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'Fresh Air' celebrates 50 years of hip-hop: Run-D.M.C.'s Darryl McDaniels

TERRY GROSS, HOST:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week, in celebration of hip-hop's 50th anniversary, we're featuring interviews from our archive with some of the groundbreaking performers. Our first interview today is with Darryl McDaniels, co-founder of Run-D.M.C., one of the early hip-hop groups to break into the mainstream. They had their first hit back in 1983, "It's Like That." In 1984, they became the first rappers to earn a gold album. The next year, they were the first to earn a platinum. They were the first rap group to have their videos played on MTV and the first to appear on the cover of Rolling Stone. Run-D.M.C. was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2009, making them the second hip-hop group to make it, after Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.

The group stopped recording albums after its member, DJ Jam Master Jay was shot and killed in a recording studio in Queens, N.Y., in 2002. Darryl McDaniels is the D.M.C. in Run-D.M.C. Run is Reverend Joseph "Run" Simmons, whose brother is Russell Simmons. Run-D.M.C. performed earlier this month at the star-studded Hip-Hop 50 concert in Yankee Stadium. Before we hear the interview I recorded with Darryl McDaniels in 1997, here he is on "Sucker MC," the B-side of Run-D.M.C.'s first record, "It's Like That."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SUCKER M.C.'S (KRUSH-GROOVE 1)")

DARRYL MCDANIELS: (Rapping) I'm D.M.C. in the place to be. I go to St. John's University. And since kindergarten, I acquired the knowledge. And after 12th grade, I went straight to college. I'm light-skinned. I live in Queens, and I love eating chicken and collard greens. I dress to kill. I love the style. I'm an MC you know who's versatile. Say I got to good credit in your regards. Got my name, not numbers, on my credit cards. I go uptown. I come back home. With who? Me, myself and my microphone. All my rhymes are sweet delight, so here's another one for y'all to bite. When I rhyme, I never quit. And if I got a new rhyme, I'll just say it. 'Cause it takes a lot to entertain, and sucker MCs can be a pain. You can't rock a party with the hip in hop. You got to let them know you'll never stop. The rhymes have to make a lot of sense. You got to know where to start when the beats commence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's talk about the history of Run-D.M.C., which spans a lot of the history of rap. But before we do, I had asked you before what you prefer that I call you, and you have a great rhyme that answers that question. Would you just do that rhyme for us?

MCDANIELS: Yeah. (Rapping) Well, you can call me Darryl. You can call me D. You can call me Darryl Mac (ph), or you can call me D.M.C. People always ask me, what does my name mean? D's for never dirty, MC for mostly clean. But sometimes I tell them when certain people ask that D.M.C. means that Darryl Makes Cash.

GROSS: (Laughter) That's good. How did you first hear rap?

MCDANIELS: Wow, that's a good question. The first time I ever heard rap was back in 1970 - I think it was either '76 or '78. There was a radio show. It was like an underground radio show, and the disc jockey's name was Eddie Cheeba. And the station was in New York. It was WFUV. And that was the first time I ever heard rap. He had a rhyme where he said, (rapping) when you mess around in New York town, you go down with the disco Cheeba clown. You go down, go down, go down, go down. You go down.

You know, it was really simple, but the first time I ever heard rap was back in '76 or '78 on WFUV, DJ Eddie Cheeba.

GROSS: Now, what made you think, I want to do that?

MCDANIELS: Well, when I first started out, I wanted to be a DJ. I really liked the scratching and the quick mixing and, you know, doing the DJ things - spinning records and mixing records back and forth. And then out of, you know, listening to DJs and studying Grandmaster Flash, I started hearing, you know, tapes of DJ Starski and Melle Mel and Kool Moe Dee and the Treacherous Three. And something just sparked in me where I wanted to become a vocalist and express myself on the microphone.

GROSS: So did you sing before you started rhyming?

MCDANIELS: No, I didn't. I started rhyming first.

GROSS: And what were your very early rhymes like?

MCDANIELS: Oh, well, the very early - my very early rhymes were, you know, basically simple, talking about I had the best rhymes. Nobody had more rhymes than me. My DJ was the best DJ. We had the loudest sound system. You know, it's simple stuff like (rapping) seed to an apple, apple to a core. I am the man with the rhymes galore. Rock around for me. Rock around for you and everybody catch the boogaloo flu. Hollis, Queens is where I'm from. Don't be stupid. Don't be so dumb.

