Darryl “DMC” McDaniels has been a cultural unifier all his life. As one-third of the pioneering rap group Run-D.M.C. alongside Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons and their late DJ, Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell, McDaniels — who happens to be a longtime northern New Jersey resident, and proud of it — helped break down cultural barriers in the ’80s by crossing rap music over into the mainstream.
Run-D.M.C. fused rap beats with hard-rock riffs, combined with a lyrical flow that all walks of life could relate to. The groundbreaking group produced music that everyone could sing and/or rap along with themselves. Essentially, everyone loved Run-D.M.C.
During their ’80s heyday, Run-D.M.C. achieved a lot of rap-artist firsts: first gold album (1984’s Run-D.M.C.), first platinum album (1985’s King of Rock), first multiplatinum album (1986’s Raising Hell), first rap group on American Bandstand, first rap group on the cover of Rolling Stone, and they were the only rap act to perform at Live Aid in 1985, to name but a few of their mileposts.
And then Run-D.M.C. literally smashed through the color wall on MTV with their 1986 crossover hit “Walk This Way” video by appearing in it side-by-side with Aerosmith, the rock band who wrote the song and first brought it to prominence in the ’70s. By that point, Run-D.M.C. were no strangers to the rap-meets-rock groove, having already laid down the template in their breakthrough 1984 single, “Rock Box,” which featured original guitar licks from Eddie Martinez, who went on to play and tour with Robert Palmer and David Lee Roth.
McDaniels understands how uplifting his achievements have been to people over the years, regardless of their race, color, or creed. “I think what I’ve done musically and artistically inspires people because I’m inspired by all the greats before me — artists such as Bob Dylan, John Lennon, Neil Young, John Fogerty, and hometown hero Bruce Springsteen,” DMC told Best of NJ. “They are the voices of the people, and they represent what many generations can do with the arts in ways politics and religion fail to do. Combining the essence of that real-deal rock and roll with the purpose of hip-hop allows me to be a continual inspirational powerhouse. This rock & roll/hip-hop thing I do is not for fortune and fame, but to inspire people to create a better place, style, and vibe throughout all areas of our lives.”
These days, McDaniels keeps busy by running his own comic-book imprint called Darryl Makes Comics (or DMC, for short), as well as chairing the Felix Organization, a nonprofit he cofounded that champions the rights of adoptees and foster children. (Sometime after he entered adulthood, McDaniels learned he was put up for adoption when he was 3 months old.)
He has also penned two best-sellers: 2001’s autobiographical King of Rock: Respect, Responsibility, and My Life With Run-DMC (Thomas Dunne), and 2016’s inspirational Ten Ways Not to Commit Suicide: A Memoir (Amistad).
Throughout it all, McDaniels has kept himself grounded by respecting his roots. “The real hip-hop pioneers before me — like the Universal Zulu Nation, The Furious Five, The Funky 4 + 1, Treacherous Three, The Cold Crush Brothers, and many others — continually remind me that I have a responsibility to all people, young and old,” he said. “Their messages empower me to be able to be a force in the world, and the communities I live in and come in contact with.”
And, as briefly mentioned at the outset, this onetime steadfast New Yorker — McDaniels was born in Harlem in 1964, and subsequently grew up and made his mark in Hollis, Queens — is, in fact, quite the proud northern New Jersey resident. “Jersey is really a great place to live. The people here are really cool, helpful, and friendly — and everyone isn’t like the folks from the TV show The Sopranos!” he laughed. “I have excellent access to Routes 80 and 46, and that helps get me into and out of the city [NYC] with ease. We also have great schools, and many recreational opportunities for the kids and youth. The libraries here are awesome too — for young people as well as older folks.”
By the way, McDaniels isn’t known as the “King of Rock” for nothing, as he can often be seen sporting t-shirts adorned with band logos for the likes of AC/DC, The Beatles, Metallica, Nirvana, and Led Zeppelin, among others. “I couldn’t believe the band The Fountains of Wayne was named after the actual fountain store that I drove by almost every day,” he said. “It’s not there anymore, but that proves hands down that Jersey rocks!”
In honor of that fine distinction, McDaniels came up with an original rap, just for the Best of NJ audience:
“I’m like Bruce on the loose
Bob Dylan when I’m illin’
Hip Hop ’n Rock N Roll
When in Jersey, I am chilling!”
Yep, he’s still got it. And just like he and Run-D.M.C. rapped in the original “King of Rock,” DMC rocks and he rules, and he won’t stop rocking until he retires.