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Run-D.M.C.'s Darryl McDaniels Skipped the Grammys to Record a Metal Song in Montreal

The legendary rapper talks about his legacy in hip-hop and why Chad Kroeger is on his upcoming album, 'Flames.'

Photo courtesy of the artist

This article originally appeared on Noisey Canada

During our interview, Darryl “DMC” McDaniels imitates Michael Jackson, Neil Young and Travis Barker. Not very well, mind you, but his ability to sing a Crosby Stills Nash & Young lyric and jump to a very high pitched reenactment of a conversation he had with the late King of Pop illustrates the breadth of his eclectic repertoire. One of the founding members of legendary rap trio Run-D.M.C., McDaniels’ achievements include being the first rap group on the cover of Rolling Stone magazine and on MTV. While also selling more than 200 million records and, of course, breaking down racial and musical barriers between rock and rap.


The group’s impressive resumé was celebrated at this week’s Grammy Awards, where Run-D.M.C. was given a lifetime achievement award, the first ever awarded to a rap group. McDaniels’ former bandmate Joseph Simmons, aka Rev. Run, was on stage to accept the honour. But DMC decided to eschew the red carpet and fly to Montreal to record a song with metal ensemble Slaves on Dope. “What we did here tonight is way more important than me getting an award for something that I did,” he says, sitting on a leather couch in the band’s suburban basement recording studio. “Better to be here than to be at the corny ass Grammys,” he jokes. “No, no. You can use that, just keep the ‘no’ in there. McDaniels is not actually thumbing his nose at the Grammys. The real ceremony for the lifetime achievement honours will take place on April 25, and he has plans to attend.

Getting this prize, however, is bittersweet. “What are ya tryin’ to say! My life ain’t over!” McDaniel says. “I want the lifetime Grammy thing, but give it to me when I’m 75. I’m 50 years old!” The acknowledgement is also a reminder that in their two decades of internationally acclaimed career, Run-D.M.C. never actually won the esteemed music prize. “You shoulda given me the Grammy in ’86. Here’s another thing: there was no rap category when we were nominated for it.” Clad in a Motörhead t-shirt, McDaniels describes the situation as "genre racism." “Run-D.M.C. was always put into ‘rap,’ even though we made rock records, we never got to participate with Korn and Limp Bizkit and all of those dudes.” The devastating mic controller speaks about his successes with humility, giving ample props to the many musicians who inspired his work. “Run-D.M.C.’s big secret is, we’re not that great. We’re not the greatest thing that happened to hip-hop, we’re part of all the things that happened in hip-hop. Everything the group was doing was already being done," he says. “We’re just the ones that put it on TV.”


On a personal level, the musician says his proudest achievement has been overcoming his addictions—McDaniels hasn’t had a drink in a decade. “The greatest thing I’ve ever done is stay sober.” The group, which was eventually inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, broke up in 2002 after member Jason William "Jam Master Jay" Mizell was shot and killed in a still-unsolved shooting. DMC describes this as a pivotal moment. “After Jam Master Jay got shot and killed, I was like ‘What can I do now, where could I go with this? I don’t want to be DMC by myself, trying to do what I did with Run & Jay. I sat back and said ‘What can I do now to take what I did to the next level of my maturity. And basically I came up with this plan: I do a lot of shows, and I do a lot of guest appearances and work with a lot of bands.”

Photo via Daily VICE

The multi-faceted musician has done just that, working with an almost indiscriminate array of musicians, from Sarah McLaughlin (whose song “Angel” apparently saved his life) to late Static-X frontman Wayne Static. He’s also launched a line of comic books, a nod to what he calls his first love. His next album, Flames, will feature songs with an array of artists like Joan Jett, Travis Barker and Canadian rock has-beens Sum 41 and Chad Kroeger. Does he know how polarizing Kroeger can be? “Yes, yes,” he nods absentmindedly, quickly breezing by the topic. While it’s easy to fear the outcome of a DMC-Nickelback collaboration, McDaniel’s open-mindedness is one of the big reasons Run-D.M.C. was so successful. “I’m a black MC and I’m making it with some white rockers,” he says. “Music is the only thing that was able to bring white punk rockers with the black hip hoppers.”

“When Steven Tyler knocked down the wall in 'Walk this way,' that really happened in life. We knocked down some walls.” McDaniels says Flames will tackle political issues in a way he hopes continues to promote this kind of unity. “It’s not a protest record, it’s not a black lives matter record, it’s not a black panther record, it’s a record that’s going to bring people together to solve the problems that affect us all. Music succeeds where politics and religion fails.”

Brigitte is a VICE Quebec correspondent. Follow Brigitte on Twitter.