So it's basically boasting about my neighborhood, me being the best MC, and nobody can take me out.

GROSS: Speaking of your neighborhood, you're from Hollis, Queens...

MCDANIELS: Yes.

GROSS: ...In New York. And the two other members of Run-D.M.C. are from the same neighborhood, I think.

MCDANIELS: Yes.

GROSS: And you went to school together, right? You knew each other before you were a group.

MCDANIELS: Yeah, definitely. We all lived in five blocks of each other. We went to elementary and high school and college together.

GROSS: So when did you actually form Run-D.M.C.? Where were you in your school years?

MCDANIELS: Well, me and Run first started rhyming and DJing together in my basement. I actually taught Run how to DJ. He was rapping first. Then I taught him how to DJ, how to do the quick mix and how to spin records back and how to blend two of the same records together. So Run and D.M.C. was, like, formed back in 19 - I think it was around 1980. We started DJing in my basement, and then when he got better equipment than me for Christmas, so we started DJing in his attic. So I would say Run-D.M.C. was formed right then. And then as the group, it was 1982 when we put together "It's Like That And That's The Way It Is" (ph) and "Sucker MCs," which was our first single. And then we needed a DJ, and that's when we got Jam Master Jay, who was the neighborhood DJ. He was, like, the best in the neighborhood. Jay would set up his equipment in the park, and he'd plug it into the light post. And then we would play until the cops would come and stop us. So actually, we came together as a professional group in 1982.

GROSS: And were you in high school? In college?

MCDANIELS: We was all in college. We was all in our first semester of college.

GROSS: Did you leave college once you started performing?

MCDANIELS: Yep. We took a leave of absence and been absent ever since.

GROSS: What were your parents' reaction to taking a leave of absence to perform? Did they think you were making a big mistake?

MCDANIELS: No, they was mad. They was like, are you crazy? What are you doing? And, you know, even when they got a hint of me wanting to be a rapper as my career, as my job, you know, they was telling me stuff like, that's ridiculous. You better stay in school, and we're not paying all this money for you to go to St. John's for nothing. And as a matter of fact, when I went to record our first single, I didn't tell my parents because I knew they weren't going to let me go. So they was outraged, you know?

GROSS: How did they find out?

MCDANIELS: Well, I had to come tell them where I was at for the last 15 hours - you know? - 'cause I just left the house - it was a Sunday afternoon. I left the house about 1 o'clock, and I ain't come home in the morning - till the next morning, like, 5 a.m. in the morning.

GROSS: Did you play them the record? Did they like it?

MCDANIELS: Yeah, I played them the record, and they didn't really like it till they heard it on the radio.

GROSS: Now, was that "It's Like That"?

MCDANIELS: Yeah. That was "It's Like That."

GROSS: Great. Let's hear it. This is Run-D.M.C.'s first recording.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S LIKE THAT")

RUN-DMC: (Rapping) Money is the key to end all your woes - your ups, your downs, your highs and your lows. Won't you tell me last time that love bought you clothes? It's like that, and that's the way it is. Bills fly higher every day. We receive much lower pay. I'd rather stay young, go out and play. It's like that, and that's the way it is.

GROSS: That's Run-D.M.C., their first recording. And my guest is Darryl McDaniels, who's the D.M.C. in Run-D.M.C. Now, when you started performing, it was the big gold chain era.

MCDANIELS: Right. Actually, we started that...

GROSS: Yeah.

MCDANIELS: ...'Cause Russell...

GROSS: There's some great pictures of you with giant, big gold chains.

MCDANIELS: Yeah. Well...

GROSS: Yeah.

MCDANIELS: Like, when we was saying Russell was a big part of that, Jay was always dressing like that. The way Run-D.M.C. dressed, Jay always dressed like that. So when Russell seen Jay, he said, that's how you're going to dress. And that's when the gold chains came into play. Jay had a gold chain before he even thought of being in Run-D.M.C. Jay wore chains like that when he was in high school. You know, it looks so funny now, but back then it was, like, so cool, you know?

GROSS: What do you think it did for your image back then?

MCDANIELS: What it actually did - show that we had money, you know? It showed that we had the big gold chain and the fancy car and that we were truly the superstars of the neighborhood, you know, 'cause if you got a big chain and the other guy don't, you must be doing something. And, you know, it also brought a bad image to us because people that didn't know Run-D.M.C. before we had an album cover out thought we was just drug dealers because most of the drug dealers was wearing chains like that and driving in big cars, even before the rappers made it big.

