A legendary musician lays in his bed staring at yet another hotel room ceiling. This ceiling happens to be in Europe. Millions of thoughts enter his mind, all about life, all leading to a finality he isn’t sure he can handle. DMC, one third of the legendary trio Run-DMC, was the man in that bed and wide eyed and wide awake the question of whether or not he still needed to be alive entered his head. “There was an empty void in me,” he explains of his pained night of a decade ago, “I was suicidal.”
DMC had the world in the palm of his hand. Hip-Hop had become a worldwide phenomenon and his group was one of the acts responsible for ushering it in. Run-DMC was pulling in $75,000 a night for shows, but something was still a little off for Queens native. “Being DMC was eeh, so what? Money, fortune and fame, eeh so what? Travel, eeh. Don’t mean nuttin. There was something missing but I didn’t know what it was at the time so I was saying I’ve got to commit suicide to leave this existence, to get to the next level of existence, and maybe find some fulfillment there.” He continued, adding “I was like ‘am I here just to be DMC and if so what does all this mean and do I want to keep doing this and if I keep making records what do I rhyme about, what do I talk about, what is my intent, what is my purpose now?'” It wasn’t just a career crossroad, it was one of life’s crossroads, as well for DMC. “At the same time I was trying to figure out how does the b-boy grow up into a b-man.”
In retrospect DMC can look back on that night and say “in my mind I had all this confusion but I didn’t know I was evolving at that instance right there.” On that particular night, however, none of that was clear. He continued in his pained mind state for a while, but felt a freeing sensation one day after turning on the radio and hearing Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” for the first time. “That record,” DMC notes, “not friends, not family, not fortune and fame, but that record made me say life is beautiful, it’s good to be alive.”
A number of months later DMC found himself at Clive Davis’ 1997 Grammy party in LA. “I didn’t want to be there,” DMC remembers, “all this is fake celebrity paparazzi bullshit, but I look across the room and I see Sarah McLachlan and I’m like wow that’s that lady, because I knew of her but I didn’t know her. I was like that’s that lady so I’m gonna go over there and tell her what her record did for me.” His initial approach was met with a familiar fanfare. “She said what everybody says when they see me. ‘Run-DMC, oh I love you guys, you’re my favorite group. I love ‘It’s Tricky,’ I love ‘Walk This Way.'” Despite this being common for DMC to hear he took it as a very good sign. “From my suicidal thoughts that was an encouragement because it gave me another reason to stay alive a couple of days. Sarah McLachlan likes my group, so that was very encouraging.” It was at this point that DMC decided to tell McLachlan what her record had done for him. “I was like Ms. McLachlan your record saved my life. The name of the record is ‘Angel,’ you sound like an angel, people say you are an angel, but you’re God to me because your record has given me purpose and hope an all that.” Obviously taken aback a bit by the news, McLachlan composed herself and according DMC she thanked him and said “that’s what music is supposed to do.” The two shook hands and went their separate ways.
Three years after the Grammy party DMC received some life-altering news. “I found out that I was adopted.” The news of his adoption sparked many thoughts in his head, but unlike the thoughts he was having while staring at the hotel ceiling in Europe these were moment of clarity thoughts for the now 35 year old DMC. “I realized at that instant that was the missing piece in me,” he explains “of course I’m DMC, yes I did all I did for the music, yes I got with Jay and Run, yes you’re the king of rock, all those things were there but there was something missing in the picture and I didn’t know what it was. Then Sarah McLachlan’s record came into my life, it kept me alive so I could find out what it was.” Once he found out he was adopted he knew there was only one thing to do, “I said I’m gonna write a record because I remember Sarah McLachlan saying that’s what music is supposed to do.”
Finding out one’s adopted at 35 isn’t normal, most people find out about that sort of thing when they’re still kids, but DMC feels that he may have been the reason his adopted parents never told him about his adoption as a child, “If I had found out when I was seven it would have crushed me,” he explains “because as a kid everyday was Christmas. I had everything I could want. I had the best parents ever, they paid for me to go to every school I ever went to, I was a straight A student, athletic. They probably said he’s doing so well, I never gave them a chance to tell me.”
Knowing that most kids do find out about their adoptions early in life DMC set out to make a record about it. “I said I’m gonna do a record that will give encouragement to that little kid in foster care, or that little adopted kid who thinks, if they know or if they don’t, whatever they know, they threw me away, I’m not wanted, what don’t I have a mommy and a daddy? I’m living proof that whatever situation you are, adoption just happens to be mine, that you have a purpose. Look at me, if what happened to me didn’t happen I wouldn’t be DMC, I wouldn’t be the king of rock, I wouldn’t be on TV, I wouldn’t have met Run and Jay, I wouldn’t have went to Hollis, none of this would have happened and the world would be different because there would have been no Run-DMC. A purpose and a destiny. So I’m gonna write this record for the encouragement, and not just for kids, for people in general.”
