Music is a cutthroat, disrespectful, low-life, motherfucking, crab-ass, lyin’, deceivin’, stab-you-in-the-back type of business, and that’s just the good part of it!” Darryl “DMC” McDaniels laughs (perhaps channeling Hunter S Thompson’s famous line about the record business). We’re discussing the Devastating Mic Controller’s autobiography Ten Ways Not to Kill Yourself, which he has also forcefully voiced as an audiobook.
It is a raw, revealing memoir which bleeds like a stab wound. “I’m an addict,” writes DMC, the man who rhymed so enduringly about the crack epidemic onMary, Mary. “For most of my early life, I smoked and snorted and guzzled my way through almost every day.”
Lowering his booming voice a little, he adds: “If your soul is not right with what you’re doing, you will fall apart, like I did.”
When Eminem inducted Run-DMC into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, the second hip-hop group to make it after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, he called them “something tough. Something dangerous. Something beautiful and something unique. They were the first movie stars of rap … they are the Beatles”.
“That’s crazy,” DMC tells me, friendly and loquacious, sitting in his New Jersey home. “Busta Rhymes said, ‘Run-DMC didn’t change music, they changed everything’.”
DMC, Joe “Run” Simmons and their DJ Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell were hip-hop’s first superstars. Between 1983 and 1988 the albums Run-DMC, King of Rock, Raising Hell and Tougher Than Leather unleashed classic tracks such as Hard Times, It’s Tricky, Proud to Be Black, Mary, Mary, and Walk This Way. (Later highlights include Ghostbusters and Bounce.) “Run-DMC were so exciting live,” Jurassic 5’s Chali 2na told me.
Despite all Run-DMC’s success, after Tougher Than Leather DMC collapsed into alcoholism, depression and OCD, as he increasingly lost his voice to spasmodic dysphonia, in which the larynx spasms during speech. For years, he recalls, he suffered suicidal thoughts. He had rising creative and personal conflicts with producer Russell Simmons, Jay and, especially, Run (“anal as hell”). His childhood friendship with Run degenerated into a dysfunctional business relationship. DMC felt hustled by Run’s pastor E Bernard Jordan. By 1997, he “avoided Run like a virus”. In Japan later that year, hawking remixes (one of which, Jason Nevins’s take on It’s Like That, was nevertheless an international smash, selling 5m copies), DMC “felt used, pimped and dirty … Milk this cow till there’s powdered music coming out the udders.”
When Ice-T asked Run how it was being top of the rap game, Run famously recalled an epiphany on excess – consuming the best of everything: presidential suites, women and drugs: “The ho’s knocking at the door. Rolling Stone’s behind the ho … I’m fuckin’ out of control.” DMC demurs: “I was never on it like him … Run and Jay smoked more weed than a Rastafarian god could grow.”
Around 2002 things came to a head when Jay was murdered in his Hollis recording studio, DMC discovered he was adopted, and his father died. Despite a serious bout of alcohol-induced pancreatitis years earlier, DMC surrendered to industrial-scale drinking, downing “case of 40s every day”. He had a fridge in his SUV. Even when walking anywhere, a guy in his crew carried around beer in a portable chiller.
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