GROSS: So were the chains solid gold?

MCDANIELS: Well, me and Run's was semisolid, and Jay's was solid.

GROSS: You were teenagers when you started performing. How did you handle fame when it first hit you and you were still in your teens?

MCDANIELS: Oh, man, fame hit us so quick. I mean, it's like, now we got this thing that we say that certain periods in our career we can't remember, and we call it dazing. And it was just like we were just in a daze. It was just like everything happened so quick - you know, the first record. Then we did the rap album, the first rap album to go gold 'cause nobody thought rap was going to sell. Then right after that, we had the first video on MTV, and that was, like, really a precedent because the only Black star they was actually playing on MTV was Michael Jackson. Then we got on there, and then when "Rock Box," which was the video that got on MTV, went into heavy rotation, Russell and everybody down at the record company and at Rush management was all excited - y'all on MTV. And me and Run and Jay was like, what is MTV? Why are you guys so happy about this? And then the big tour, the Fresh Fest tour, and we was going around selling out Madison Square Garden and all the big venues - it all happened so fast that, you know, it's like - it smacked us upside the head, you know, the money, the fame and fortune. It didn't go to our heads, but it smacked us upside our heads.

GROSS: What was it like to suddenly have a lot of money?

MCDANIELS: Well, it was - man, you know, me and Run always say, you know, when we was little, growing up and - you know, unless you was the star of the basketball team, the high school basketball team or the CYO basketball team or the neighborhood Hollis basketball team, none of the homeboys or the homegirls would give you any attention. And me and Run always said, all we want is one pair of Adidas, but our parents wouldn't buy us Adidas 'cause it was $40. It was, like, ridiculous to our parents, you know what I'm saying? They're middle class. What's the point of you - no, we're going to buy you these $25 shoes, $20 shoe. If we could get them for 15, you're wearing those, and you're going to be happy. And then when we became Run-D.M.C., we could buy all the Adidas we wanted - all Adidas shoes we wanted. We could buy all the gold chains that we want. We could go buy the Cadillac that we wanted. And it was, like, just ridiculous. It was like God blessed us with everything that we wanted when we was, you know, growing up in elementary school.

You know, we was at a point where you want to be like that guy who got every color pair of Adidas. And you want - you know, most - you know, you could tell the kids, a lot of the kids that was going to my school, they had jobs. You know what I'm saying? And, you know, we didn't have no jobs. The only job me and Run ever had was pushing shopping carts for the supermarket, giving out circulars. And that was, like, twice - you know, twice a week. But most of our friends, they had nine-to-fives, and they was out there, you know, working and getting a lot of money. So every month, if something new came out, they could get it. So when we got money, it became we could get anything and everything. As a matter of fact, we had stuff before it even came out 'cause people started giving us stuff.

GROSS: So you just started acquiring everything you could?

MCDANIELS: Yeah, exactly. Everything that we ever wanted, we was able to get.

GROSS: Well, you know, you mentioned Adidas, and of course, you have a very famous record called "My Adidas." Before we hear it, why don't you say a little bit about coming up with this rap?

MCDANIELS: Well, it's real funny, actually. Run's brother, Russell Simmons, came up with the idea. He, like, put it in the air. One day, he said, y'all need to make a record about your Adidas and how y'all come from Hollis. And then the next day, you know me and Run, we had the pen and pad out, and we was writing this record. So we did the record even before we was approached by Adidas to - you know, for the promotional deal and stuff like that for the endorsement. And the record came out. And then in 1986, you know, we was really the biggest thing going on in music. And an Adidas representative came to Madison Square Garden, and on that show, "Adidas" was the first record that we did. And before we did it, we said, whoever got on Adidas, take one shoe off and hold it up. And the whole Madison Square Garden held up a pair - held up their Adidas. And when the Adidas representative seen this, he was like, y'all guys got an endorsement. It's going to be big. You're going to be the first non-athletic group to get a major endorsement with an athletic company. And that was, like, really cool. But we made the record because we always just rapped about anything and everything. And we just gave a tribute to our Adidas, saying we'll wear these sneakers for life, whatever. We don't care about Nike. We don't care about Bally. We don't care about nothing. Adidas are it forever.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels is the co-founder of Run-D.M.C. Here's "My Adidas."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MY ADIDAS")

