Darryl McDaniels was a member of the famous Hip-Hop band Run DMC and therefore is considered to be one of the Hip Hop pioneers. The adidas tracksuit and shell toe Superstars (always laceless) became part of the band’s image. It was them who made a significant contribution in bringing sneakers and sportswear from the courts to the streets. Run DMC even wrote a song called “My adidas”.
We recently celebrated the 25th anniversary of this song. On this occasion we would like to share an interview with you which we conducted with Darryl three years ago for our adidas brand book (for employees only). Since then the interview hasn’t been publicly distributed. However, we now got the approval to share the interview with the public, too. So read on and get some exclusive insights. The interview took place in New York…the city where everything started.
Darryl, jazz had its Louis Armstrong, rhythm and blues had Ray Charles, rock ’n’ roll had Elvis – and rap had Run DMC. Is that a fair comparison?
Yes, I guess so! A lot of people think that hip-hop and rap started with Run DMC, but there were rappers before us, but what we did, as we said on our record My adidas, was we took the beat from the street and we put it on TV. The perception was that you had to be black to be hip-hop. We made it so that you could live in Beverly Hills, you could live in the ghetto, you could be black, you could be white, it didn’t matter who you were to be hip-hop.
Rap came out of disco, disco was really popular with the DJ but disco was Saturday Night Fever and John Travolta, it was Rolls-Royces, furs, sex and drugs. We looked at that and said that’s not the way the world really is. So we took those disco records, and whenever there was a break in the record, people would sing happy stuff. We put social commentary in there. But as it evolved, we started rapping over jazz records, and James Brown records and funk records, and eventually we started rapping over the rock beat.
Looking at the lyrics of your song “my adidas”, it’s a song that seems to say pretty well everything you want to say, what you do, your career, your philosophy, your aspirations…
Yeah, actually it was Run’s brother, Russell Simmons, who was our manager at the time, he came to us one night where we used to hang out on the corner of Two Fifth Street, Hollis Avenue in Queens where we grew up. The whole Run DMC thing was taking off. And Russell came up to us and said, you gotta make a record about your sneakers, it should go, like, “My adidas, Standin’ on Two Fifth Street…” He kept singing it and we was saying, yeah, yeah, whatever, whatever.
But the real evolution of the song came about like this: there was this doctor in our neighbourhood called Doctor Dees, he was affluent and inspirational to the kids, he was a good symbol of what hard work gets you. Every week he would put out a pamphlet dealing with social issues of our neighbourhood: drug dealers, teenage pregnancy, poverty, you know, put your garbage out, stuff like that. One week he wrote this thing called Felon Shoes.
And he wrote if you see the young people of this neighbourhood on the corner with adidas, adidas suits, or jeans, the Kangol hats and the Gazelle glasses, gold chains… if you see a fresh young guy on a corner, decked out in his adidas, that’s the problem with our community. But Doctor Dees was wrong to say that. You can’t judge a book by its cover, because I would say only 30 per cent of that was true. The other 70 per cent was…
I was a straight-A student in Catholic school.
I didn’t sell drugs – I saved my allowance to go buy my adidas. I worked to be able to go buy my fresh adidas. So we said we could use our rap music because it wasn’t just about how good we were and how many sneakers we had, now we had a purpose to make a song about our shoes. We was touring the world at that time, we had Cadillacs and gold chains, so this was our chance to tell not just Doctor Dees but the whole establishment that thought of us like that. That’s why we wrote,
standing on Two Fifth Street,
funky fresh and yes cold on my feet,
with no shoe-string in ’em,
I did not win ’em,
I bought ’em off the Ave …
– bought them! We talked about, don’t you know these young men here, 18, 19, 20 years old, these adidas didn’t just stand on the corner, we was on the stage at Live Aid! And by us being there in our adidas, money was made and it fed the poor. If you listen to the words of My adidas, like you said, we put everything in there, our philosophy, because now the sneaker could represent something good, because the majority of the perception was, oh, you see those sneaker kids, they’re drug dealers. Now that could be true, but not all of us. So the adidas record idea actually gave us a purpose.
What came first: the song or your deal with adidas?
No, we just made the record and we put the record out, and then the company approached us. We’d already been wearing them, and it seems there were people at adidas who were wondering, what’s going on with the shell toe sneaker?
There were reports that sales were off the hook! Then there was this young guy in LA, Angelo Anastasio, who used to work for adidas, he was trying to figure out what was going on. So he flew to New York to go see Run DMC at Madison Square Garden, because he’d heard about it but he wasn’t sure about it. But something was happening! There were 40,000 people, and Angelo from adidas standing there, and, you know, Run DMC, the Raising Hell tour… so he’s standing there and we started our concert like we always did: Dee, take it off and hold it up! So I take off my shoe and I wave it a bit, and Angelo’s standing there and he sees me do that – and when he looks around, he sees 40,000 people all holding up a shoe! And I go, My adidas! And then we do the song. And that was it, he ran back to LA, yo, it’s true! I seen it with my own eyes! And he contacted the Dassler family and they’re saying the same thing, hold on, Angelo, slow down! First of all what the hell is rap music and what is Run DMC? Oh, he says, you’ve got to see this! And the rest is history.
