Star Strikes A New Chord
by Mike Grayeb
McDaniels heard "Cat's in the Cradle" over the public address system in
a supermarket two years ago, he knew right away that it was a turning
point in his music and his life. "I was like, Thank you universe--that's
the one.' It's simple, you can remember it--it's about kids; it's about
relationships," he said. "It's got a great melody, and I remembered it
from when I was little."
who was one of the three members of the legendary rap/hip-hop music group
Run-DMC, had recently learned that he was adopted, and he was searching
for a way to share his story with the world.
as "DMC," McDaniels grew up in Hollis, New York, a middle-class section
of the borough of Queens. It was there, while in grammar school, that
he met his lifelong friend and future bandmate Joseph Simmons (a.k.a.
By the time
they were just 12 years old, McDaniels and Simmons were learning and honing
a craft that combined catchy rhymes and hooks with meaningful, positive
lyrics. "We would take our DJ equipment and set it up in Jamaica Park
and 192 Park. We'd plug it into the light post, and we'd emulate Grand
Master Flash until the police came along and sent us home."
39, said many of the popular musicians and bands from the 1970s were influences.
"We'd listen to The Jackson Five and Elton John and Harry Chapin," he
said. "Old black water
keep on rollin'," he sang, citing the Doobie
Brothers song as an example of a rap within a non-hip-hop song.
Just a few
years later, McDaniels and Simmons connected with Jason Mizell ("Jam Master
Jay"), and the trio was rapping after school. By the time they had started
their first semester in college, the band had convinced Simmons' brother
Russell, an emerging music industry executive, to help them produce a
debut album, "Run-DMC," was a huge success, selling more than 500,000
career featured many firsts for a hip-hop group, including earning gold
and multi-platinum albums. They appeared on the cover of Rolling Stone.
Their video was played on MTV (as a result of its collaboration with Aerosmith
on the song "Walk This Way"). They appeared on "American Bandstand," "Saturday
Night Live," and "Live Aid," the international event to fight hunger.
Run-DMC's remake of the rock anthem "Walk this Way" with Aerosmith was
a smash hit and was credited with breaking down the cultural barriers
between rock and hip-hop music genres and their respective fans.
said Run-DMC had a mission from the start. "We created the whole band
as a vehicle to inspire people, to motivate people," he said. "A lot of
people thought nothing really good could come out of the hood, and we
wanted to break down the stereotypes and change things.
rise of the band and all the resulting commercial success, McDaniels found
himself caught between the challenges of balancing a career on the road
and the responsibilities of being a husband and father. As he battled
periods of depression, he relied on drugs and alcohol to deal with the
he tried to come to terms with his inner demons while writing his autobiography,
King of Rock: Respect, Responsibility, and My Life With Run-DMC.
While he was writing the book, McDaniels found out he was adopted. After
dealing with the initial shock, he contemplated the choices his natural
parents must have faced--and what their decisions ultimately meant for
him. "This was a lot about destinies. If my mother never gave me up for
adoption, I would not be DMC. [Friend and hip-hop star] LL Cool J told
me this rap thing would not be what it is today."
heard "Cat's in the Cradle" while in the supermarket, McDaniels realized
he had found just the right song for his story. "I needed a song that
is so true, so real. It touched me when I was little. I thought it was
so sad, but everybody could relate to its meaning. People love their children
and before they know it, they're all grown up. It's like, Son, you
don't want to hang with me? What's going on?'"
October 2002 when bandmate Jam Master Jay was suddenly killed, McDaniels
and Simmons retired Run-DMC. Having lost his friend and the band that
was his livelihood, McDaniels decided to rededicate his talents by keeping
the positive spirit of Run-DMC and by finding a way to make a difference.
need to do what Harry Chapin did.' I had my fun as a kid, but now I have
a purpose in the world. Nobody in the world could tell me that, but I
said it to myself. I know what I have to do, and the Harry Chapin remake
is the catalyst."
said he reached out to Sandy Chapin, Harry's widow, to describe why he
wanted to record the song she and Harry co-wrote.