RUN-DMC: (Rapping) My Adidas walk through concert doors and roam all over coliseum floors. I stepped on stage at Live Aid, all the people gave and the poor got paid. And out of speakers I did speak. I wore my sneakers but I'm not a sneak. My Adidas touch the sand of a foreign land. With mic in hand, I cold took command. My Adidas and me close as can be. We make a mean team, my Adidas and me. We get around together, we're down forever. And we won't be mad when caught in bad weather. My Adidas. My Adidas. Yo, what's up? My Adidas, standing on 2 Fifth street, funky fresh and, yes, cold on my feet, with no shoestring in them. I did not win them. I bought them off the ave' with the black Lee denim. I like to sport them, that's why I brought them. A sucker tried to steal them, so I caught them and I fought them. And I walk down the street and bop to the beat with Lee on my legs and Adidas on my feet. And so now I'm just standing here, shooting the gip, me and D and my Adidas standing on 2 Fifth. My Adidas.

GROSS: We're listening to my 1997 interview with Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S TRICKY")

RUN-DMC: (Rapping) It's tricky. It's tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky, huh. When I wake up, people take up mostly all of my time. I'm not singing - phone keep ringing 'cause I make up a rhyme. I'm not bragging. People nagging...

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. Let's get back to my 1997 interview with Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., one of the early rap groups to break into the mainstream. When we left off, we were talking about the way the group dressed, with its gold chains and Adidas sneakers, and the impression it made on their fans and how they dressed.

Now, how did it feel to see so many of your fans copying you? I mean, on the one hand, it can make you feel really, you know, proud and big and everything. On the other hand, it can really make you wonder about the independent thinking (laughter) of people.

MCDANIELS: Yeah, well, actually, you know, my partner, Run, he was more excited about that. Like, wow, D - yo, look; we're big, you know what I'm saying? And, you know, from a record selling tip, you know, it' signified that, oh, wow, we're doing really great.

GROSS: Right.

MCDANIELS: But then on another tip, you know, I was, like, kind of bugged. I liked it when rap was more - everybody was more themselves but we all could relate to the music, you know what I'm saying? And now, I mean, the same way that people did that when we had Adidas out is the same way people are doing - the fans are treating, you know, Tupac records and Biggie records and Snoop Dogg records. They're taking a lot of stuff these rappers are saying seriously. Like, back then, if you had a pair of Adidas and you had a Adidas suit and a big gold chain and a hat or maybe the glasses, you know, the CAZAL glasses like I used to wear, you was down with rap and hip-hop.

Now you got to have a gat, which is a gun. And you got to smack, you know, your h** or your b****. Excuse my language, but you got to smack her. And you got to have all these women. And you got to have a car. And you got to have this rough image, you know what I'm saying? You got to drink champagne and smoke blunts and spend all this money. So the same thing, the same effect that we had on the fans back then is the same way rap is affecting the fans now, but it's not in a positive way.

And, you know, a lot of the groups that's out now - like, it surprised me and it made me feel good when Martin Lawrence, who's a comedian, Chris Rock, who's a comedian, you know, at the two times that I met them, they came up to me and said, D, because of Run-D.M.C., I am what I am today. So that's good because they didn't want to be a rapper like D.M.C. and dress like me. But we inspired them to be what they wanted to be. They looked at us and said, I can do what I want to be. And it really hit me when Boyz II Men - at the Grammys, Boyz II Men came up to me and said, we're doing this because of y'all, you know what I'm saying?

I'm like, wow, you know, that's the type of effect I want to have. I don't want everybody trying to be Run-D.M.C., you know? And it's bad if everybody's trying to be Tupac or everybody's trying to be Biggie. What these guys do represent is, out of the hood, out of poverty or out of crime or out of a single-parent home or coming out of jail, you can be something. And that's what's good to represent. But you don't got to be the same gun-toting, reefer-smoking, champagne-drinking person as this rapper is. And that's confusing to the parents because the parents get scared. OK, my son likes Tupac, but this is what Tupac did last week. I don't want my son to do that.

GROSS: Was there ever any pressure on you from producers or record companies to harden your image, to make it more hardcore?

MCDANIELS: No, but we felt a pressure on ourselves in 1990. We made an album called "Back From Hell." And on this "Back From Hell" album, it was, like, the first time where we ever really used profanity. And it was, like, the first album where we ever really came at everybody else in the industry. It was, you know, the first album where we kind of degraded women. You know, we didn't really talk bad like most records did, but we started talking - we started, you know, straying that way. And that was, like, one of our worst albums, so we learned a big lesson from that.

