Talking to rapper DMC about coming ‘Back from the Dead’
In a recent phone interview, I asked Hip-Hop legend Darryl “DMC” McDaniels how it feels to be Back from the Dead, the title of his first solo album in over a decade. “Really, really, REALLY great,” he said with the enthusiasm of a man who’s not been asked that a thousand times. “I’m sober, alive and don’t want to kill myself.”
He also said he didn’t even remember recording Checks Thugs and Rock n Roll, his 2006 solo debut after his 1981-2002 stint in Run-DMC. “I do recall being in Japan promoting it, but only the first day, because I was still drinking.”
DMC had been struggling with alcoholism since 1997 when he began suffering from depression and felt his voice giving out. He was later diagnosed with spasmodic dysphonia, a vocal disorder he believes was caused by the way he shouted out his lyrics, compounded with years of heavy drinking. There was a rift with his partners in Run-DMC due to his desire to adopt a slower and softer style, both because of his admiration for the Beatles, Bob Dylan and Harry Chapin, and to be less stressful on his vocal chords. Even before Jason Mizell, the Run-DMC DJ known as Jam Master Jay, was murdered in 2002, friction between McDaniels and Joseph “Run” Simmons was dissolving the partnership.
He still hadn’t crawled back up from the darkness when he recorded the 2006 album. That negativity is one reason why he calls it a disappointment even though it included vocals by Sarah McLachlan, whose 1997 “Angel” he credited with saving his life during a bout of suicidal depression. “Only nine people bought it, so it’s technically not a failure,” he said with a hearty laugh. On the first and only sober day of that 2006 promo tour, he said a journalist asked him if there was anything he would have done differently. His answer? “Made a happier record.”
Back from the Dead! is that, but he said it took decades to get there. “I sometimes thought Run-DMC should have ended after Raising Hell [the 1986 album that Public Enemy’s Chuck D called the greatest Hip-Hop record of all time]. I was just looking at the history of Cream, one of my favorite bands. They only had three great albums. Lots of people only had three.”
The reference may surprise those who don’t know of DMC’s love for Classic Rock. “Classic doesn’t mean old,” he said. “It means better than anything that came after.” He also loves folk rock and includes Tom Petty, Jim Croce and Harry Chapin alongside Public Enemy’s Chuck D in his pantheon of musical heroes.
DMC’s Back From the Dead! The Legend Lives! (Brookvale Records) will debut as a four-track EP on Record Store Day Presents Black Friday, Nov. 24. One highlight is “Rhino,” featuring Chuck D and the Canadian Metal band Slaves On Dope. The other tracks feature John Moyer from Disturbed, Roman Ramirez from Sublime with Rome, and Myles Kennedy from Alter Bridge and Slash’s backing band.
DMC describes “Rhino” as a departure from his previous work with Chuck D. “Chuck and I had free-styled and collaborated on hip-hop projects in the past, but ‘Rhino’ brings us together in a new way,” he said. “I’m always excited to combine hip-hop and rock and this captures that in-your-face stance I admire in both genres.” He said that he’s wanted to work with Chuck D on a rock project, having been a big admirer of D’s collaboration with Anthrax on “Bring The Noise.”
Not surprisingly for the man who founded the publishing imprint, Darryl Makes Comics; the vinyl-only limited edition EP features a cover by award-winning artist Tony Moore of The Walking Dead, the source comic for the AMC TV series.
Finding that image took awhile, despite DMC owning it the whole time. “I was trying to find a great cover, and nothing was working,” he said, “and all of sudden a light goes on.” Two years earlier at Kansas City Comic Con, Tony Moore had a booth next to DMC. At the end of the convention, the artist handed him an envelope. Inside was a picture of DMC as a zombie.
This represents the kind of cross-over he loves. “Comic book fans that don’t like rap will want Back from the Dead because of the cover, while rap fans not into comics will still think it’s a dope image. Bringing people together is what I’ve always done with my music.”
Ian McDowell is the author of two published novels, numerous anthologized short stories, and a whole lot of nonfiction and journalism, some of which he’s proud of and none of which he’s ashamed of.