconception that geeks ain’t cool.  The reason why this world has everything that is cool and influential is because of geeks- whether it’s a geek who loves music, whether it’s a geek who loves art, whether it’s a geek who loves science.  There would be nothing for the people who think they cool to embrace to say, “Whoa, that’s me”, whether it’s comic book art, whether it’s a story, whether it’s a movie, whether it’s a song.  The geeks create everything so I think what I’mma do is I’m going to reverse that stereotypical thing- if you’re into comics, and if you’re into super heroes, and if you’re into playing with toys that you’re a geek.

UTF: Your music may not have preached, but it was very political because it was putting out positive messages to our society. How is your comic book going to be political?

The comic book is going to be very political because I’m not going to be afraid to address all the issues that exist in society whether it’s inflation, whether it’s the government, whether it’s the conditions of crime, poverty.  We going to cover all of those things, the gang banging and drug dealing.  We going to cover unemployment so my comic book IS a reflection of the community, the society, and conditions that exist not only in the 80s, but continuously. … People seem to forget that hip hop was always so evolutionary, and revolutionary.…So Run-DMC, LL, The Beastie Boys, those rappers who wasn’t labeled as politically, socially conscious rappers, our hip hop was already that because whether it was a record, whether it was a graffiti, whether it was spoken word, whether it was a break dance, it represented those conditions that are continually the things that we fight for….The comic book is going to have the art.  The comic book is going to have the style.  The comic book is going to have the consciousness of what hip hop… is economically, politically, and socially relevant, if that’s the word.

UTF: Nice.  What do you think about the lack of diversity in comics right now?

The lack of diversity is because that wall it still set up.  You know what I’m saying?  The lack of diversity is because there’s DMC_Issue0RegularCoverindividuals who are highly creative who… don’t get the chance because the powers that be don’t let them.  It’s just like in music, but the lack of diversity just comes from a lot of people having the gift and the presentation, but… either don’t know who to go to to get it presented, or they’re thinking, “Man, I’ll never get presented.” I got to bring, the same thing Run-DMC did, Chuck D said, “Run-DMC created that problem where we gave everybody confidence.”   We realized that I don’t got to look and sound like you , but I could still be part of you. Ice Cube has said … They had asked Ice Cube what was so special about the old school, and he said, “The diversity.”  The guy on the radio was like. “Yeah, but everybody just rapping.”  But then Ice Cube said something that was really powerful.  He said, “Yeah, but you have N.W.A.  You have Run-DMC.  You have LL Cool J.  You have De La Soul.  You have the Beastie Boys.  You have Tribe Called Quest, Kool G Rap, Public Enemy, Erik B. & Rakim, Stetsasonic, Big Daddy Kane.  Now that you have all of these guys,” he said, “We all  were from the same street corners, but we all were different.”

UTF: Uh huh.

Even when it comes up in art, we have to have a presentation where everything is allowed to be presented.  The Asian people, the Latino people, the Italian people, and the black people, for instance, the reason why music is more powerful than politics and religion combined is because not just music, the arts, the reason why that is so powerful because it doesn’t matter if you’re Jewish and I’m a Muslim, we all go through the same problems.  Peer pressure.  You hate your government.  I’m in love with that girl. I hate my brother.  I want my toys.  I’m not hungry.  So their lives, it’s all about culture.  All cultures are parallel so I think this comic book will be diverse because … Oh, another thing I want to say about the comic book is the comic book isn’t just based on DMC.  I’m just the first hero in this universe.

UTF: Yup.

And the DMC super hero is not a rapping DMC. In this universe that I’m talking to you right now, this universe that’s alive and breathing and exists, I’m DMC, the king of rock, the third guy from Run-DMC, but in the comic book universe that is alive and breathing and artistically creative and something that is tangible and has all the emotions there, Darryl McDaniels, who is now McDaniels, didn’t grow up to be DMC the rapper guy. He grew up to be a real super hero… In the comic book, I’m a teacher, so I try to keep the education thing there because that was always important to me the same way I rapped about school, you know, “I’m DMC, in the place to be, I go to St. John’s University”.  I was a good student growing up so if I wasn’t rapping I’d have been a teacher.  You know what I’m saying?  I don’t think I would have been in the NFL…. I don’t think I’d have been Steve Jobs.  I had a good education I was going to share that. … I’ll be the teacher trying to remove the veil of that separation of the generation gap.  There’s not a generation gap.  There’s an information gap.  The reason why hip hop is powerful especially to the old school generation is we listened to the elders.  We wanted to educate ourselves, and we took those two essential ingredients and we applied it to the lives we lived and then we put it on records for the younger kids.  I’ve learned a lot.  I didn’t know that Garrett Morgan invented the traffic light, a black man, but KRS One taught me that….   There was so many things that I didn’t get taught in school that I learned from a rap record.  So I’m trying to use that comic book … It’s not a record, but I’m using it in the same way.

UTF: Awesome.  You influenced me greatly with your recovery.  I got sober seven and a half years ago.

I’ve been sober ten.

UTF: Ten?

No, nine.

UTF: Nine.

2004.

UTF: Yup, and I remember seeing a shy guy like you, a really humble guy, who hit his bottom at the top influenced me so much.  How has the recovery influenced the origin of DMC as a super hero?

Oh, it’s powerful because where I thought that I needed something that was outside of me to help me live, communicate, and be creative and have confidence, I realized that I don’t need … I don’t need a artificial substance to give me that…. The whole recovery is I always thought that I needed a 40 ounce to rhyme.  The first show that I did with Run before I was even in the group, he brought me to do a show with him in Queens one time and I drunk a whole fifth of Southern Comfort.  I went up there.  I said my rhymes over seven minutes of funk, but even with the alcohol, I pulled my hood real tight and I stood by the side of the speaker and Run said this to me.  He said, “D, that was good, but next time you’ve got to stand in front of the audience.  So in reality, even with the alcohol I still was afraid.

UTF: How are you facing your fears today?

I face them.  I face them.  I always go, “What would The Hulk do?  What would Spiderman do?”  You know what I’m saying?  And that’s what you got to do.  That’s the whole thing.  If you listen to my rhyme, “King of rock, crash through walls, smash through floors, bust through ceilings and knock down … I’m the devastating mic controller DMC, and can’t nobody mess around with me.  I’m the king of rock, rap and of rhyme.  I deal what I feel and it feels fine.”  All of that dynamic attacking vocal stuff was from the comic books because that’s all I had as a kid.

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UTF: Awesome.  What would Little DMC think of Big DMC today?

Little DMC would think Big DMC Is a real-life super hero.

UTF: Yeah, baby!  Thank you so much for your time. The DMC graphic novel is set to be released on October 29, 2014.  Look for it in your local comic book shop.  Check out the Darryl Makes Comics website here, and stay up to date on Darryl Makes Comics news by following their Facebook page here.

Author
Jay Deitcher is a writer and licensed social worker from Albany, NY. He is currently taking MFA courses at the College of St. Rose. You can read his other work at JayDeitcher.com.