I mean, that album was like a flop for Run-D.M.C. It only sold maybe 250,000 copies. That was the year everybody was saying Run-D.M.C. was over - you know what I'm saying? - because we strayed from what we was really about. Even though we were still doing live shows, we made this album which was trying to go with the flow of the times when keeping it real is being real to yourself and staying who you are.

GROSS: We'll hear more of my conversation with Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C. after a break. And we'll continue our celebration of hip-hop's 50th anniversary with LL Cool J. Here's another track from Run-D.M.C. This is "It's Tricky." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IT'S TRICKY")

RUN-DMC: (Rapping) This speech is my recital. I think it's very vital to rock a rhyme that's right on time "It's Tricky" is the title. Here we go. It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time. It's Tricky. It's tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky. It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time. It's Tricky. Tricky, tricky, tricky. I met this little girlie. Her hair was kind of curly - went to her house and bust her out. I had to leave real early. These girls are really sleazy, all they just say is please me, or spend some time and rock a rhyme, I said it's not that easy. It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time. It's tricky. How is it, D? It's tricky, tricky, tricky, tricky. It's tricky to rock a rhyme, to rock a rhyme that's right on time. It's Tricky.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "GIVE IT UP OR TURNIT A LOOSE")

JAMES BROWN: (Singing) Yeow. Baby, give it up or turn it loose. And. Baby, give it up or turn it loose. Starting over again. Baby, give it up or turn it loose. Baby, give it up or turn it loose. All right. Baby, give it up.

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. This week, we're celebrating hip-hop's 50th anniversary by listening back to interviews from our archive with some of hip hop's groundbreaking performers. Let's get back to my 1997 interview with Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., one of rap's early groups to break into the mainstream. The Run in Run-D.M.C. is Reverend Joseph "Run" Simmons, whose brother is Russell Simmons. Run-D.M.C.'s DJ Jam Master Jay was shot and killed in a recording studio in Queens, N.Y., in 2002.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

GROSS: Now, I know that you're Christian. Was there, like, a change in your life where you were born again or kind of...

MCDANIELS: Yeah. Right around that time, I mean, you know, the records wasn't selling. Everybody was saying we was over. You know, Run was smoking a lot of reefer. I was drinking a lot of beer. Things wasn't well within the group. You know, people was, like, saying, you know, Run-D.M.C. is over. You know, their time is over. And it was, like, really a down time. And, you know, with anybody, when it's time to - well, not time. When you are down and out on your deathbed, every - I don't care who you are. You going to scream out to God, you know? And he's going to answer, and it's up for you to answer his calling.

And, you know, basically, it was nowhere else we could turn but to God. You know, God help us. You know, and we was like, yo, we're very thankful for everything that happened and this and that. And if only we could, you know, just get, you know - get back to what we was all about. But we had to make that adjustment in our minds ourselves. You know what I'm saying? But it was, like, really a down time. I mean, the women - it was like the worst time for Run-D.M.C. of sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll, you know, all that stuff that you think, when I'm not going to go that way. That not going to happen to us. And it was, like, really a bad time for us.

GROSS: And so when you were born again, how did that change your music and your lifestyle?

MCDANIELS: Well, you know, it cleaned up our lives. We stopped smoking reefer, stopped drinking beer, stop sleeping with every - you know, every groupie that you know and stopped running around with the drug dealers and the wrong crowd. And, you know, that's why we named the record "Down With The King" because we said, wow, we're the only rap group that's been here for - you know, at the time we was out for 10 years. We're the only rap group that's been together for 10 years. Everybody else in the business broke up. And we realized that we had a marriage here. I mean, it was like, you know, this is really like a marriage because we're still here. Even though our popularity was down, people still gave us respect. So we was like, all right, we're going to dedicate one of these records on this album to God. And that was - that record became the single, and that single became the name of the album.

GROSS: "Down With The King."

MCDANIELS: "Down With The King."

GROSS: Why don't we hear that?

MCDANIELS: OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "DOWN WITH THE KING")

MCDANIELS: (Rapping) I'm takin' the tours. I'm wreckin' the land. I keep it hardcore because it's dope, man. These are the roughest, toughest words I ever wrote down. Not meant for a ho like a slow jam. Check it. Sucka MCs could never swing with D because of all the things that I bring with me. Only G-O-D could be a king to me. And if the G-O-D be in me, then a king I be. The microphone is branded when it's handed to me. I was planted on this planet, and I plan to MC. The MC fiends only seem to agree that I rock all the world and the society. Outrageous on the stages with a tune of verse. I give praises from these pages to the universe. My voice is raw. My lyrics is law. I keep it hardcore like you never saw.

