Thirty-eight years after he proclaimed, “I won’t stop rockin’ ‘til I retire!” as half of the legendary hip-hop duo Run-DMC, Darryl McDaniels took to the stage at Maplewood Middle School (MMS) Tuesday morning showing no signs of slowing down.
The 59-year-old McDaniels, a.k.a. DMC, had a commanding stage presence as he sported a black AC/DC t-shirt and a pristine pair of white Adidas as he delivered a new proclamation – one for the middle schoolers in his audience.
“I’m not just a rapper. I am a real-life ‘show and tell’ here to tell you this: You have a purpose and a destiny,” he said.
The voice that was at the forefront of pioneering hits including “It’s Tricky,” “You Be Illin,’” and “My Adidas,” came to MMS to deliver what he called the positive messages of hip-hop through the lens of his own life story.
MMS Dance Teacher Caroline Ogando had worked with Principal Dara Gronau and Assistant Principals Louis Brown and Peter Kassalow to bring McDaniels to the school and speak to the sixth, seventh, and eighth graders.
“We do an incredible hip-hop unit where we learn all about the 70s, the 80s, the 90s, and the 2000s and try to bridge the gap between older styles of music to today,” said Ogando. “Having Darryl McDaniels here makes all of those lessons come to life. He is the ultimate hip-hop primary source.”
“To have an icon of hip-hop who is willing to give his time to middle school students so soon after we all celebrated the 50th anniversary of hip-hop is such a tremendous learning opportunity,” said Gronau. “We are very grateful for Mr. McDaniels’ generosity and hope he comes to visit us again.”
Students asked McDaniels questions about a variety of topics including how Run-DMC began, why they decided to write a song about Adidas. At the end of the session students performed a special dance routine to “It’s Tricky,” choreographed by Ogando.
As he answered the students’ questions, McDaniels took flight in telling his story. There weren’t any beats, and only a couple of rhymes, but McDaniels worked the stage as if he were playing a gig at the Apollo.
He spoke about his growing up in the Hollis neighborhood in Queens, New York in the 1970s. It was at that time when he heard “Rapper’s Delight” by The Sugerhill Gang, the track often cited as the birth of hip-hop, which sparked his interest in hip-hop, and ignited his rap writing abilities.
He talked about his friendship with Joseph Simmons, a.k.a. Run, and how it led to the forming of Run-DMC and the positivity it was founded upon as they wrote about their lives, their surroundings, and their favorite brand of sneakers.
And while their song, “My Adidas,” did lead to an endorsement contract with the sneaker giant, McDaniels said that it wasn’t something they actively pursued because, as he said to the young audience, “Your life is not about getting things. Your life is about giving.” The contract with Adidas happened because Run-DMC used their talents to create the song.
As a part of Run-DMC, McDaniels performed at some of the biggest venues and historic concert events, including the Hip-Hop 50 Live at Yankee Stadium last August when they performed with Nas, Snoop Dogg, and Ice Cube, and the Live Aid concert to end world hunger in 1985. On that day, they shared the bill with Mick Jagger, Tina Turner, Madonna, and many other pop music icons.
After his talk, McDaniels gave plenty of time to sign autographs and take selfies with his fans young and older. He even signed one staff member’s pair of Adidas.
McDaniels brought undeniable positive energy to MMS, but most of all he encouraged the students to be themselves and work to build the successes they want to accomplish.
“To be successful at whatever it is that you do, take advantage of every educational, creative, and artistic opportunity that comes your way,” he said.