It never crossed your mind to ask adidas for some kind of endorsement deal?
Hell, no, we just wanted to rhyme about our sneakers. I mean, that was a whole thing, like, what else do we like? Not doing drugs, we like rock ‘n’ roll, we like leather, we like our hats, we like our gold chains, we like Cadillacs, we like our style, let’s rap about that, too. That was the whole motivation of it. Nobody ever accused us of selling out, because it was so real, what we was doing, it wasn’t like, yo, guys, I got an idea, let’s make a record about sneakers because then we’ll have the company come to us. No, it was like, we’ll make the record and what’s next?
And building it into your act, for that particular number, shoes with no laces…
I remember me and Run, we used to go to Jamaica Avenue where we grew up, before we began to rap, we would just go and look in the window of this sneaker shop and go, man, if I only had 40 dollars, I would get the red ones. And then Joe would go, if I had the money, I would get the green ones. So once adidas came to us, we was able to get adidas like that! So the whole thing was like this: we’re on the move so much, we don’t have time to put the laces in. We wasn’t going to take the new sneakers and take the time to put the laces in – it would probably only have taken a minute, but we were moving so quick we would take the old ones off and put the new ones on and keep going. But the crazy thing about it now is, we never wore no laces in them, so people thought that was the way you had to wear them. I used to jump around the stage for two hours, I used to kick and they would never come off! So once we started wearing the adidas with no laces, everybody else thought, oh, that’s the way you gotta do it. Then, on top of that, it was like, yo, we never really had a uniform before we had the adidas relationship, but once we got adidas we realised if I wear the black striped ones, then let me have a black sweatsuit; if I got the red stripes, let me have the red…
and it just picked up with everybody, we would go to cities, Detroit, Chicago, Boston, LA, and we’re coming to town, everybody was adidas now, it was crazy! When you walked into the park to play ball, the first thing people would do would be to look at the sneakers to see what you had on your feet. Now, if you was an athlete, you didn’t break and you didn’t rap. But now you needed two pairs of sneakers: you had the pair you played in, and another pair so you could take off the pair you played in and put the new pair on!
Do you think that your association with adidas, which is a very mainstream company, helped to give your kind of music a certain respectability?
That’s a good question! I think the relationship with adidas legitimised our culture, because before it happened, people said it’s just a fad, rap music is just a fad, it’s negative, it’s not good, nobody will ever like it. So our relationship with adidas legitimised us, because it was a whole other world, that was very well respected, that was very household, families; so people said if rap is so bad, how come adidas is messing with these rappers right here? So it gave us some legitimacy, for sure. And it took us from the streets to mainstream white America.
When I started rapping, it was something I did in my basement. And you know, they always say, what you believe, you become. I would go home, when no one was around, and I’d go into my basement and I would DJ and I’d make a cassette tape, I would take this music and I would play these break beats over and over and write rhymes down, in my black and white notebook, just rhyme, rhyme, rhyme. And the notebooks piled up. One day Jay comes over, sees my pile of notebooks, looks through them and he’s like, you wrote all of this? And I’m like, yeah, and he looks at me and says, Darryl, when my brother Russell lets me make a record, I’m gonna put you in my group. But I didn’t want to rap. I was a schoolkid, I was a straight-A student, I kinda figured I’d get out of school and I’d go to college. I got to St John’s University, business management, and I was still writing my rhymes. Then the phone rings and it’s Run: Dee, you remember what I said back in eighth grade? Well, Russell’s gonna let me make a record, so grab your notebooks and come to the studio. This was the summer of 82, I grabbed my rhyme books, we went to the studio and we made the record and I got home at two in the morning. When I went to the studio I hadn’t told my mother and father, and I remember I got into trouble. Eventually Russell got the deal with Profile Records, I’m in my second semester of St John’s University, and I really hated business management. What could I do?
Hanging around, waiting for success to happen…
Second semester, I’m sitting in the university lunch-room, and over the radio station my first record, Sucker MC, comes on. The whole lunch-room jumps up: that’s the best rap we ever heard! Who are these guys? About a week later, the phone rings. It’s Russell: your record’s taking off, this is it, we gotta go on tour… so I go to my mother and I say, Mom, remember that night back in the summer I came home at two in the morning, well, I was making a record and the name of the group is Run DMC and the record’s pretty big and Russell says we gotta go on tour. And my mother and father say, hold on! Slow down! And they said, no, you’re not going on tour, get back upstairs and study your work. But I said, Mom, whatever money I make on tour, I’ll use to pay my tuition. And my mother and father said, OK, you can go! I took a leave of absence and I’ve been out ever since!
Thank you, Darryl!
You don’t remember the song “my adidas” from Run DMC? Here you go…
Before reading another post on the adidas Group blog check out the adidas commercial from back then … you have to see that!