You wanna be down with the king, the king. You wanna be down with the king, the king. You know you wanna be down with the king, the king. You wanna wanna wanna wanna be down with the king, the king. You know you wanna wanna be down with the king.

GROSS: The group has been together - well, you've been recording since - what? - 1982...

MCDANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: ...And started performing even before that.

MCDANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: Extraordinarily long, I mean, for any group but particularly, I think, in the world of rap.

MCDANIELS: Yeah, it's ridiculous.

GROSS: How do you think you managed to stay together that long?

MCDANIELS: Wow. That's really a good question. The reason why we stayed together that long because we never let the fortune and fame take away from the true art form of what rapping and MCing means to us, meaning that if we never made it as Run-D.M.C. - and Run - when he was going to college, he was studying mortuary science. I was studying business management. But then I would've had to change because I wanted to go into architecture. And Jay was studying business management. So even if we had wife and kids, working 9 to 5s with families, on the weekends, on holidays, on days off, we going to get together in the park at Jay's birthday party, at our son's birthday party. And we're going to DJ and rap and scratch. So we never lost that desire of - we never let the rap become a thing as we got to get money with this thing. We always like really doing it. We always like really doing a live show. And we always like, you know, making fun lyrics or making lyrics that mean something. We never let the fortune take away from the art form or the meaning of, you know, the culture of hip-hop. What hip-hop really stands for.

GROSS: A lot of rap groups really brag about their neighborhood, often bragging about how tough it is.

MCDANIELS: Yeah.

GROSS: What was your neighborhood like? Hollis, Queens.

MCDANIELS: Oh, Hollis, Queens was - you know, it was a middle-class, hard-working neighborhood. It had a lot of educated people there. But you also had, you know, violence and drugs and prostitution and murder and rape and robbery right on the corner. You know, it just good that we came from good families who made sure we went to school, didn't play hooky or run with the wrong crowd. So you had good and bad going on at the same time, which is true for every neighborhood. But some places have more poverty than other places. And people tend to let their surroundings suppress them. It was like we always, regardless of what going on, if we didn't have a dollar in our pocket or if we did have the dollar in the pocket, we were still happy. You know what I'm saying?

GROSS: Now, did you ever feel like you had to cover up the fact that your neighborhood was pretty middle class and that your parents wouldn't let you play hooky?

MCDANIELS: No, it was no way we could hide it because that was something the reporters made known to everybody, you know, 'cause they thought it was a big thing. All right. Here you got this rap group making all this money, running around, talking about their cars and, you know, how good they are. And, you know, they're selling a lot of records. And, you know, it was a thing where rap was supposed to be only done by, you know, people from the ghetto. You know what I'm saying? Because, you know, Grandmaster Flash and them - they came from the heart of the Bronx. And Afrika Bambaataa - they was from Bronx and Manhattan. They was from the ghetto. You know what I'm saying? Apartment buildings and broken glass everywhere. People's at subway.

We came from Hollis, Queens, where you got separate houses, grass, backyards, cookout, Catholic school and all this other stuff going on. But, you know, we wanted people to know, you know, my mother and father, Jay's mother and father and Run's - hard-working, educated people. But then you had the people that, you know, lived in the middle of the block. You know, they had to rob and steal for their next meal. But a lot of the press wanted to emphasize - I guess they wanted to let the world know that these guys are fronting. They might look tough, and they might talk tough on their record, but they're middle class, Catholic school, nice guys.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us. We're out of time. I wish we weren't, but we got to go (laughter). So...

MCDANIELS: Well, thanks for having me.

GROSS: Yeah, thanks a lot for talking with us. I really appreciate it.

MCDANIELS: It was my pleasure.

GROSS: Darryl McDaniels of Run-D.M.C., recorded in 1997. Coming up - LL Cool J, another of the early rappers to achieve commercial success. This is FRESH AIR.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTRODUCTION TO THE JB'S/DOING IT TO DEATH")

THE JB'S AND FRED WESLEY: Hit it. How you feeling brother? Feeling good. You feel good? Look at him. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk good time. We're going to have a funk good time. Take them up, Fred. We've got to take it... Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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