DMC Run-DMC's forthcoming album, their seventh (eighth counting their greatest-hits comp), is called Crown Royal. It capitalizes on the current popularity of rap-metal hybrids?which Run-DMC pioneered with 1984's "Rock Box"?with collaborations between the veteran trio and Limp Bizkit, Kid Rock and Sugar Ray. The group also recorded for Crown Royal a cover/update of "Take the Money and Run," featuring Everlast singing the hook, for which Steve Miller has so far refused to grant permission. This was probably the reason Crown Royal didn't come out in late 1999, as was originally planned. Better than the rock-group guest spots are new songs Run-DMC recorded with special guests Nas, Method Man, Fat Joe and Slick Rick. Like most new, major-label rap albums, Crown Royal aims to please everybody a little bit, ensuring that almost no one will like the whole disc.
Were you aware, in the 80s, of Run-DMC's music having an impact on kids in the suburbs?
No, not really. All we was caring about was rocking the house. People were like, "Oh, you were on MTV and you were number one in Billboard." And we were like, "Slow up! What is MTV?" 'Cause we didn't have MTV out in Hollis! "What's a Billboard?" We was just busy rocking the house.
I know Run was preaching the Gospel, but what were you doing during Run-DMC's hiatus?
I was running around giving lectures at colleges. I spoke at FSU, Charlotte, Albany, Buffalo, I spoke at FIT [DMC went to St. John's]. Lately, I've been writing. I got a book, two movie scripts and a cartoon coming out. I'm doing all the stuff I wanted to do before I started rapping. My book will be out this summer. I'm gonna say a lot of stuff that people in rap will get mad about, but sometimes in order to bring an awareness?I'm just gonna say all that stuff everybody ain't saying.
Like what? Give me an example.
Like, let's talk about the images in rap. We do have a responsibility for what we're continually showing these kids. I finally realized how, from a radio- and video-show standpoint?that a "programming director" or "director of programming" is called that because kids are being programmed. They see the same images [over and over]: naked women, rappers talking about money, drinking champagne, smoking blunts, talking about guns and violence. That's part of life but there's also a whole other point of life. I think what we do [to represent] rap culture should be more balanced. Everything seems so one-sided. It's a monotonous collage?I'm just gonna say, Here's the other side, this is what the world of hiphop culture is about. Everybody wants to know, "What'd you SoundScan?" but that's not all our culture is about. Puffy said it's all about the Benjamins. It's not all about the Benjamins.
Biggie Smalls made an album where he's standing beside a hearse, smiling. Like that's a cool thing. The power of the tongue?we got the power of life and death on our tongues. It's a very powerful thing. The power to make a record or a video is the greatest power you can have?the power of communication. I'm for freedom of speech and I'm not for censorship, but with the responsibility [that comes with] millions of record sales and being king of the world, I can make some changes.
I talk about it for athletes, too. If you're a professional athlete, and you're gonna fight this guy on tv, what is that telling the kids in the P.A.L. and the Little League? That it's okay to fight? If you're a real man you tell him, "When this game is over, meet me in the alleyway, when nobody's around, and me and you will handle this.' But they'd rather do it on tv and that's continuing the mind-state to where my five-year-old will say, "Well he threw a punch and they was fighting." We gotta watch that.
Don't the kids really want those images that parents find negative?
They only want it because we keep giving it to them. In the 80s, when you walked into a record store, you had the Fat Boys?they rapped about food! But you didn't tease them for that because the art, the craft, the beatbox was the important thing. You had Run-DMC, Public Enemy, KRS-One, Eric B and Rakim, De La Soul?everybody was representing something different. It was a world where everything was allowed. You're not bad just because you ain't rapping like Jay-Z, and wearing what he's wearing! If you wanna rap about flowers and love and lollipops, put it over a dope beat! It's the illusion and the hypnotizing that got kids' minds polluted. I was going to colleges and saying, "I'm passing the reins onto y'all, and y'all will sit there and say, 'That record's weak,' but the programmers got it so after eight weeks of the record coming on the radio your head is nodding."
When did you come around to this way of thinking?
When Tupac died, I had to go on BET and MTV, and I had to give my quote to The Source and my quote to XXL. I was thinking about the images, and the mind-state of the companies. We gotta be able to say, "I ain't buying that." We have the power. Now, we gotta go to the rap industry to get our hiphop, when we was here before it was ever on a record! If the rap industry ends tomorrow, a lot of people will be out a job. But I won't! The material things fade. The reason [Run-DMC is] still around is because of our live show. Jam Master Jay deejays with real wax. If the rap industry ends tomorrow we'll take it down to the park and charge $10 in the P.A.L. or in some burnt-out basement.
All that has been forgotten because a rapper can sell 10 million records and make a video with bombs exploding, and yachts. I don't wanna see MCs on yachts! I wanna see a KRS-One video with guys breakdancing on cardboard! I wanna tell all the people out there, y'all are falling prey to the illusion that Chuck D prophesied 15 years ago.
But if I can play devil's advocate for a second: If you've felt this way for years, why are you putting out this mainstream album with all the pop stars of the moment, instead a stripped-down, basement sort of record?