The song, which is titled “Just Like Me,” started with a concept and was moved forward with the idea of using Harry Chapin’s tale of failed fatherhood, “Cats in the Cradle,” and flipping it in a new direction. DMC looked to use the record but “put my adoption story there and give it a happy ending.” There was one more piece to the puzzle that DMC wanted to get for the song, and that was Sarah McLachlan. “I get Sarah on the phone,” he remembers, “we make the record, but the craziest thing about this whole story is that after we make the record she looks over at me and says ‘Darryl I’ve got to tell you something, I was adopted.'” The revelation made sense to DMC. “We have something in common, so that’s what the whole album is about.” He continued, adding “if you look in the mirror, whether you’re six or sixty, I don’t care what record on my album relates to you, you will be able to say I feel like that, I think like that, I’m like that, that happened to me.”
The album “Just Like Me” is on is DMC’s latest, “Checks, Thugs and Rock ‘n Roll“. According to DMC the album came about as a result of all the questions he had been asking himself over the years. “I can look at Hip-Hop and say what I don’t like about it,” he notes “but that’s not important, who cares what I like and don’t like? I just looked at it and said what is my role in here? I’m the missing link.” He continued, “you’ve got to make what you like and be happy and the world will be a better place because there are other people who would love to hear what you like. It’s a simple formula.”
A play on the old term sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll, “Checks, Thugs and Rock ‘n Roll” has a number of meanings for DMC He explains the Checks portion of the title saying “people will sell their souls to get a check. People really don’t keep it real with themselves, they compromise their existence for that check. It’s good to get paid and compensated for your hard work and talent, but don’t sell your soul.” Thugs is a term DMC put in his album title because he feels “everybody thinks it’s all about image, they say image is everything. No, image is part of the equation, but it isn’t everything.” When it comes to rock ‘n roll DMC notes “nobody focuses on the music anymore, so I’ma give it some rock ‘n roll where people can hear a good song and like the melodies and love the drum sounds as opposed to worrying about what I’m driving, who I’m dating, how much money I have in the bank and where I’m livin. People don’t focus on the music no more, they’re so focused on celebrity they’re ruining the business.”
The album, though it isn’t a list of what he likes and dislikes about Hip-Hop, does contain strong themes and feelings regarding many current topics. DMC feels “if you’re in a prominent position where you have a microphone, the cameras and you’re able to make videos and records, if you just happen to be that type of person you should be like all the great rock ‘n roll gods, Springsteen, Fogerty, Dylan, Lennon and the list goes on. Whether you agreed with them or not they sang about things that were relevant to society. And rap being the number one relevant music in the world because we dictate what people drive, what people wear, how they walk and how they talk and even what they drink and smoke, we should be more vocal about the people that we are because we are representatives of them, not the police, not the politicians, not the powers that be, it’s all about us.”
Rather than just channeling the rock gods of the past, DMC called up some of the rock gods of the present to lend a hand on “Checks, Thugs and Rock ‘n Roll“. The guest list on the album includes the aforementioned Sarah McLachlan along with Kid Rock, Doug E. Fresh, members of Buck Cherry and The Cars, as well as DMC’s old friends from Aerosmith. DMC says of his guests, “everybody that I use not only had something to say, whether they were older than me or younger than me, they weren’t afraid to say it, or do it and they were real, they weren’t just celebrities used to promote and sell albums, they were legitimate artists, good at what they did.”
While DMC loves for artists to speak out he knows he’s not the right person to try to reach the new generation of rappers now appearing on radio on a daily basis. He notes that back in his day it was artists like Public Enemy, KRS-ONE, Rakim and NWA that spoke to both the masses and the other artists in their same position. DMC feels some young artists need to take a stand and a leadership role much like those artists did if the current generation is to succeed. “It’s going to take a young guy to talk to the young people,” he explains, “but see to him people ain’t fed up enough yet because they’re living with the illusion that it’s all good because they can make a rap record and get paid.” He continued, adding “like I say on my album, what’s wrong with this world today, ‘we treat em like kids, we should leave them alone, because they won’t understand until they’re grown.'”
DMC is full grown, and no longer wondering about his purpose in life, or what’s missing. He’s whole for the first time. “I’m just having fun, I’m like a little kid,” he says with a smile. The fun is something he plans on continuing, just like his music. “Be prepared to hear a lot of good music coming at ya for the next decade,” he exclaims, “I got a lot to do in the next 25 years in music.” No doubt fans of Run-DMC are pleased to hear one of their kings of rock is back in action.