SouthFlorida.com
Make every weekend epic with our free Weekender newsletter. Sign up today!

How comic books and Sarah McLachlan saved Darryl 'DMC' McDaniels of Run-DMC

If Darryl “DMC” McDaniels had never joined the pioneering hip-hop trio Run-DMC, busted through musical barriers with Aerosmith, recorded platinum-selling albums and entered the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, he would have been a comic-book superhero.

McDaniels’ superheroic handle? The Devastating Mike Controller.

For the past three years, the rapper’s comic-book series, “DMC,” has imagined such a scenario: It’s 1985 in graffiti-stained, crime-plagued New York, and McDaniels has traded a career with Run-DMC for a crime-fighting alter ego. In his costume — a black Adidas tracksuit, Adidas sneakers, a gold chain and brass knuckles emblazoned with “DMC” — McDaniels becomes a silent defender, protecting the powerless while vanquishing bullies and vandals. McDaniels says longtime fans of Run-DMC should hardly be surprised about his adventures in the world of comic-book publishing.

“Before hip-hop came over the bridge in the ’70s, all I did as a kid was read and draw comic books. I’ve been giving listeners Easter eggs [in Run-DMC’s lyrics] my entire career,” McDaniels says by phone from his Wayne, N.J., home. As an example, McDaniels raps a few lines from Run-DMC’s 1985 single “King of Rock”: “I crash through walls / Cut through floors / Bust through ceilings / And knock down doors,” McDaniels raps.

“See?” he adds. “Rappers don’t do that. Superheroes do that.”

Unlike his mild-mannered, fictional counterpart, McDaniels sounds chatty and animated over the phone as he describes life after Run-DMC. The rapper, who will promote his comic-book series this weekend during Florida Supercon in Fort Lauderdale, created the DMC character with help from an Atlantic Records executive, Riggs Morales. The series aims to appeal to fans of hip-hop and minority superheroes.

For McDaniels, focusing his energies on creating a superhero was a worthy second act for a musician from Hollis, Queens, who propelled hip-hop into the mainstream in the 1980s alongside Joseph “Run” Simmons and the late Jason “Jam Master Jay” Mizell. In the mid-1990s, as the trio’s star was fading, McDaniels suffered in private from depression and alcoholism, and the revelation from his mother that he was adopted led to thoughts of suicide, which he chronicles in his 2016 book, “Ten Ways Not To Commit Suicide: A Memoir.” (The paperback edition was released July 4.)

“I didn’t realize I was in the pit of depression until I went to rehab for my drinking,” McDaniels recalls. “I realized I’d been feeling down since 1980, 1981, and I didn’t tell anybody. Regardless of how many times you watch Dr. Phil, you have to deal with that feeling. We don’t speak up because we’re ashamed. If you remove the guilt and shame, you remove the pain.”

McDaniels says he can empathize with musicians such as Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington, who committed suicide July 20, and Soundgarden frontman Chris Cornell, whose May 18 death was ruled a suicide and whom McDaniels met backstage at the 2013 Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony.

“When I hear about these guys — Robin Williams, Chris Cornell, Chester — man, that could’ve been me,” McDaniels says. “Chris reminded me of me, a laid-back guy who’s quiet in real life but just explodes when he’s onstage. That’s what made me realize, ‘OK, I’m this DMC-‘King of Rock’ guy, crashin’ through walls, coming through doors like some hip-hop superhero, but at the end of the day, I’m no different than the plumber, the bus driver, the teacher that’s going through struggles.’ I was an alcoholic, suicidal, metaphysical, spiritual wreck.”

But an unexpected form of salvation came in the late ’90s, when McDaniels heard Sarah McLachlan’s haunting ballad “Angel” on the radio during a cab ride. The single, which he listened to every day for a year to stave off depression, “made me feel OK again,” he says.

“I thought, ‘Thank God, man, because if this song exists on the face of the Earth, it’s good to be alive,” McDaniels says. “I remember I met her one time at a party, and tapped her on the shoulder, and I told her about my depression and suicidal thoughts and that I was adopted. And Sarah told me, ‘I’m adopted, too.’ I didn’t know that.”

Recent projects — the memoir and the comic books — have left McDaniels feeling inspired. In November, McDaniels will release “Back From the Dead,” a solo EP of new material recorded with Chuck D of Public Enemy and Rome Ramirez of Rome. (The cover will be designed by Tim Proctor, an illustrator for “The Walking Dead” comic-book series.) After that, in February, McDaniels will release “DMC,” a full-length album featuring guest vocals from Sammy Hagar, Joan Jett, Rancid's Tim Armstrong, Blink-182's Travis Barker and others.

“What Run-DMC did with ‘Walk This Way’ and ‘It’s Tricky,’ it’s like those tracks on steroids,” McDaniels says. “A lot of the music is political and social and nerdy. Without nerds like us changing the face of pop culture, our culture wouldn’t exist.”

Darryl “DMC” McDaniels will appear 10:30 a.m. Friday, July 28; 10:30 a.m. and 6:15 p.m. Saturday, July 29; and 10:30 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. Sunday, July 30, at Florida Supercon at the Greater Fort Lauderdale-Broward County Convention Center, 1950 Eisenhower Blvd. Tickets cost $25-$45 for single-day pass, $70-$85 for festival pass, $175-$365 for VIP. Use promo code “SUPER10” for 10 percent off admission. Call 954-399-1330 or go to FloridaSupercon.com.

pvalys@southflorida.com or 954-356-4364

Copyright © 2017, South Florida
59°