It wasn't my decision!? I was totally against that. I just wanted to make a Run-DMC album, without having to depend on special guests for my popularity. We fell into the game as it's been written in the last couple of years. I don't agree with that!
You're probably gonna have big videos with explosions, too.
Yeah. And every month the album gets pushed back because we can't get clearance for the guests on our album. Nothing against them, but if I ain't had 'em there, I would have a record out! But the powers that be?I ain't gonna say no names?think, "We need this to push," and all that. No, you need this to sell records, because that's your business. I don't gotta sell records. I just gotta keep doing what I'm doing, and make me and the people who like what I do happy.
If Run-DMC can't take it back, how could anyone?
It's crazy, but the power has been taken away.
It's just a tide you can't fight?
Don't you have any suggestions?
I'm getting ready to put out an album that's gonna be considered the Sgt. Pepper of hiphop. Right now I'm listening to Neil Young, Bob Seger, Pink Floyd, the Rolling Stones?I'm getting ready to put out a Bob Dylan historical album, that's from me.
A solo album?
Yeah. It's me, and my band, and the guy that brings me the beat that I need in order to get my message across. I just wanna do an album that?rap is what I do, not what I am. I write songs, I compose, I'm intellectual, and political and social. I gotta put all those things on my album. I don't want to rhyme about how good the chrome on my car looks. I wanna do an album from the perspective of: "You've been listening to Run-DMC for 16 years. Well, this is what's out there now, and this is what I'm into."
Are you going to work with an independent label?
Probably. [That way] even if I sell 10,000 albums, I'm gonna make a profit.
I'm imagining something like Prince Paul's solo debut, Psychoanalysis, which came out on WordSound.
What's keeping me happy is the chance that, when we go to the Grammys, it ain't like, "Ladies and gentleman, the great pioneers of rap, Run-DMC, give 'em a hand," give me an award and send my old ass home. Look at Mick Jagger and them. The reason why they're so successful, why you got three, maybe four generations of people at their concerts, is because Mick is doing the exact same thing that he did when he was 13 years old, in his basement, alone.
I want to continue to do what I was doing in eighth grade, that same innocence, creativity and self-expression that I felt when I first heard my first Cold Crush tape. That's what I want to do and that's how I want to write my songs. I can't get out and rap about my Bentley and my iced-out jewelry because that's not what I'm about. I'm about, "Christmastime, Hollis Queens/Mom's cooking chicken and collard greens." Drop the beats, and we get happy, and y'all hope I come back and do another show.
I think that vibe still exists in hiphop. You might wanna check out the new Jungle Brothers record. I noticed you didn't mention them in Run-DMC's new song about Queens ["Queens Day," featuring Nas].
It seems to me like the culture has been lost. I want to write a book because I don't want to put my point of view on a record and make it sound like I'm angry. I can't be the next Chuck D. We need the 25-year-old Tupac or DMX, or somebody with Jay-Z's skills, rapping about what Chuck rapped. I can't do it because the kids would look at me and say, "Who's this old man?" But if it was one of their peers, out of high school, talking about "Yes! The rhythm, the rebel," it'll work. Me, Chuck D and KRS-One, all we can do is turn the music off and talk to the kids.
Younger rappers don't want to be perceived as haters.
A lot of kids consider that soft or fake. What Public Enemy and BDP did?that can never be soft and that can never be fake, and once we get that back in our hearts and our minds?but nobody wants to be the first. It's gonna take somebody with the determination of a Bob Dylan, to get booed every night. To break all those walls down and bring it back full circle.
Young artists who buck the trends?they get no support in the mainstream press, don't sell many records, and can't even quit their day jobs.
Once we let the world know it's all right to have nobody buy your records, then people will start buying the records. Then the big corporations will try to be down with that and we gotta say, "No?y'all stay over there with what you got." We start doing raps about working 9 to 5 and trying to make it in the world, and it does start selling, watch how many rats and snakes come out the woodwork. But we gotta be in a position where we were back in 80s, where everybody could be down no matter what race, color, country or creed, and tell the industry, "Hold up! We don't need y'all 'cause we got the Internet?we got MP3?y'all niggas keep all the masters that you stole from us anyway, 'cause it's a whole new ballgame going on." And you know how I know it could go back to that? Because before a rap record was ever made, I was paying $15 for a live tape of Melle Mel, and for Kool Moe Dee vs. Busy Bee live at the Audubon Ballroom. Those tapes sold in the street and we were in control of it.
And now you have to do whatever your label says?
When I signed my contract I signed my life away. I wish I could go out and get a whole new deal.
Which contract was that?
The first one with Profile.
You're still under that one?!
Yeah, all our contract did was move over to Arista. It wasn't like we renegotiated a new deal.
What'd you sign, a 10-record deal?!
But, see, as Run-DMC, we were able to overcome all the obstacles. We can play with Dr. Dre tonight, and with Korn tomorrow night, which is a blessing. We represent everything that everybody always wanted to be. That's more important to me now than selling a lot of records. When I hear some kid call me a legend?that's eternal. The other day this kid, he was probably a sophomore in high school, was like, "Yo, you gotta give me your autograph. My father loves y'all!" It didn't make me feel old. It made me feel like to him I'm Jimi Hendrix.