"I had to
call Mrs. Chapin and let her know I wanted to make a hip-hop record out
of her husband's record and that I wouldn't tarnish it. A lot of artists
take the records and ruin them and I wouldn't do that. She knew our group
had a good reputation, and she told me to go ahead and make the record,"
In crafting the lyrics for his new recording of the classic song, McDaniels mused about the twists of fate at birth that changed his life:
Throughout the song, he used the melodies and the words from the original chorus in Harry's Cat's in the Cradle. Toward the end of the song, he reassured his natural parents, wherever they are:
took something that people considered so bad and so messed up, and I turned
it into a beautiful thing. To give a kid up for adoption, I made it seem
like it was a good thing."
As he was
writing the song, McDaniels thought of soulful singer-songwriter Sarah
McLachlan. "When she put out the album Surfacing' six years ago,
she had a record on it called 'Angel.' It was at a time when I was trying
to figure out what I wanted to do with my life; it was my midlife crisis."
reached McDaniels through its lyrics about being on the road and being
lonely. "Living out of a suitcase isn't all it's cracked
up to be," he said. "I wanted to be home with my family."
how he had met McLachlan at the Grammy Awards. "I said, 'I'm DMC and your
music changed my life.' She looked at me, this black, hip-hop/rap star
from the hood, and she said 'That's why I make music.'"
was preparing to record the song, he knew McLachlan was just the right
artist to sing it with him. But his record company told him he'd have
to ask McLachlan himself. "I really believed in the song and in her, so
I got on the phone and told her about my adoption and everything and she
said, 'Come on over to my house and we'll record it here.'"
sang the chorus, the harmonies, and a few other key parts. McDaniels said
he's hoping to record a video for the song early in 2004, in Vancouver,
Canada, where McLachlan lives.
he has already been performing the song for enthusiastic crowds. "I did
a show at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Denver, and all the kids were going
crazy singing the chorus. Young high school people were saying, 'Wow,
I can't believe he's doing that record,' and the promoter told me it was
the most beautiful thing he'd ever seen."
response to the song caused McDaniels to remember when music moved people
to action. "Brotherly love and caring for each other is missing. They
addressed that music in the '60s and '70s--war, homelessness, hunger.
Now, everybody's having pool parties at their mansions. We're worth billions
and we're not doing anything to change the world."
music that I listened to--Harry Chapin, John Lennon, Bruce Springsteen--I
thought of what they've done. I want to be remembered as the rapper
who did great things and is still doing great things.
what Harry was all about--giving to people through his music and through
his charity work. You can't just give out turkeys on Thanksgiving and
think you're making a difference; you have to do that every day. We have
to show the kids that we can do it," he said.
forthcoming album, the release date of which has not been set, features
other songs designed to motivate social action. "There are a lot
of conditions in the world that people are afraid to talk about. Somebody
has to have the balls and guts to stand up and talk about it and I'm
Wrong With the World Today?," McDaniels puts forth a wake up call
for people to reinvest in schools and give kids a safe and nurturing place
to learn, free of guns and violence.
Together" features Joseph Simmons and addresses the importance of
saving the environment and endangered species like whales.
title "Checks, Thugs, and Rock & Roll" reflects McDaniels'
perspective of how things are and how they can be.
think it's all about fame and fortune," he said. "Thugs--kids
think they have to be meaner than everyone else. But Rock and Roll can
be a way out, and it can change those attitudes," he added.
majority of kids live mundane lives, and we have to use our music to make
their lives better," he said.
in the Cradle will be the first single released from the new album because
it's such an important record in terms of its meaning, he explained.
His friends in the hip-hop industry agree. "I play it for them to
see their reaction and to see if they think it's corny, and all of
them--the younger generation--embrace the idea and what the record is
about," he said. "Even my manager is bugging out about it."
all the highs and all the lows that have marked McDaniels' personal
and professional life, he said has now found an inner peace and a sense
I die tomorrow, my purpose in music is fulfilled," he said. "I
made the record of one of the artists I loved growing up, and I made it
with Sarah McLachlan. I've experienced my nirvana."
But McDaniels won't stop there. "Now, I've been reborn," he said. "There's a reason why I'm still in this business after 21 years. My job isn't done yet. I have a lot of music left in me."
Watch for the Next Issue of Circle! on March 7